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Hard Currency

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. About the Book
  3. About the Author
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Dedication
  1. Chapter 1
  2. Chapter 2
  3. Chapter 3
  4. Chapter 4
  5. Chapter 5
  6. Chapter 6
  7. Chapter 7
  8. Chapter 8
  9. Chapter 9
  10. Chapter 10
  11. Chapter 11
  12. Chapter 12
  13. Chapter 13
  14. Chapter 14
  15. Chapter 15
  16. Chapter 16
  1. Looking for more suspense?
  1. Cover
  2. Begin Reading

About the Book

As a serial killer terrorizes Moscow, Rostnikov gets an assignment in Havana.

The young girl leads her target into a park, planning on robbing him at knifepoint as soon as they are out of sight. But before she can strike, her quarry changes from a stooped middle-aged man to a feral beast, swinging a lead pipe with sadistic glee. By the time the police find the thief, her murderer is long gone.

He is the first serial killer in Russian history, responsible for at least forty deaths, and his exploits send Moscow into a frenzy. And as his colleagues hunt for the pipe-wielding maniac, police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov must depart for Havana, to investigate a Russian politician accused of murdering a young Cuban girl. The Russian people may have abandoned Communism, but for their man in Havana, this case will prove a trip down memory lane.

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.

Hard Currency

An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery

Stuart M. Kaminsky

 

To Jeff Rice

with thanks for

his friendship and advice.

Two Cubans lost in the jungle were kidnapped and tied to stakes while their native captors circled them shouting, “Ocha, Una, Ocha, Una.”

Suddenly the native leader approached the first Cuban and shouted, “Ocha, Una?”

“Ocha,” the Cuban guessed, and the entire tribe raped him.

Then the native leader turned to the second Cuban and shouted, “Ocha, Una?”

“Una,” said the second Cuban.

“Good,” said one of the natives. “First, Ocha. Then, Una.”

—A joke currently popular in Havana

Chapter 1

ILIANA IVANOVA ADJUSTED HER backpack, looked down Rusakovskaya Street, and went over her plan for robbing the bald-headed businessman who waited next to her for the bus.

It was a warm May afternoon, and there was no one else at the bus stop on Rusakovskaya Street but Iliana and the man, who wore glasses and carried an ancient briefcase. The man did his best to avoid eye contact with the girl. He shifted his briefcase from hand to hand, looked at his watch, examined the clear late-morning sky, and looked down the broad street trying to conjure up a bus.

Most Muscovites who were working were already at their jobs. Those who had no jobs were hustling the streets, standing in lines for food, brooding in their apartments, or going mad in the parks. Sokolniki Park was directly behind the bus stop. That was where Iliana Ivanova, who was known to herself and her friends as the Yellow Angel, planned to take the man. The park was vast—a fifteen-hundred-acre forest of ancient trees and clearings with restaurants and cafés, which were hardly ever open now.

The Yellow Angel was only a bit nervous. She had pulled off the same plan almost two dozen times since leaving Tbilisi six months ago, and not once—well, not counting the fat Armenian in Grozny—had any victim shown the slightest suspicion. The reasons were obvious. The Yellow Angel was almost nineteen but she looked no more than sixteen. She was thin with large breasts, a clear-skinned face with pink cheeks, and shoulder-length naturally blond hair. Her brown eyes were large and sincere. Dressed in jeans and a clean shirt, she looked like a schoolgirl, an impression she emphasized by the large book she always carried under her arm. The book was something about economics. She had tried to read it once when she was sick and recuperating in the shack of a widower outside of Petrov, before she came to Moscow and found Anatoli. The widower who had taken her in was probably fifty, Iliana had played the virgin for him, hating his farm smell, the coarseness of his palms, the little brown mole next to his nose.

She had managed to keep the man out of her bed for all but two nights by feigning sickness. When she left, Iliana had sorely wanted to smash his stupid potato face, but she contented herself with simply stealing what she could carry.

Tbilisi had been fine for most of her life. When she was fourteen, Iliana had moved out of the apartment on Chavchavadze Avenue she shared with her parents and younger brother. She had moved in with a dull-witted nineteen-year-old boy who worked in the Vlodima glove factory in Miskheta and gave her whatever she wanted that he could afford, which was very little. In return, she gave him a baby. Three weeks after the baby had come the Yellow Angel took the baby to her mother, who welcomed it and slammed the door on her daughter.

Iliana worked in Tbilisi with a gang called the Golden Lepers. Then the Soviet Union came apart, Georgia declared independence, people were shooting and killing each other on the streets. Less than a day’s drive away in Azerbaijan and Armenia, there was even more fighting and killing. Some of the Golden Lepers joined the battle without knowing what it was about, and two of them died shouting support for Gorbachev’s old buddy Shevardnadze. Most of the Lepers, including Iliana, took advantage of the chaos to loot and rob.

She had done well. As bait for Golden Leper robberies, she simply joined in when she had lured a victim into an alleyway or behind the Iveria Hotel or into the bushes near the fountain in Victory Park.

Then Illya had been caught—fleeing with a stolen wallet, he had run into the arms of a soldier. Then Illya talked, quickly, about all the Golden Lepers, including Iliana, to whom he had proclaimed eternal love unto death.

And so Iliana had gone to her mother’s house, insisted on kissing her son good-bye, and then headed out of Tbilisi, into the countryside and toward the north. Since then, she had been required to take on the sole responsibility for luring and robbing her victims, which sometimes made her a bit nervous, but she also had no one to share with, which pleased her. All her victims had been eager to believe she was a beautiful, semi-innocent child they had been fortunate enough to encounter at a moment of her greatest financial need. The man at the bus stop would be no different.

What she didn’t like about Moscow was that it could be cold, very cold. Warm winds blew across the south slopes of the Caucasus Mountains from the Black Sea to the west or from the Caspian Sea to the east. It seldom snowed in Tbilisi, and when it did, the snow barely clung to the streets. Here, in Moscow, winter had been brutal. Six months ago, Iliana would have been determined to head someplace warmer when the winter came again, but now she had a family, people who respected and appreciated her.

Cars sped by them toward the heart of Moscow. The Yellow Angel was only vaguely aware of them, though a police car would have registered immediately. She watched the bald businessman, who finally had no choice but to make eye contact, if only for an instant. Iliana smiled sweetly and did not flinch. In spite of the chill air, she let her coat open innocently as she shifted the book to her other hand. Beneath the cloth coat she wore a white skirt and a knit sweater. The man adjusted his glasses and looked away in the direction from which the bus should have appeared.

“Late,” said Iliana with a smile of resignation.

The businessman made a grunting sound and checked his watch.

The man was a bit larger than Anatoli, and definitely heavier, but he did not look like a man who knew or welcomed violence. Iliana’s fingers played with the smooth handle of the knife in her pocket. It was a folding fishing knife, which she always made a point of opening slowly in front of her victims. It was encouraging to watch them suck in air or freeze like frightened weasels when the blade clicked. This one would be no different. It wasn’t that she would ever use the knife. Threatening to cry rape was more effective, since that was the direction the victims’ thoughts had probably been running.

“I’m going to be late for the Polytechnic,” she said with a deep sigh. “I’m already late.”

“So am I,” said the man, looking at his watch again.

“Late for school?” asked Iliana.

“No,” the man said. With a slight laugh he turned to the girl and adjusted his glasses. “Late for work. The hospital. I’m a doctor. Not far from the Polytechnic.”

“I don’t think the bus is coming,” she said, shaking her head. “Strikes. No fuel. No parts. The Czechs, Bulgarians, even the other Commonwealth countries treat Russia like …”

She shook her head in disgust.

The bald man grunted again and shook his head in agreement.

“My name is Katerina,” Iliana said, tossing her hair back and holding out her hand.

The man glanced around to see if anyone was watching and stepped forward to shake the girl’s warm hand.

“You have strong hands,” he said, stepping back again.

“Training,” she said. “I want to be a cosmonaut, but the way things are …”

“There will be cosmonauts again,” the bald man said. “Even women cosmonauts. They’ll sell advertising space to Coca-Cola and keep sending rockets to burn up in the sun. Only now the Americans will pay for it. They will send pretty girls up so they can sell their pictures to American and French magazines.”

Iliana laughed.

“There is a tahksee stand on the other side of the park,” Iliana said. “Maybe we could share a ride. You said you work near the Polytech?”

The bald man looked at Iliana now and adjusted his glasses yet again. Then he looked forlornly once more down Rusakovskaya.

“You have money for a cab?” the man asked.

Iliana shifted her backpack and pulled a worn wallet from the front pocket of her coat. She opened it to reveal bills, not too many, but enough to show the man she could pay. There were more rubles, some deutsche marks, French francs, and six American dollars in her backpack, but she kept them hidden from her victims, who might well have wondered where a schoolgirl got so much money.

“My father told me to take a cab if the bus didn’t come,” she said, returning the wallet to her pocket. “If I miss another day, they’ll throw me out. Girls are barely tolerated at the Polytech.”

The bald man ran his tongue over his teeth and made a decision.

“All right,” he said.

“Good,” said the girl. “Let’s hurry.”

“I can’t run,” said the man. “My heart.”

“We’ll walk,” said Iliana, moving into step next to the man. “Your name is … ?”

It was always good to know the name of the victim, in order to use it—to threaten to tear it away from the one who bore it, to make him think that she would scream it to the police, the newspapers, the man’s wife, mother, or lover.

“Yevgeny Odom, Dr. Yevgeny Odom,” the man said, looking straight ahead and moving briskly.

“Here, we go this way,” Iliana said cheerfully, patting the knife in her pocket.

“I know,” Yevgeny Odom said.

“You live close by?” asked Iliana as they entered the park on the gray concrete path.

Odom grunted.

They were still too close to the street for the Yellow Angel to make her move. She had learned from experience in … what was the town? No matter. She had learned to be patient, to be sure no one could see or hear, to pick the right hour. Late morning was perfect. The only ones who might stumble onto her committing a crime would be some old babushka with a child or a gray grandfather with arthritic knees.

Odom stopped.

“Tired already?” she said, looking back down the path.

A little farther. She had to get this soft one with the bad heart a little farther into the park. She could get him behind some bushes with a sexual suggestion, make him go to his knees, show him the blade so that he would be happy to turn over his watch and his money. It would be fast. She would warn him that if she were caught she would deny the robbery, claim that she had run from the bald man when he made sexual advances, thrown her behind the bushes, demanded that she do obscene things. She would also take the man’s shoes and stuff them into her backpack.

Iliana knew enough about the police to be sure that her claims of sexual assault would not be believed, but her carefully selected victims would not know this, and she was sure that they would prefer to take the loss, hide their shame, and go along with their lives, which were difficult enough without dealing with underpaid and surly policemen.

“Why are you stopping?” asked Iliana.

“I live there,” Odom said, pointing over the tops of the trees toward a group of apartment buildings. “I have a car. We can drive. I don’t think I can make it to the cab stop.”

“You have a …”

“There’s no place to park where I work, and it costs too much for gas.” Odom was panting. “My manifold is …”

“Fine,” said the Yellow Angel with a soft smile. To get to the apartments they would have to leave the path and go into the trees. “I’ll pay for gas.”

Odom nodded and started off the path and onto the grass.

“This way,” he said.

She followed him and was pleased that he was leading her into a dark copse of birch trees. The birds were noisy. The path was well behind them.

“Stop,” she said and stepped in front of the man.

“What?” asked Odom, trying to catch his breath.

“This is far enough,” she said, dropping the backpack and the economics book to the ground.

The man blinked, then looked around as if to see whether anyone else might have stumbled into this secluded spot to witness the girl’s strange behavior.

“You’re a prostitute, aren’t you?” the man panted.

Iliana shook her head slowly as she removed the knife from her pocket, careful to keep a few feet between her and the frightened man. Everything was going perfectly.

Crows—huge, fat, gray-black, and ugly, perhaps two or three—went wild in a tree above them. Neither man nor girl looked up.

“What are you doing?” asked Odom, holding his briefcase in front of him like a shield and taking a step back.

“Not what I am doing,” said Iliana. “What you are doing. You are giving me your wallet and your watch. Now, quick.”

She lifted her knife toward Odom’s face. The man took another step backward and almost tripped.

“Quick,” she whispered, looking toward the path beyond the trees.

Odom was sweating through his gray suit now. He pulled out his wallet, handed it to Iliana, who pocketed it in her coat, and then removed his watch and handed it over.

“The briefcase,” said Iliana. “There are valuables in it.”

“I … yes,” said Odom.

“Open it,” she said, holding the point of the knife inches from Odom’s nose.

Odom gulped, and Iliana, her heart pounding, tried not to laugh. The man looked like a cartoon character. He removed his glasses and placed them in his coat pocket. This seemed funny to Iliana. She would enjoy telling this whole adventure to Anatoli and the others as soon as she could.

As Odom opened his briefcase, Iliana said, “Just dump it out and drop it. Then take off your shoes.”

The man stopped with his hand inside the briefcase. He looked at the girl.

“Now, Kola,” the man said. “You are free.”

“What?” asked Iliana. “What is it? What do you have? Hurry up,” she commanded, shifting nervously from foot to foot.

“Only this,” said the bald man. He leaped at her with a black metallic blur.

Iliana did not understand what happened next. It was a rush of heat and pain. Something snapped in her wrist as the black object hit her, and she dropped the knife.

She screamed in pain and stumbled backward. The bald man had dropped his briefcase and was advancing on her in a half crouch. He was smiling horribly and making a rough sound like a hungry dog.

“No, wait, stop,” Iliana cried, holding up her unbroken arm to protect herself. The raging man in the gray suit was pounding her with his fists.

Iliana went to the ground and tried to curl into a ball.

“Please,” she said, and the blows ceased. “I’m not a thief. I’m hungry. I wasn’t going to hurt you. I’ve never done anything like this before, nothing, ever. My god, you broke my arm. But it will be fine, fine. I’ll tell you what. Let’s go behind the bushes. I’ll take off my clothes.”

She struggled with her unbroken arm to pull down her sweater. The pain was screaming with electricity.

She breathed heavily, tasted dry leaves in her mouth, opened her eye to see a blue-green beetle calmly munching on a blade of grass.

The bald man was panting wildly now as he again raised the metal bar.

“Don’t hit my face,” she pleaded, looking up at the man from her knees. It was like she was praying.

“I won’t hit your face,” Odom said, breathing deeply.

“I’ve never done anything like this be—”

“I don’t care,” said Odom. “Be quiet. Shh.”

Iliana looked up. The bald man had the fingers of his left hand to his lips. In his right hand was the black thing, which Iliana could now see was a piece of metal pipe. There was blood on the pipe. Her blood.

“My father …” Iliana tried.

“Quiet,” said the man, leaning down over her and whispering. “Sh. Sh. Yevgeny is sleeping.”

Iliana went quiet, spat out something, a leaf, a piece of grass, the beetle.

“You don’t go to the Polytechnic. You’re a runaway,” the man said.

“Yes,” Iliana said.

“How old are you?”

“Fifteen,” she lied.

“You made it very easy for him,” the bald man said. “You were not very smart. Do you know what park you are in?”

“No, I …”

“Sokolniki Park, the park of the falconers. The Czar’s huntsmen trained their falcons here. They swooped down on command, snatched birds in flight, and brought them back to their masters.”

“I’ve never …” Iliana began and then stopped.

“You are going to do what I tell you,” the man said. “You will do it exactly as I say, with enthusiasm and a perfect imitation of good cheer. You understand?”

“Yes,” said Iliana.

The pipe suddenly swooped down, making the sound of the rushing wind through its hollow center. It came down across her back as she tried to turn away. The pain was hot and wet. She screamed.

“No screaming,” said the man. “No screaming or you die.”

Iliana bit into her cheek to stifle her scream. She wished for the gunfire in the streets of Tbilisi, prayed that Anatoli or one of the others had followed her, vowed that if she lived through this she would never again work alone, never.

“No screams,” she said softly.

“Good,” said the man. “Then we begin.”

Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov disliked airplanes in general and Aeroflot flights in particular. He had heard from Prokofyev, who headed military security at Sheremetyevo International Airport, how Aeroflot was now being mismanaged by both the government and private investors. They had resorted to metallic cannibalism—plundering dead planes for parts—to keep the dwindling fleet flying.

There was a runway covered with weeds and hidden from most travelers that served as the graveyard of the flying dinosaurs of the former Soviet Union.

Prokofyev had offered to show the archaeological site to Rostnikov when next he flew, but the detective had chosen to leave the heap of rusting corpses and broken wings to his imagination.

There were many reasons beyond the decay of Aeroflot that caused Rostnikov’s general distrust of machines that flew. A primary factor was his concern that, on the slightest whim, the plane might grow weary, shed a wing, or decide that a small bolt that held the engine together should suddenly be spat out.

The behavior of animals was unpredictable within parameters that made Rostnikov comfortable. The behavior of machines, which could be predicted, struck him as no more to be counted on than the goodwill of a dancing bear. The purring of an engine and the purring of a cat were not signs of contentment but of potential irrationality.

These things had been on his mind when Rostnikov’s superior, Colonel Snitkonoy, known to all as the Gray Wolfhound, had seen him off at the airport.

They had spoken in the VIP lounge, a dark empty room with a bar that sold vodka and tasteless chips for hard currency. Elena Timofeyeva had sat in the vast, stale-smelling waiting room next to the VIP lounge as the Wolfhound had paced and gone over both Rostnikov’s assignment and the problems of the Special Investigation Office that were Rostnikov’s responsibility.

The Gray Wolfhound was a man designed to command respect. Always immaculately uniformed, with fair, well-cut features, blue eyes, and a mane of perfect white hair, the Wolfhound through wars, coups, and attempted coups had not only survived but prospered. Those in government and on Petrovka Street, however, had long considered the Wolfhound a joke whose function was to make glowing speeches and to escort middle-level foreign visitors on tours.

But the work of Porfiry Petrovich and his assistants, who had been demoted to the Wolfhound’s staff, had been given credit for preventing the assassination of the president. The Wolfhound had become a hero, and his ceremonial office, small though it was, was now being given increasingly delicate cases.

Some of these assignments came from those in the government who feared that the loyalty of more traditional departments could not be counted on in case of a sudden change in the government. Other difficult cases came from those who hoped that the man and his staff would fail and others loyal to the past would replace them.

“Delicacy,” the Wolfhound had said to Rostnikov, who sat in a particularly uncomfortable purple VIP chair looking up at the standing colonel. “The Cuban government does not wish to prosecute a Russian citizen for murder without the assurance that our government will not interfere.”

Rostnikov nodded dutifully, though the colonel had made this point at least four times in the past two days.

“Make no mistake”—the colonel pointed solemnly at Porfiry Petrovich—“the Cubans still rely upon our goodwill and we upon theirs. A time may come soon when our government will be in a position to resume meaningful trade with Cuba.”

Rostnikov nodded as Colonel Snitkonoy clasped both hands behind his back.

“In addition, there are members of the People’s Congress who have taken particular interest in this case. I have been told that there is concern that if it is not concluded with dispatch, certain radical elements, Pamyat, Stalinists, looking for a cause—in this case the conviction of a Russian citizen of murder in Cuba—will make an issue, demand his release, attack the government. And, I tell you this in confidence, there is concern that members of both the Congress and the KGB may be encouraging such a reaction. And so you are, as quickly as possible, to review the investigation of the Cuban police, confirm their findings, and return as quickly as possible.”

“What if he is innocent?” Rostnikov asked.

“That would greatly complicate the situation,” said the colonel. “But … you have seen the reports.”

Rostnikov nodded again.

“And?”

Rostnikov shrugged.

“Inspector Rostnikov,” the Wolfhound said with a weary sigh. “There are sensitivities here.”

“I will be sensitive to sensitivities,” said Rostnikov. “But …”

Colonel Snitkonoy shook his head.

“But what? Find what you will find, Inspector. Do what you must do. But it would be best if the man is guilty and the Cuban government has done an outstanding job of criminal investigation.”

“Let us hope then that this Russian citizen is guilty of murder,” said Rostnikov.

“I do not find irony engaging or instructional,” said the colonel, looking toward the door of the lounge. The bartender and a few passengers were being kept out of the lounge by two uniformed officers under the colonel’s orders.

“I will do my best to refrain from irony,” Rostnikov said. “And the Kazakhstani minister?”

“Deputy Inspector Karpo can do the paperwork,” the colonel said. “The man died of a heart attack. Unfortunately …”

“ … well timed,” said Rostnikov.

The Wolfhound remained silent for an impressive ten seconds before speaking slowly, earnestly, as he had spoken to the paper mill workers in Estonia before the collapse of the Union, as he had spoken to his troops in Czechoslovakia, as he had always spoken when sincerity had been called for to insure victory.

“Our nation is in jeopardy, Inspector Rostnikov. Our office is closely watched. If we are to serve our nation in this difficult period, we must strive for complete victory in our investigations.”

“An Englishman once said that those who most often achieve victory are those who are most convinced that they are right. …” said Rostnikov.

Before the colonel could finish his first wary nod of agreement, Rostnikov continued.

“… at the very moment when the only sane response is doubt.”

“I am enlightened,” said the Wolfhound wearily, “Enlightened.”

“I will do my job, Colonel,” said Rostnikov.

“I know,” said the Wolfhound. “But if you could do this one with a little less curiosity and zeal than you normally display, our future may be a bit more secure. Curiosity is not required in this situation.”

“I understand,” said Rostnikov.

“There is a long and twisted road between understanding and action, Porfiry Petrovich,” said the colonel. “Have I ever attempted to temper or thwart your investigations?”

“No,” Rostnikov admitted.

“Have I supported your findings and those of our staff when I have believed them?”

“Yes.”

“Have I not allowed our office, at your request, to assume responsibility for the investigation of the … how do they say it in America?”

“Serial killer,” Rostnikov said.

“Ah, yes, serial killer. Serial killer.” Colonel Snitkonoy tested the sound and seemed to find it acceptable. “The risk of failure is great.”

“But the rewards of success are many,” said Rostnikov.

“I grow weary of your epigrams, Porfiry Petrovich. You are reading too many American novels.”

“Perhaps,” said Rostnikov.

“Then there is nothing more to say,” said the colonel.

And nothing more had been said. The colonel shook Rostnikov’s hand and departed, and Rostnikov painfully and slowly rose from the chair in which his crippled leg had gone stiff and rebellious with pain. The leg had been mangled by a Nazi tank in the battle of Rostov when Porfiry Petrovich was a boy soldier. A determined, half-crazed, and shell-shocked doctor had saved the leg, though any dermatologist or brain surgeon could have seen that the leg demanded amputation. And so, for more than thirty-five years, Rostnikov had dragged his left leg as if it were a ball and chain.

Now, cramped in a small seat of an Aeroflot plane on its way to Havana, Rostnikov put aside the American mystery novel he had been reading and tried once more to find a position that would not cause him extreme pain. He failed. He glanced at his deputy inspector, Elena Timofeyeva, who had spent the first twelve hours of the flight to Cuba going over her Spanish language book, taking notes, and occasionally closing her eyes. The flight was only scheduled for twelve hours and ten minutes. There were still “several hours” to go till landing in Havana, according to the stewardess, who answered any questions—whether about arrival time, or about food, or drink, or the lack of paper in the toilet—with a depth of surliness usually encountered only in government food store clerks.

The flight had started badly. When Rostnikov had offered Elena the window seat, a one-minute struggle involving feminism, power, and confession had ensued.

“I will be quite comfortable on the aisle,” she had said as people squeezed past them down the narrow aisle.

“I prefer the aisle,” Rostnikov responded, pressing himself against the arm of the seat.

She gave him a look of grudging acceptance, suggesting that he was yet another man going through the motions of being polite and domineering.

“I would tell Emil Karpo the same thing,” Rostnikov said as she eased into her seat. “I prefer the aisle. I like to be able to move about.”

She had nodded, not believing him but recognizing the authority of the inspector who had given her the honor of going with him to Cuba. Her eyes met his and said, “This is to be a trip in which I am patronized. I can see it in our first exchange.”

Elena did not feel completely comfortable in her new position as the only female in the Special Investigation Office of the MVD. She wanted, and made it known that she wanted, no special treatment. She worked hard, put in extra hours, tried to cooperate with the men in the office even when they were wrong. She was rewarded by being ignored or patronized.

Elena was a pretty, slightly plump young woman of almost thirty-one. She had clear skin, blue eyes, and remarkably even large, white teeth. Her dark hair was straight, cut efficiently short. Though confident of her skills, she was aware that she had been given her position largely through the influence of her aunt, Anna, with whom she lived in Moscow. Anna Timofeyeva had been Deputy Procurator General for all of Moscow, and Rostnikov had been her principal investigator till Anna’s heart attack and forced retirement. Following a series of clashes with the KGB, Rostnikov had been transferred to the Office of Special Affairs, a dead-end ceremonial closet run by Colonel Snitkonoy.

Rostnikov and the investigators he had brought with him from the Procurator General’s office, Sasha Tkach and Emil Karpo, were then singled out by the KGB for several impossible investigations, investigations designed to embarrass the Wolfhound and his staff. But Rostnikov had managed to escape embarrassment in each of these investigations, and, when the Soviet Union and Gorbachev had collapsed, the Special Affairs Office, having no political power or identity, emerged as one of the few untainted investigative offices in Russia.

As he stood in the aisle of the Aeroflot plane observing his young aide, Porfiry Petrovich wondered if he had made the right choice in selecting Elena Timofeyeva to accompany him to Cuba. In fact, he had had no choice. Karpo could not be pulled from the serial murders and the death of the Kazakhstani minister. Tkach had made it clear that he did not want to leave Moscow. Besides, Elena could speak Spanish.

“Elena Timofeyeva,” Rostnikov said softly, letting his eyes meet those of the portly dark man in the row behind them who was paying unabashed attention, “I do not enjoy airplanes. I do not like to look out of windows and be reminded of space, time, and the frailties of human technology, particularly Soviet technology. I prefer to lose myself in books and sleep when it will come. I also like to wander the aisles to keep my leg from going stiff. It would be a favor to me if you take the window seat. Therefore, in this case, it is not I who would be doing you a favor but you who would be doing me one.”

With disbelief and reluctance, Elena consented, and Porfiry Petrovich sank gratefully into his too-narrow seat, wondering how he had become a policeman when in fact he had the heart of a priest.

But Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov, named by his father for Dostoyevsky’s prosecutor in Crime and Punishment, knew he had been fated to be a policeman from the moment of his birth. Though his parents never urged him to pursue such a career, the literary designation represented a destiny that had been planted in his soul, something which Russians were now permitted once more to possess.

There were a few other Russians and an oasis or two of Ukrainians, Estonians, and Lithuanians on the flight. Rostnikov had checked the boarding list with airport security. All of the passengers looked reasonably uncomfortable. Only the Cubans, or those Rostnikov assumed were Cubans, seemed to take the long flight, terrible food, and metallic noises of impending doom in stride.

Rostnikov had brought four American paperback mysteries, two 87th Precinct novels by his favorite, Ed McBain, and one each by Donald Westlake and Susan Dunlap. He had never read a mystery by a woman, so he read the Dunlap first and enjoyed it. When he finished the Dunlap novel halfway through the flight of agony, he elected to read one of the McBains, a novel he had read before called Kiss.

It was then that they flew into turbulence that bounced the plane and made the wings rattle. Rostnikov put down his book and looked at the madmen and madwomen who surrounded him, seemingly unconcerned that they were flying over the dark ocean in a massive metal can operated by the airline with the worst safety record in the history of aviation.

He clutched his tattered paperback to his chest with hands of steel, felt the metal buckle of the seat dig into his stomach with each bounce, and thought of his wife.

Sarah, in spite of a few relapses, was recovering well from surgery almost a year ago. She was working again, at the music shop, and she seemed to have more energy than before. Porfiry Petrovich was sure the increased energy was a result of the two little girls. Ludmilla, ten, and Elmira, six, were the granddaughters of a woman who had been convicted of murdering the manager of State Store #31 during a spontaneous food riot. Rostnikov and Sarah had taken the girls in. Though quiet and frightened, Ludmilla and Elmira also seemed to be intelligent, and they wanted very much to please.

Rostnikov’s son, Iosef, now firmly established in Moscow after four years in the army, was working in the theater, talking about becoming a policeman, and visiting his parents’ apartment to help amuse his “little sisters.”

They, his family, were safe, if a bit hungry, in Moscow. But the tossing of the plane still made him uneasy, and he felt the need to talk.

“Elena,” he said. “You are working on your Spanish?”

She closed the book in front of her and turned to him.

“No,” she said. “I was going over the reports.”

“Share with me your endeavors,” said Rostnikov, folding his arms and trying to ignore a particularly sudden and violent drop of altitude that drew a gasp from someone at the rear of the plane.

“I am going over the copy of the file of Igor Shemenkov,” said Elena.

“You must have memorized it by now,” said Rostnikov.

“Some of it,” she confirmed.

“When I was a boy, before the war, we had to memorize Gorky and Lenin and Marx,” said Rostnikov.

“Yes,” said Elena politely.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” said Rostnikov in a whisper. “Lenin and Marx were a mystery yet I remember long passages. Gorky was intriguing but I remember nothing of his work.”

Elena nodded.

“This strikes you as pointless conversation,” said Rostnikov. A man in a gray uniform hurried down the aisle toward the back of the plane either in frantic need of the rest room or to check on some new horrible sound that foretold the implosion of the airplane. “But I assure you it is not.”

“You are my superior and it is essential that I give you my full attention.”

“Your sense of responsibility gives me comfort, Elena.”

“I am pleased that it does.”

“When I think I am going to die in an airplane, I grow surly and sarcastic,” said Rostnikov. “I was being sarcastic.”

“So was I,” Elena replied.

In spite of his concern about the worried man who had run down the aisle, Rostnikov smiled. Elena returned the smile.

“A test, Elena Timofeyeva,” said Rostnikov. “Are you ready?”

“A test?”

“We are being accompanied by a member of State Security,” he said.

“KGB,” she answered.

Inexperienced as she was, she did not look about the cabin at the mostly masculine faces. Instead she continued to look directly at Rostnikov.

“The new collegium is still dominated by the leftovers of the Communist party,” he explained. “They protect the apparatus of the KGB while giving its branches new names, new uniforms, new public faces. You know all this?”

“I know all this,” said Elena.

“The Office of Special Affairs is a small but irritating fleck in the single eye in the center of their collective forehead,” he said. “But since they have but one eye …”

“Cyclops,” she said. “Mythology.”

“They wish to remove us,” he said. The plane rocked madly.

“I understand,” she said. “My aunt has given me her views on this historical direction. May I say something, Inspector Rostnikov?”

Something had changed in her voice and Rostnikov gave her his full attention. She shifted in her seat to face him and seemed undecided for an instant. Then, with a small intake of air, she said, “I feel very awkward being on this assignment. I wish to do well. I will do well, but I feel too …”

“Formal?” he asked.

“Perhaps,” she agreed. “But I don’t know, awkward, concerned that I will say the wrong thing. I do not want this awkwardness to interfere with my efficiency.”

“The KGB agent,” he said gently. “Which one?”

Still she did not look around the cabin.

“One of two,” she whispered. “The thin man on the aisle four rows back or the woman in front of us, the one who keeps trying to listen to us over the noise. She is doing her best to keep from showing her frustration.”

“Good,” said Rostnikov. “Which one?”

“Perhaps both,” she said.

“One,” he repeated, shifting his left leg. He decided he would have to stand up again soon in spite of the bobbing airplane, to bring the leg back to some semblance of painful life.

“The man,” Elena concluded.

“Reasons?” asked Rostnikov.

“He did not look at either of us when he went past to his seat,” she said. “Every other passenger gave us some kind of glance. We are an odd pair. He worked too hard at not noticing.”

“Perhaps he is preoccupied,” said Rostnikov.

“He finds some reason to turn away or engage in conversation each time I go to the rest room,” she continued. “He does not want to make eye contact.”

“Conclusion?” Rostnikov said, grasping the railings of his chair with white-knuckled despair.

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