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Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express


  1. Cover
  2. About the Book
  3. About the Author
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Dedication
  7. Prologue
  1. Part I—Day One
  2. Chapter 1
  3. Chapter 2
  4. Chapter 3
  5. Chapter 4
  6. Chapter 5
  7. Chapter 6
  8. Chapter 7
  9. Chapter 8
  1. Part II—Tracks
  2. Chapter 1
  3. Chapter 2
  4. Chapter 3
  5. Chapter 4
  6. Chapter 5
  7. Chapter 6
  8. Chapter 7
  9. Chapter 8
  10. Chapter 9
  11. Epilogue
  1. Looking for more suspense?
  1. Cover
  2. Begin Reading

About the Book

A century-old mystery takes Rostnikov halfway around the world.

In the waning days of the Russian Empire, the Czar inked a secret treaty with Japan that was stolen en route by one of the workmen on the Trans-Siberian Railway. More than a one hundred years later, the Soviet Union has gone the way of the Czardom, and police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov is trying to find his way in the Russia of Vladimir Putin. A large amount of money is being sent from Odessa to Vladivostok to purchase a mysterious Czarist document, and Rostnikov’s superior believes it may be this long-lost treaty. Eastbound ticket in hand, Rostnikov sets out to investigate.

Meanwhile, his subordinates in Moscow tackle a female Jack the Ripper and an anti-Semitic punk rocker whose mob connections may have gotten him kidnapped. It’s a brave new world in western Russia, but where Rostnikov is going, the landscape hasn’t changed in centuries.

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.

Murder On The Trans-Siberian Express

An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery

Stuart M. Kaminsky


This one is for Momus with thanks for his inspiration.


Catch a train direct to death

Glide where wheels and rails caress

Hear the last taboos expressed

In language looted and compressed

Abandon this world for the next

Cross the great plain of forgetfulness

Trans-Siberian Express

Siberia: 1894

The six men trudged into a thick forest of birch and aspen trees so dense that this gray morning had the feel of oncoming night.

The permafrost had started its slow thaw and their ragged boots cracked through the glassy upper layer and sunk an inch or so into the earth. Had they not each been carrying a body they would probably not have broken the steamy surface.

Boris Antonovich Dermanski kept walking when he heard the blast of dynamite no more than three miles away. The blast was followed by the distant sound of raining rocks from the wounded mountain. It was a familiar sound. Boris had lost track of how many mountains they had ripped through, how much frozen ground had been torn up with dynamite, how many bridges they had built.

He walked on, shifting the nearly frozen naked body on his shoulder. Boris was the biggest of the group and the only one who was not a convict. Though it had not been specified by the section leader, it was assumed that Boris was the leader of this burial detail. It had also been assumed that he would carry the heaviest corpse.

He grunted softly and watched the men move slowly through morning mist in no particular formation.

Boris estimated that they had moved about two hundred yards from the temporary camp next to the end of the train tracks. Every foot of track had been laid by hand by men like and unlike Boris with picks, axes, and hammers; men in lines of six or more carrying lengths of steel and men in twos carrying wooden cross-ties which were laid quickly under the unnecessary guidance of a series of men introduced only as Engineer Kornokov, Engineer Sveldonovich, Engineer Prerskanski.

They were told that they had laid over two thousand miles of track. They were told that they had more than three thousand miles more to put down.

The best way to think about it, Boris had long ago decided, was not to see it as a project that had an end. He had quickly decided that this was his life’s work and that he would probably not live to see the last tracks laid down in the city of Moscow.

One of the men, a lean convict known as Stem, looked over his shoulder at Boris.

“Here?” Stem asked.

“Keep going,” said Boris, again shifting the body on his shoulder. Boris’s dead man had died the night before, gasping for air, eyes wide in horror, looking from face to face for help, for air. Boris did not know his dead man’s last name, but he did know his first, Yakov, and his approximate weight, heavy.

Stem stopped and turned. The others stopped too. One of them, a dark little bull named Hantov, rasped, “What’s wrong with here?”

Boris strode on, moving through the scattering of men. Here would have been fine. It really didn’t matter where they dropped the bodies, but Boris was in charge. He had to make the decision. There were thousands of miles to go, and his survival and reputation might well depend on how resolute he was.

Many had died, from the plague, disease, landslides, floods, anthrax, tigers, a wide variety of accidents and fights. The engineers and bosses who died were boxed and shipped to Vladivostok or back to Moscow to be buried as heroes of the czar’s grand plan to unite Moscow with all of Siberia, right to the coast, only a few hundred miles from Japan.

It was to be the longest railroad in history. It was to be the most expensive railroad in history. It was to be a tribute to the royal family, to the memory of Alexander, to the triumph of Nicholas.

Boris cared nothing for the royal family. He cared only for his own family in Irkutsk, for warm clothes and enough food to eat.

He had been among those in the crowd two years earlier on May 31, 1891, when the Vladivostok station had been declared open and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway had officially begun. Czarevitch Nicolya Alexandrovitch, the heir to Emperor Alexander III, laid a stone-and-silver plate to commemorate the undertaking. There had been applause. The white gloves that Nicholas had worn to lay the stone had been taken off ceremoniously and placed in a jeweled box, which was carried away by the mayor of the city to be displayed in a place of honor to be determined.

“What’s wrong with here?” asked Stem.

Boris kept walking. He did not turn around. They would either follow him or kill him, drop the bodies, and go back saying he had fallen in a hole or been attacked by a bear. No one would know. No one would check. There were more than eighty thousand men working on the railroad. Hundreds died every week.

“I said, What’s wrong with here?” Stem repeated.

Stem had been in a St. Petersburg prison for theft. He had also committed two murders but had not been caught for those crimes. The other convicts had come from all over Russia. None had been asked if they wanted to die building a railroad. None had been promised anything more than food and work and time, perhaps years, away from prison.

Boris walked on.

“These corpses are diseased,” another man called to Boris’s back. “We’re breathing in their death.”

Actually, only four of the dead bodies had been superficially diagnosed as diseased. Two had died in accidents.

A second blast, louder than the first, shattered the morning. Birds went silent to listen.

“There,” said Boris, continuing forward toward an opening before him.

He moved slowly to a trio of rocks, large, almost black, each the height of a man. He dropped the corpse he was carrying in a small clearing next to the rocks and looked around. Silence. Streaks of sunlight, not many, came down like narrow lantern beams through the tree branches. It was the right place, a natural cathedral. Boris had imagination and intelligence he kept hidden. There was nothing to be gained by the revelation of either, and much to be lost.

He was big Boris, good-natured, a loner, not to be crossed.

When he fought he was ruthless and violent. When he talked, which was seldom, he kept it brief.

Boris turned to face the five men, who moved toward him and followed his lead, dropping the bodies not far from the dark rocks. One man shivered with the loss of his burden. Another tried to rub death from his shoulder.

There was no talk of burial. The wolves and other animals would come quickly. There would be only bones before a week was out.

Stem looked at the jigsaw pile of bodies, made a V with the filthy fingers of his left hand, and spat between them in a gesture of peasant superstition which Boris ignored.

“A prayer,” said Boris.

Some of the convicts laughed. One turned into a paroxysm of coughing, a hacking cough which suggested to the others that he might be among those on the next pile of the dead.

“Go back, then,” Boris said.

“I have a message for the dead,” Stem said. “Save a warm place for me. May there be large women in hell. May there be a hell to welcome us.”

“Stem’s a poet,” called a man named David, who had a large lower lip and the look of an idiot.

“Go back,” Boris repeated softly, knowing that their show of false courage in the face of lonely death needed punctuation. “I’ll join you.”

The men started back through the forest. Boris remained behind. No one looked back at him. Let him say a prayer. He wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t going to run away, hide, try to find a village or a hunter to take him in. None of the five convicts even considered escape. They knew better.

Boris did not pray. He watched till the men were no longer slodging ghosts in the mist. Then he quickly removed the package from his pocket.

The package was narrow, small, animal-skin-bound with strips of leather covering a metal box. Boris moved quickly behind the three rocks, searching for some safe place, some protected niche. He spotted it quickly. Luck was with him, though he had been prepared to make his own luck.

There was a thin opening in the rock on his right, a little above eye level. Boris knew his package would fit. It would be tight, but it would fit. He had a good eye for such things. He wedged the package into the space as far as it would go and then found a handful of small stones to cover the opening. He cracked through the permafrost with the heel of his boot and scooped up cold mud, filling in the cracks. He worked quickly and stepped back to assess his work. It was close to perfect. He knew it would be. He had planned, practiced.

He stepped away from the three rocks and the white corpses without saying a prayer. The dead needed no prayers. If there was a God, he would take those he deemed worthy. No entreaties from the living would make a difference. If there was no God, then prayers were only for the living who believed or wanted to protect themselves in case they might someday believe.

He moved quickly, straight, his boots no longer cracking the icy surface now that he had relieved himself of Yakov’s corpse. Boris knew exactly, within feet, the number of miles they were from the next planned station. He knew the range of hills and low mountains and had chosen this spot and this moment because of the distinct shape of one of those nearby mountains. He had seen the mountain the day before when there had been some sun and the mist had drifted away.

He had missed one opportunity a week earlier. There had been another burial detail scheduled. Boris could not volunteer. No one volunteered for corpse carrying, but he had known the detail was coming and had stayed near the weary section boss who usually simply looked up and pointed to the nearest men, assigning them the duty. The section boss, through dull heavy eyes, had simply missed Boris in spite of his proximity and size. So Boris, his dangerous package tucked deeply and safely inside the lining of his jacket, had to wait.

And then this morning’s chance had come and the signs had been there, the mountain, the location. He committed distance and signs to memory. They were not complicated. Later, if he lived, he would return. If he did not, he would give directions to his wife or his brother or whoever remained of his family, though he doubted anyone but he could find the place again.

Boris moved back toward the train quickly. He caught up with the five convicts, whose pace had slowed once they had left the dead comfortably behind in the clearing.

“You said your prayers?” asked Stem.

Boris nodded and grunted.

“If you have to carry me someday,” Stem said, suddenly solemn and very softly, “say the same one for me.”

“I will,” Boris said. “You have my promise.”

When they got back to the camp, they smelled something cooking. It was familiar and not welcoming—a huge vat of soup or gruel made from whatever stock might be on hand and whatever animals, if any, the hunters had found.

Boris had once found a whole mouse in his bowl. Others had claimed to find even worse.

There was a stir of activity among the men both outside the railroad cars and within. People were shouting. Armed soldiers, rifles in hand, hurried in pairs and trios alongside the tracks. Through the frosted windows Boris could see men being stripped naked, uniformed soldiers watching over them. He saw one man bent over, spreading the cheeks of his behind so a teeth-clenched soldier could examine his opening.

“What’s going on?” one of the convicts who had been on the burial detail asked.

“Search,” said a cook’s assistant with a big belly. The assistant was smoking a cigarette and glancing back. “Something’s missing. They won’t say what. They’ve torn the camp apart, gone through the train, everything. They decided I haven’t hidden whatever it is up my ass. Now it’s your turn.”

“Shit,” said one of the convicts. “I’m going to hide till they’re finished.”

“You cannot hide. Better get it over,” the cook’s assistant said. “Can’t serve food till they’re done. And they give you a red card when they finish with you. When they’ve gone over everything, we all stand in line and return the red cards.”

“What the hell is missing,” asked Stem, “the crown jewels?”

“How would the crown jewels get on a track-laying train in Siberia?” answered the cook’s assistant.

“Then …”

“Who knows?” said the cook irritably. “Maybe some government official or a general just went crazy, lost his wallet or his pocket watch. Just get it over.”

Boris stepped ahead of the group and moved toward a trio of soldiers who stood before a shivering quartet of naked men. One of the soldiers went through the pile of clothing. The other two soldiers were giving careful examinations of the naked men.

Boris looked up at the frosted window of the train car a few feet away. Inside the car, a thin naked man was dangling from a bar by a rope tied around his wrists. At his side stood a very short man in a heavy black-wool sweater. The short man was whispering to the dangling man, who struggled to keep his head upright. Boris’s eyes met those of the dangling man and Boris gave a small nod.

By the time the short man had turned to look out the window, Boris was but one of a group of more than a dozen men.

“You,” called one of the soldiers, pointing at Boris. “You are next.”

Boris moved dutifully forward.

Part I
Day One

Chapter 1

CHIEF INSPECTOR PORFIRY PETROVICH Rostnikov stood at the window of his office with a reasonably hot cup of strong Turkish coffee warming the palms of his hands. The sun glowed like a dying bulb through gray clouds that hinted at a first snow of the season.

He looked at the two pine trees in the courtyard of Petrovka, the central police headquarters in Moscow. Petrovka was named for Petrovka Street, which runs in front of the six-story U-shaped white building, just as Scotland Yard in London and One Police Plaza in New York were named for their addresses.

He had ten minutes before the morning meeting with Igor Yaklovev, director of the Office of Special Investigation. He took a sip of coffee. It was strong, and that was good, because the cold gray winter sky of early morning suggested not even a hint of warmth.

The biggest unit of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Division is the Investigative Directorate, which includes fourteen investigative divisions, including theft, plunder, and murder. The fifteenth unit, the Office of Special Investigation, exists for one thing only, to deal with those cases which no one else wants because they are politically sensitive, unlikely to be solved, or offer little promise and much potential grief.

The young man seated in front of Porfiry Petrovich’s desk looked down at the sheet of paper in front of him. A name was written on the sheet. Rostnikov had not spoken the name aloud. His office was wired. Everything said within its walls was recorded on tape in the office of the director of the Office of Special Investigation. Rostnikov knew this, and Yaklovev, known as the Yak, knew that his chief inspector was aware of the recordings.

The Yak had survived the reshuffling of the former KGB, the fall of the Soviet Union, enemies, both political and personal, and had come out with information that could embarrass many leaders in government, the military, intelligence, and business.

The Yak had worked with and knew Vladimir Putin from the days when they had both been with the KGB in Leningrad, which was now St. Petersburg.

The Yak could have insinuated himself into a higher office but he had judged that his time had not yet come. Leaders fell too quickly. Patient and cautious bureaucrats survived.

And so he had asked for and been assigned the Office of Special Investigation which, under its former head, Colonel Snitkonoy, the Gray Wolfhound, had been largely ceremonial, that is before Rostnikov had been transferred to it from the Office of the Moscow Procurator.

The Wolfhound had been promoted to head of security at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg largely as a result of the success of the Special Investigation Office under Rostnikov. The Yak had stepped in with the goal of adding to his well-protected collection of incriminating tapes and documents while building his reputation as a man who could get things done without embarrassment.

Rostnikov and the Yak had a distinctly symbiotic relationship. The Yak protected Rostnikov—who often stepped on the boots or polished shoes of those in power—and Rostnikov and his team provided the Yak with a series of successes and connections to grateful victims and offenders.

And so, not wanting to put on tape the name that was before his son, Iosef, Rostnikov had written it out. Iosef Rostnikov, the most recent addition to Porfiry Petrovich’s team, had understood.

“Find what you can about her,” said Rostnikov, looking out the window at a man in a knee-length leather jacket, briefcase in hand, hurrying through the guarded iron gates below.

“She doesn’t want the children,” Iosef said.

“She says that she does” Rostnikov said, turning from the window and moving to his desk. There was only so long that he could stand on his metal-and-plastic left leg. It was far better in many ways than the withered one he had dragged around since he was a boy, but the lost leg had been like a crippled child. He could talk to that leg, urge it on, cajole it. This piece of alien material had no soul. Sometimes Rostnikov admitted to himself that he missed the pain of the lost limb. He could, of course, visit the leg whenever he wished. It resided in a large jar in-the second level under Petrovka in Paulinin’s laboratory, a jungle of books, jars, metal containers, tables, and equipment that might well have been antiques salvaged after the fall of the castle of Baron Frankenstein. That was the way Paulinin liked it, Paulinin who talked to corpses and collected their spare parts and assorted objects of metal, wood, plastic, and bone. It was widely believed that he had Stalin’s brain well hidden among the rubble. Rostnikovs leg was in good or bad company, depending on one’s view of Stalin.

At one point in his youthful zeal, Porfiry Petrovich had (as had most Russians) seen Stalin as a near God, a father, a man who deserved the name Man of Steel. Porfiry Petrovich had named his only child in honor of Stalin. Not many years afterward Rostnikov had regretted his decision, but his son had by then worn the name well.

The name on the sheet of paper before Iosef Rostnikov was “Miriana Panishkoya Ivanovna.” Miriana’s two young daughters, Laura and Nina, along with their grandmother, Galina, were now living in the one-bedroom apartment of Rostnikov and his wife, Sarah, on Krasnikov Street.

It had come about like this. Miriana had simply walked out on her children, leaving them with her mother. The grandmother, who was sixty-four years old at the time, had done her best for them on an insignificant pension and odd jobs. Then one day in a state bakery she had been turned away by the manager, a petty tyrant. The grandmother had begged for bread. The manager had grown loud and foul. The grandmother, in a state of confusion, had shot him with his own gun. The grandmother had gone to prison, and Rostnikov and Sarah had taken in the two girls while she served her time.

Now the girls’ mother was back.

“She wants money?” asked Iosef, pocketing the sheet of paper.

“That will be the next step,” said Rostnikov, seated but not wanting to settle in because it was nearly time for the morning meeting.

“And you shall refuse?” said Iosef.

“I shall tell her that it is her right to take the children and that your mother and I will miss them.”

“And she will walk away.”

“Perhaps with some help provided by you. If that fails, I will employ the law.”

Neither man needed to discuss what this meant. The laws of Russia were a shambles: a basis in old Soviet law, assumptions of common sense and vague precedents, smatterings of Western manipulations gleaned from reruns of “Law & Order,” “L.A. Law,” “Rumpole of the Bailey,” and ancient black-and-white episodes of “Perry Mason.”

The law, in short, was whatever the politically appointed and. frequently corrupt judges wanted it to be. While corruption and politics pervaded the old Soviet system, there were still occasional Communist zealots on the bench who stood behind and believed in the oppressive laws in the books they seldom read.

Now the law was written by Kafka.

Rostnikov would know how to use that law to rid himself of the suddenly returned mother. His concern was less with getting rid of her than in not adding to the weight of the world the two girls and their grandmother were already carrying. It was only in the past few months that the girls had begun to come out, to talk, to begin to smile and ask for small things.

Rostnikov finished the last of his coffee and rose, saying, “Shall we go?

Iosef rose and nodded.

Rostnikov picked up his notebook and with his coffee cup in hand followed his son to the door.

“Karpo and Zelach are not back?” Rostnikov asked as his son opened the door.


“Then,” he said as they moved into the corridor, “perhaps it will be a short meeting.”

“We can hope,” said Iosef, walking next to his father.

“We’re Russians. It’s what we do best.”

There were three of them, two young men and a young woman. They were nude from the waist up. They were in one bed, looking up sleepily at the two odd men who had awakened them at the insane hour of eight in the morning.

“Which one of you is Misha Lovski?” asked the lean pale apparition in black slacks, tieless shirt, and jacket.

Karpo and Zelach had knocked at the door. They had heard the sound of tired voices inside the apartment. No one had come. They knocked again and waited. When there had been no answer, Karpo had nodded to Zelach, who adjusted his glasses and threw his shoulder against the door. The door flew open with a spray of wood chips and splinters.

Karpo had his weapon in hand as Zelach stepped to the side. In front of him in the single room cluttered with clothes, compact disks, empty liquor bottles, and full ashtrays was the bed with the trio under a blanket covered with cartoon figures of a fat man with a flowing white beard and a mass of wild hair.

The three in the bed should have been frightened. Perhaps they were, but the fear did not fully surface. To Emil Karpo they looked drugged, sleepy, and less than aware that life was a fragile thing.

“Misha Lovski?” Karpo repeated, putting his weapon back in the holster under his jacket.

The young man on the right side of the bed ran his hand across his shaved head and said to the ghostly figure in front of him, Cops?

“We are the police,” Karpo answered.

“We know no Misha Lovski,” the young man said, touching his bald head.

“He pays for this apartment,” Karpo said.

“The Naked Cossack pays for this apartment,” the young man said.

“Who are you?”

“Yakov Mitsin,” said Zelach. “Known as Acid. The Naked Cossack is the name of the lead singer and of the band. They are the Naked Cossacks.”

Karpo glanced at his fellow officer. Zelach was a constant enigma, overweight, nearsighted, less than bright. He lived with his mother and blessed his luck at having been assigned to the Office of Special Investigation. He knew he was slow, but Zelach the Slouch was loyal and reliable. He was also a constant surprise to his fellow investigators in moments such as this.

“You’ve got it,” said the literally nude young man, pointing a finger at Zelach, who was doing his best not to look at the full breasts of the girl in the middle of the two young men. “The Cossacks name is not Lovski. Lovski’s a Jew name.”

“What is his last name?” Karpo asked.

The three looked at each other for an answer. None came.

“We never asked. He never mentioned.”

“And you two?” asked Karpo. “Your names?”

“Valéry Postnov,” said the other young man, the youngest of the group, frail, blond hair cropped bristle-close, blue-eyed.

“Pure Knuckles,” said Zelach.

“Pure Knuckles,” the young man confirmed.

The girl reached past Pure Knuckles, her breasts brushing against his chest. Her right hand grabbed a package of cigarettes and a matchbook. She jiggled as she sat upright, lit one of the cigarettes, and lay back. Her hair, cut short in a neat bob, was a flaming and artificial neon red.

“And you?” asked Karpo.

“Nina Aronskaya,” she said.

Karpo hesitated for an instant, waiting for Zelach to reveal her colorful identity. Zelach said nothing. This one he did not know.

“Anarchista,” she said, looking at Zelach and smiling.’

“Steel Ladies,” Zelach said.

“You know your metal,” the girl said with a smile, pointing her cigarette at the bespectacled, rumpled detective who managed not to blush. “Now I’m with Naked Cossack.”

“So,” said Yakov Mitsin, who got out of the bed, revealing his full nakedness. “I will guess. Somebody doesn’t like our music. You’re going to haul us in for treason or drugs or something. Okay. Then we get our lawyer. The newspapers, television, foreign journalists come. We get big coverage, free publicity. I’ll get my pants on and be ready in a minute.”

He moved across the room.

“Stop,” said Karpo.

The young man halted, shook his head, and turned toward the pale figure in black. He met the man’s eyes with an air of practiced indifference, but he saw something there that he had not seen before.

The pale detective did not blink. He neither smiled nor frowned.

“Turn around, sit down,” said Karpo.

The young man considered a smirk but thought better of it. He sat on the edge of the bed and took an offered cigarette from the girl.

“What do you want?”

“We’re looking for Misha,” said, Karpo.

“Naked Cossack,” Zelach reminded him.

“What’s he done?” asked the thin blond boy, looking at the girl for guidance.

“Nothing,” said Karpo. “He is missing.”

The nude Mitsin laughed and looked at the equally unclothed girl, who smiled.

“When he’s gone for a month, we can worry,” Mitsin said. “He could be …”

“He made a call to the police,” said Karpo. “Said he was being held by someone. He sounded frightened.”

“Bullshit,” said the girl.

“The call is recorded,” said Karpo. “It is his voice. He sounds genuinely frightened.”

“Genuinely frightened,” Mitsin mimicked.

“I am familiar with genuine fear,” said Karpo.

And the three in the bed knew instantly that he was.

“We do not know where he is,” said the blond boy. “Why come to us? Hell, what are we going to do? He’s got a concert on. Saturday. You think he is? …”

“I will ask questions,” Karpo said. “You will answer them. If I am satisfied with your answers, we will leave. If I am not, you will come with us to Petrovka.”

“Shit,” said Mitsin. “Ask.”

“What are you doing here in Misha Lovski’s apartment?”

“We crash and burn here sometimes. Sometimes other places. Sometimes here. Places,” said the girl, looking at Zelach and smiling. “And his name is not Lovski.”

“When did you last see him?”

“Cossack? Yesterday maybe,” Mitsin said.

“Day before,” the girl corrected.

“Day before,” the blond boy confirmed.

“Where did he go?”

“Go?” Mitsin shrugged. “I got to piss.”

He got up and moved slowly, sleepily, toward the open door of the bathroom a few feet away. Zelach could see a melange of towels and a dented bar of soap on the floor.

“Could have gone lots of places,” the girl took up, playing with her cigarette. “He hangs with the skiny, sometimes in Gorbushka. Sometimes at Loni’s. Sometimes who knows where?”

Skiny, Karpo knew, were the young skinheads, not an organized gang but a teeming youth culture with no core but a shared belief in hatred of foreigners and nonwhite races, clad in neo-Nazi chic, leather jackets decorated with swastikas and wearing highly polished black boots. Groups of skinheads routinely beat up blacks, Vietnamese, and Chechins and sprayed anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of public buildings and in the dark underpasses beneath broad and crowded Moscow streets.

Their enemies were the rappery, with baggy pants, baseball caps worn backwards, puffy parka jackets, spiked hair, addicted to American rap and hip-hop and trying to sound African-American, which was particularly bizarre in street Russian.

Rappery and skiny clashed, often violently, the skiny going for bright, Phat Pharm rip-off clothing, and the rappery tearing off the treasured boots of a skiny caught alone and kicked to the ground.

Karpo had seen both groups, sometimes in the same obyezannik, the police-precinct cages designed for drunks and petty criminals, sitting in clusters across from each other, neither group moving, too weak from the beatings they had been given by each other and the police who picked them up.

Gorbushka was the open-air market in a wooded park at the northwest edge of the city. Not unlike the Paris flea market, Gorbushka was where ordinary citizens flocked to buy pirated videotapes, computer software, compact disks ranging from country-and western to Frank Sinatra. But lately the market had become a mecca for skinys, and foreign visitors, particularly those who were not white, had been issued unofficial warnings to avoid the market. An African-American marine guard at the US Embassy had recently ignored the warning and wound up badly beaten. When one of his attackers was caught, he proudly told the television camera in his face, “Black people seem to be attracted to my fists like metal to a magnet. Everywhere I go they bite me on the fists.”

In the market stands a low gray granite building where only the skiny dare enter. Heavy-metal music promising death and celebrating hate booms while bald young patrons laugh and buy boots, CDs, American Confederate flags, leather jackets, Nazi flags and copies of Nazi medals, and pick up pamphlets preaching racism and rabid nationalism.

“Where is Loni’s?” Karpo asked.

“Kropotkin Street,” said Zelach.

The girl looked at Zelach with amusement and said, “You retro?”

Zelach looked at Karpo, who looked back and said nothing.

“Jefferson Starship, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath,” Zelach muttered.


“Ozzy Osborne’s ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ and ‘Psycho, Man.’ Ted Nugent’s ‘Cat Scratch Fever.’”

“No,” the blond kid said incredulously. “Heavy, really heavy. Russian?”

“Kruiz, ‘Mental Home,’” Zelach said, taking off his glasses so he would not see the bare-breasted girl clearly.

“Favorite fem?”

“Diana Mangano,” Zelach said softly, cleaning his glasses.

“Total Chaos?” the blond kid tested, showing teeth in need of serious dental work. “Latest album.”

“In God We Kill” said Zelach, putting his glasses back on and glancing at Karpo in apology.

“Amazing,” said the girl. “Old bastard like you.”

Zelach was not yet forty.

The toilet flushed. The door had not been closed. There was no sound of running water. Acid had not washed his hands.

“This cop is plugged in,” said the girl, bubbling out from under the blanket now, sitting cross-legged, totally and un-self-consciously revealing herself. “Try him.”

Mitsin stopped and said, “Best Latvian group.”

“I think Skyforger,” said Zelach.

The blond boy clapped and the girl laughed. Mitsin grinned.

“We’ll talk to you,” Mitsin said. “Not the slant.”

Karpo considered. His primary nickname, never spoken to his face, was the Vampire. He was well aware of the appellation and did not consider it unflattering. He was also known as the Tatar because of his Asian eyes, earned through Tatar blood. His options were simple. He needed information. He had an assignment. Emil Karpo had no family, no religion—aside from his almost-forgotten mother, the only woman who had meant anything to him was dead, and the religion of Communism in which he had fully believed and to which he had dedicated his existence was gone. There was only his duty, the universal hope of the policeman to keep the animals from taking over the jungle, the personal commitment to social order.

Karpo considered firing his weapon or breaking the arm of the strutting, chicken-breasted young man, not out of anger but because he knew the effort would be rewarded. Death, which Emil Karpo did not fear, turned young posturers and old criminals into cooperative babblers. These three held no beliefs or loyalties for which they would risk their lives. But instead of speaking he turned to Zelach and nodded.

Zelach did not want to speak. He did not want to look at the girl, who could have been no more than seventeen or eighteen. He wanted to leave but he had trapped himself into being the interpreter of a language that Emil Karpo did not understand.

“Loni’s,” Zelach said. “Where else? Politik, Ruint?”

“Bloody,” the girl said. “Cross Ruint. Alloys now. Aluminum. Naked Cossack’s pure iron. You know his grunt?”

“‘Clear the streets with my grandfathers scythe,’” said Zelach. “‘Cut the weeds that hide in the folds of slants and midnight faces taking root in dark places, breaking through the cracks and spaces we’ll take back from spades with aces.’”

“Fucking amazing,” said the girl. “Come back alone later and get skinny.”

Zelach blushed and tried to catch his breath. He wanted to run from the room. “A name?” he asked.

“Time is it?”

“Early, early,” said the blond boy.

“Boris 666 at Politik,” the girl said.


“No and,” Mitsin said, getting back in bed.

Zelach looked at Karpo, who nodded. Zelach suppressed a sigh of relief.

“The Cossack is just playing games,” the girl said. “He will turn up.

Karpo walked to the open broken door of the apartment with Zelach behind him.

“Name the cop in black,” the girl said.

“Pure Death,” said Mitsin.

“And specs,” she added. “He’s mine. Nine Millimeter.”

Zelach couldn’t help glancing back at the girl, who smiled at him as he followed Karpo into the hall. Zelach knew his nickname in the department as surely as Karpo knew his and Porfiry Petrovich knew he was the Washtub. Zelach was the Slouch. He far preferred Nine Millimeter.

On the street, Karpo turned to Zelach, who tried to suppress a twitch and meet the Tatar’s eyes.

“You are an enigma, Zelach.”

“I’m sorry.

“It was not a criticism. It was an observation. The music?”

“I … when, it was a year ago—no, it was two years ago. Sasha and I, a crime scene. The boy who killed his mother. I don’t remember his name.”

“Konstantin Perkovov,” Karpo supplied.

“Yes, Perkovov. He had boxes of heavy-metal compact disks. He killed himself. No relatives. They would just be taken by neighbors, uniformed officers.”

“You stole them,” Karpo said.

Only to Karpo would it be considered stealing, Zelach thought. The police helped themselves in cases like the Perkovov killing. The police were barely paid a living existence. There were few advantages to the job. Minor pillage was an accepted perk. Zelach almost never took advantage of such opportunities, but when there was something for his mother, something small, a table lamp, a painting of flowers, a good cooking pot, he would tuck it under his arm, not trying to hide his small booty. The CDs had been a mistake. He had hoped they would be popular songs or classical music for his mother. He had not looked at the covers. The CDs had been crammed into a cardboard box and he had seen only their plastic edges.

When he got home and saw what he had taken, he considered selling them to his neighbor Tatoloy, who had a stall near Pushkin Square. But he had played one of the CDs, something by a group called Deep. The song, booming, beating, had moved through him like a jolt of straight caffeine. “The end is now,” a raspy voice had croaked, and Zelach was fascinated.

Even his mother had listened, though she had told him to keep the volume low. She did not like the music but she saw what it did to her son. She sensed him vibrating with emotions he certainly did not understand. She did not discourage him.

None of this Zelach could explain to Karpo.

“I stole them,” Zelach said simply.

Karpo nodded and moved toward the nearest metro station. Zelach knew they were going to search for someone named Boris 666 at Politik. He Walked next to the Vampire quietly, trying not to think of the naked girl, saying to himself “Nine Millimeter,” trying to hear her voice as she had said it, trying not to see her smile.

Chapter 2

THE SUBWAY ATTACKS,” SAID the Yak, opening the top file in front of him.

It was his first statement of the meeting, the first thing he had said since the detectives had filed into his office and taken their usual seats at the rectangular wooden conference table. Rostnikov, sitting across from Igor Yaklovev, did not look up from the open notebook in front of him. Pencil in hand, moving on the page, he nodded in acceptance. The reason the subway attacks had been moved to the top of the agenda was the fact that the latest victim was an army colonel who had died on a busy train platform the night before.

The newspapers carried photographs of the dead man on the platform, wearing a black suit and tie. Television commentators spoke hurriedly while the screen showed photographs of the dead man in full uniform with a chest full of medals and a solemn look on his face befitting a veteran of both the Afghan and Chechin wars.

The clock on the wall, round, with a dark wooden frame, ticked softly.

The office was large, larger than Yaklovev would have wanted, but he had inherited it. To have asked for a smaller one would have been seen as a calculated move to appear humble. The Yak was not humble but he was cautious. He had changed little in the office when he moved in. The large desk with the Gray Wolfhound’s high-backed chair behind it stood behind the conference table. Where a painting of Lenin had once hung over the high-backed chair there now hung a full-color photograph of the gate to the Kremlin. A large window, now behind the Yak’s back as he sat, faced into the same courtyard Rostnikov could see from his own small office. The day was sunny. The parted curtains let in the light.

The Yak was alone on his side of the table. Across from him sat Rostnikov, flanked by Sasha Tkach, Elena Timofeyeva, and Iosef Rostnikov. At the end of the table, seated alone, pad open in front of him, a pile of files neatly stacked, sat Pankov, the diminutive assistant to the director. Pankov was a thin, nervous perspirer who, like the office, had been inherited by the Yak. Pankov’s mission in life was to survive. He survived by pleasing the director, whoever the director might be. His fear was that he would displease the director. Nothing, not even a kind word from the Yak, which had not come in the two years Yaklovev had been the director, could give Pankov real pleasure. The little man lived simply and gratefully to continue to exist, eat an occasional sweet, avoid being scolded, and visit the zoo to calm himself in the presence of animals in cages even smaller than his office.

Rostnikov had already given his report explaining the absence of Karpo and Zelach. Since the director had given the order to find the missing musician, he asked no question about the absence of the two detectives.

Rostnikov knew why the task of finding a missing semipopular singer was of any importance.

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