- About the Book
- About the Author
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Looking for more suspense?
- Begin Reading
About the Book
Rostnikov uncovers a crime spree with roots in a long-lost Tsarist treasure.
Porfiry Rostnikov was just a boy when he lobbed a grenade at the Nazi tank, destroying the evil machine and his left leg with it. And after five decades’ dragging his lame leg behind him, the police inspector decides to have the useless limb amputated. The Cold War is over, and as Russia learns to walk again, its finest policeman must do the same.
Meanwhile, a knife-wielding rapist known as the Silent One terrorizes the women of Moscow, and a bloodthirsty gunman begins a campaign to exterminate the city’s Jews. And while investigating this hate-fueled crime wave, Rostnikov uncovers a mystery concerning a murdered baroness and a priceless wolf statue that has been missing since 1862. Moscow is on the verge of a bright new future, but the horrors of this ancient city’s past may mean a return to the dark ages.
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.
An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery
Stuart M. Kaminsky
To Eleanor, Tim, and Catherine Mullin with thanks for thirty years of continued friendship, help, hospitality, and kindness. We think of you as an essential and supportive part of our family.
—Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Saint Petersburg, Russia, 1862
A WOMAN HAD BEEN BRUTALLY murdered. She was the baroness Anastasia Volodov-Kronof.
The baroness was a woman of great wealth and social power who threw an annual celebration with wine, wild fowl, and an assortment of cakes in the park near the new Hermitage. All were invited. The tradition had begun eight years ago when her husband died. The celebration on the anniversary of the baron’s death was considered to be either a sign of respect for a loyal officer of the czar or a sign of relief that the widow was finally free of an abusive martinet. She had married the baron when she was a girl of fourteen and he an officer of thirty.
Her death did not sit well with the populace of Saint Petersburg in 1862. She was a benefactor, an emulator of the aristocracy of France that had repeatedly rejected her. Her husband was an official hero of his country. Though she lived like a grand dame of Western Europe, holding salons for young artists, she, in quite general but sincere terms, espoused the causes of justice, freedom for all, and an eventual abolition of some of the more unjust practices of the aristocracy.
It was said that Czar Alexander himself had invited the baroness to all palace parties and looked upon her with favor. In turn, she had prepared a will in which a very valuable gold wolf the size of a small dog, encrusted with jewels, would be given to the royal family upon her death for inclusion in the growing Hermitage collection. The wolf, a central figure of her former husband’s crest, had been commissioned by the late baron and was completed according to the baron’s instructions by a young French jeweler named Emile Toussaint.
Accused of the baroness’s violent murder was a thin young man she had taken under her broad wing, into her ample bosom, and under the silk sheets of her French bed. In addition to her murder, the young man and three of his comrades were also accused of taking the gold wolf to sell to a wealthy foreign monarch to support a small group of anticzarist revolutionaries.
The young man was twenty-five, one of the new breed who wore long hair, mustaches, and black coats, and uttered proclamations about the rights of serfs. He was the grandson of a Decembrist, one of the officers who had staged a revolt against Czar Nicholas. His grandfather, Peotor Marlovov, had returned to Saint Petersburg from Siberia five years earlier, in 1857, under pardon from the czar. The old man had planted in his grandson the seed of revolution.
The thin young man and his three comrades, two of whom were army officers, were shackled together and flanked by a dozen armed soldiers as they marched through Senate Square by the Neva River. The strange-looking little man who was in charge of the armed escort marched next to Marlovov and his comrades. The two were a remarkable contrast. Marlovov, in spite of or because of his hard youth in Siberia, stood tall, thin, erect, and handsomely confident with his hair cut stylishly long in the French manner. If any look dominated his face, it was superiority. Though he had been named Vladimir, he called himself Louis.
The little man at his side was another matter altogether. He had great difficulty keeping up with the long-striding prisoner and the brightly uniformed guards.
His name was Colonel Dieter Fritch, a German in the service of the czar. Fritch, well dressed in a white uniform, was about forty, fat, and clean-shaven. His hair was short and he had a large round head that was unusually bulbous in the back. His soft, round, snub-nosed face was yellowish in color as if he had seldom ventured out into the daylight. He wore a perpetual knowing smile as if he kept a secret that he might some day share with you. There was something decidedly feminine about the little man except for his eyes below white lashes, moist eyes that were quite serious.
“If we were to walk a bit slower,” said Fritch with a decidedly German accent, “I would not breathe so heavily and we could talk.”
It was summer, and the trees were blocking a view of the admiralty facade.
Louis preened his mustache, shrugged slightly, and glanced down at the ridiculous little man. The other prisoners and the two armed guards slowed just a bit.
“Thank you,” said Fritch, producing a large handkerchief and mopping his brow. “May we sit briefly?”
Louis sighed with annoyance and looked at his comrades and the guards, one of whom looked at the little German and nodded. The shackled friends strode to a concrete balustrade and sat. The German sat beside Louis. The soldiers stood.
The leader of the armed escort, a young lieutenant in the red uniform of the royal family’s personal guard, said, “Ten minutes, Colonel. No more. We’ll be in trouble if we don’t deliver them for trial on time.”
The wooden benches would be packed to see the men who had murdered the popular baroness Volodov-Kronof.
“You have not confessed to the murder,” said Colonel Fritch, turning his large eyes on the handsome young poet. The other three accused looked straight ahead in marble silence. “You have refused to talk to a lawyer. You refuse to admit your guilt. You refuse to proclaim your innocence. You should be easy to convict and hang. Judge Volorov, at his own request, has been assigned to this case. He was a personal friend of the baroness’s. He holds a long-standing grudge against the Decembrists and their survivors. He has no fondness for European dilettantes.”
“Is that what you take me for?” asked the young man with a sigh.
“It is what the judge and jury will take you for,” said Fritch. “And, I must confess, it is what you appear to be.”
“You have read my poetry?” asked the young man, crossing his legs.
“Some. The thin book published by the baroness.”
“And?” asked the young man.
“You are more interested in the review of your work by a foreign member of the czar’s staff than in possibly saving your life?”
“Your assessment of my work?” the young man repeated.
“Self-indulgent. Mediocre. Unoriginal. Insincere,” said Fritch. “But what do I know? I’m a soldier, not a critic of poetry.”
“Went to the theater,” the young man said, looking toward the river. “The play was about the Russian fool Filatka. Laughed a lot. They had a vaudeville show as well, full of amusing verse lampooning lawyers, so outspoken that I wondered how it got past the censor. Civil servants are such swine. … You won’t catch clods like them going to the theater, not even if they’re given free tickets.”
“Gogol, ‘Diary of a Madman,’” said Fritch, recognizing the quotation, “but you left out merchants and newspapermen who criticize everything.”
The young man looked at the colonel with a new respect.
“You do read.”
“With slowly growing skill,” said Fritch. “And I send people to prison, into exile, or before a firing squad. Occasionally I help them if they are innocent. Are you innocent of this murder, Vladimir Marlovov?”
“I am guilty of the murder,” the young man said with little interest. “These three others are completely innocent. And I prefer to be called Louis.”
“More French,” said Colonel Fritch.
“Five more minutes,” said the lieutenant.
A warm wind blew down the corridor of buildings.
One of the two soldiers under arrest, a young man with wild hair and in need of a shave, muttered, “We are all equally responsible for what took place.”
“They mean to kill us,” said Marlovov with a shrug. “There is little we can do.”
The little man stood and began to pace slowly in front of the four young men.
“The murder happened only two days ago,” he said, “and you have refused to speak to a policeman or a lawyer.”
“And soon we will face a jury and judge,” said Marlovov, “who will convict us in rather short order.”
Fritch wished they were in his curtained office with the big desk. A little intimidation, with time to break down the suspects would work better than hurried talks in the square with a third-rate poet who was decidedly unlikable. Work on them individually. Find a weak one. But the czar had personally given Fritch his instructions, and there was to be no delay.
“Facts,” said the little German. “On the morning of July the third, there was a scream in the apartment of the baroness. It was heard by a maid, who came running into the lady’s chamber, where you stood nude over her equally naked body on the bed. In your hand was a knife covered in blood.”
“Rather damning evidence,” admitted Marlovov.
“And your three friends, all members of the new Decembrist movement, were described by witnesses as leaving the apartments of the baroness carrying something in a blanket. The famed golden wolf had been removed from its place on the marble pedestal in the bedroom.”
Marlovov sighed. “I was in the washroom undressing and bathing. I had to pay frequent sexual dues to the baroness in return for her patronage. The baroness, as you know, was well past sixty. She wore too much makeup. When I came out of the washroom, I saw her on the bed, a knife by her side. I realized she must have been murdered when I was bathing. I picked up the knife to protect myself from the killer. Then the maid came in.”
“Your story is ludicrous. If she was dead,” said Fritch, “how could she have let out the scream that brought the maid rushing in?”
The sigh this time was enormous.
“It was not she who screamed,” said Marlovov. “I screamed when I saw the body. Now you may add cowardice to the other traits of which you will accuse me and my friends. Besides, I’ve confessed to the crime.”
“How long were you in the washroom?” asked Fritch.
“Ten minutes, perhaps more, as long as I could prolong it and put off my duty to my patroness,” said Marlovov.
“Is there any other way in or out of the bedroom besides through the door the maid entered when she heard the scream?”
“A door to the balcony,” said the young man. “Three flights up. Another door to the corridor leading to the rear of the apartment, the kitchen.”
“How many servants were present in the apartment when the murder occurred?” asked Fritch.
“Surely, you must know that.”
“Just the maid,” he said.
“Could she have killed the baroness, gone out to the parlor, and rushed back in when she heard your scream?”
Marlovov began to laugh.
“I can see her now,” he said, “before the judge and jury, a frightened, skinny little dolt, half the size of the cow I bedded. The idea is ridiculous.”
“Do you know who else has apartments in the building where your … patroness was murdered?”
Again Marlovov shrugged.
“Five others. Each floor was a complete suite. I knew none of the other tenants except to exchange nods. I didn’t wish to. Anastasia did not wish me to.”
“Odd,” said Fritch, rubbing his forehead. “I would have thought that since she had paid for you she would want to show you off to everyone.”
“We had readings in her parlor. Her friends attended.”
“But none of her neighbors?”
Louis shrugged again.
“Who knows? They were all much the same. Eating what they could get, drinking what they could reach.”
“So,” said Fritch, “who murdered the baroness and who took the golden wolf?”
“Who knows?” said Louis. “We are all to be shot for it. I repeat, you have my confession.”
“You can save the lives of your friends,” said Fritch. “I am empowered to grant them immediate exile to Siberia if you turn over the wolf. Only you will be tried.”
“And shot,” said Marlovov.
Fritch looked at all four of the young men. The four men looked at one another, and in their look was an agreement. They would die together.
Fritch understood. These young men would die for a losing cause. The German was equally willing to die. He had sold his loyalty to the Russian monarch and the sale was final and he would honor it. The only difference between himself and the quartet of revolutionaries was the object of their loyalty.
Marlovov now stood. He towered over the little man. The guards flanked the young men and began to lead them off in the direction of the court. Fritch did not join them. He did not move till they were out of sight, though he could still hear the distant rattling of their chains.
He patted real and imaginary wrinkles in his uniform, adjusted his cap, and made his way to the chambers of General Androyanov. A tall young officer disappeared through a door and returned within a minute to usher Fritch into the large office. The tall man departed, closing the door behind him. The general’s chamber was a large office, much larger than Fritch’s office across the river.
The general was a tall, robust, imposing man in his sixties. He had pure white flowing hair. He stood at a mirror in the massive office adjusting his uniform. Androyanov was known to be a personal friend of the czar himself.
Satisfied with his appearance, the general turned to face the perspiring German. Fritch stood at rigid attention.
“I can see from your face that you have failed,” said the general in French.
“They are true believers,” answered Fritch in French.
“We would take their dignity but would not obtain the wolf,” said Fritch.
The general nodded. He had come to accept the perceptions and talents of the German. He turned in his chair and looked out of his windows at the three-story yellow Menshikov Palace directly across the river from the Senate. The modest palace had been built by Aleksandr Menshikov, who rose from being a stable boy to become the best friend of Peter the Great and eventually the second most powerful man in all of Russia. The building was constructed in 1710, the first stone palace in a city of cathedrals and palaces.
“Do you know why I like this view?” the general said, actually pointing to the window.
“It is a historic and beautiful landmark,” said Fritch.
“I was a stable boy like Menshikov,” said the general. “Did you know that?”
“Yes, I know that. Your service to the czar, your many accomplishments are well known.”
The general adjusted his collar. Folding his large hands on his massive desk, he looked up at Fritch.
“The wolf is lost,” he said.
“I shall tell the czar,” the general said, still in French, “and assure him that we will not rest till it is recovered and any others involved in this revolutionary pimple of a movement are squeezed until blood flows. Time will pass. We will fail. There are many in court who will be pleased at our failure, Colonel, because I am the only general in the czar’s army who is not of noble birth. But I shall not fall. You understand?”
“Fully,” said Fritch.
“A baroness is dead. Four men will be shot. Others will probably follow. You and I will battle to retain our positions, influence, and dignity, and the czar shall suffer yet another disappointment. Colonel, have you ever seen the golden wolf?”
“Never,” said Fritch, knowing the white collar of his uniform was turning dark from perspiration.
“Pity,” he said. “It is truly magnificent.”
In the distance, outside the window a volley of shots crackled. Neither man moved.
“Brief trial and swift justice,” said the general. He stood with a sigh. In Russian he said, “Let’s bring the bad news to the czar.”
Moscow, Russia, 1996
KATRINA IVANOVA HURRIED ALONG THE SNOW-covered Taras Shevchenko Embankment by the Moscow River. When she had finished her shift as an elevator operator in the Ukrainia Hotel, it had been just before midnight, which gave her half an hour to rush down the embankment, go under the Bordino Bridge, hurry through the garden in front of the Kiev railway station, and get to the Kievskaya metro station.
If she missed the last metro, she would either have to take a cab, which she could not afford, or go back to the hotel and ask Molka Lev to help her sneak into an empty room for the night. Katrina did not want to ask Molka Lev’s help. She did not want to ask anyone’s help. She had, in her thirty-two years, been less than pleased with the help offered to her by almost all men and most women. There was always a price to pay.
It was December and a light snow was falling on two days of old snow blown about by a bitter wind off the river. Katrina did not mind the cold or the snow. The colder it was, the less likely she was to be bothered by a drunk or a mugger or one of the new gangs of children who robbed, raped, and murdered. At this hour and in this weather she was unlikely to be disturbed.
A voice, an almost animal wail, rose in the wind in front of her. Katrina’s left boot struck a patch of ice under a thin spot of snow. She almost slipped but held her balance and managed to keep from falling.
Katrina was bundled tight in a lined cloth coat over a wool sweater with a high neck. A wool hat was pulled and tied to cover her ears and pink cheeks. Katrina Ivanova knew she was no beauty, but she was certainly not ugly. Her body was straight and solid if a bit heavy, and her skin was pink and clear. Her hair was as blond as it had been on her third birthday.
There was another sound ahead of her in the near darkness. This too was a voice, a deeper voice, wailing in the wind. Someone was ahead of her along the embankment, out of sight to her left. She would not be able to avoid it.
Maybe it was just the rustling of wind and snow in the trees, or a stray dog, or even two men arguing on the bridge still far ahead, their voices carrying far in the night.
The incidence of attacks on women had, since the end of the Soviet Union, risen so dramatically that the statistics published in the newspapers and given on television were no longer reliable. Rapes and murders were up two or three hundred percent. Gangs slaughtered one another on the street. Criminals, with guns visible under their jackets, were welcomed into the best hotels, including the Ukrainia.
Katrina was good at statistics. She loved statistics. There was certainty in them. Before her, through the haze of white, she could see the lights of Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya Street, where the bridge crossed into the heart of the city.
She stood silently for an instant. No more voices in the wind ahead of her. Another fifty yards to go. No one in sight. The street lamps along the embankment were on, though they were dimmed by the swirl of snow. She could hurry and risk falling or she could go a bit slower. Katrina chose to hurry.
Suddenly in front of her through the whoosh of a gust of wind she heard four sharp, loud cracks like a steel cable striking a metal beam. Now she was sure. There was a moan and then three, four more loud cracks just ahead.
Katrina was frightened. There was no doubting that now, no lying to herself. About twenty-five yards ahead of her a hunched creature suddenly came up from the riverside. It looked like a bear. The creature looked around and saw Katrina.
Katrina, seeing something glitter in the creature’s hand, reached into her heavy red plastic purse and pulled out a Tokareve .762mm automatic. She had purchased it from a waiter in the hotel kitchen almost a year before when she had realized that the new Russia was a place of madness where statistics might be meaningless.
The bearlike figure began to raise its right arm, and Katrina could see that there was something in its hand. She dropped her purse gently in the snow, gripped the pistol in her wool-gloved hands, and leveled the weapon at the hulk pointing at her.
She fired first and the creature stood straight up. It was a man in a long coat and fur cap, and he definitely had a weapon in his hand. He staggered back. Surprised at the shot? Hit by a bullet? Then he fired. Katrina felt a sudden squeezing of her left arm, as if some great gorilla had grasped her in anger. Before she could fire again, the man ran in the direction of the bridge. Actually, it was more like an animal lope than a run, a strange lope that even at this moment seemed odd. Then he was gone into the darkness. She could hear him moving farther and farther away. Her arm hurt and she was frightened. She picked up her red purse and hurried toward the bridge, screaming for help. She hoped someone would hear her and come to help her, though she knew that few would be brave enough to respond to the midnight cries of a woman so far from the busy, lighted streets.
Katrina felt dizzy. Weapon still in her hand, she moved forward. She tried not to look down as she shuffled, but she could not resist and she knew she was bleeding. She could see the dark drops falling onto the snow in front of her, and she looked back to see their dim trail behind her. Katrina was lost in weeping panic as she hurried forward.
The footsteps in the snow where the man who shot her had come up from the embankment lured her toward the edge of the drop to the river. Lights from the other side of the river reflected off the water—bobbing jigsaw pieces—and she saw them. About ten feet down. There were four figures laid out in a line almost perfectly straight, as if they had arranged themselves and were about to make identical snow angels. But these figures did not move.
The light wasn’t good enough to see clearly, but Katrina knew. In her heart she knew that the four were dead, murdered by the creature who had shot her.
She trudged forward, too weak and frightened now to scream. He would leap out. She knew it. From behind a clump of snow-covered bushes or a stone block that marked the drop to the river. Something moved ahead. She fired again, not trying to hit anything but trying to keep the creature at bay.
A dog scuttled out from behind a stand of birch trees and fled in fear into the narrow parkway away from the river.
Katrina reached the street. She saw the frightened faces of three bundled old men. She passed out.
When she opened her eyes, a broad flat face appeared before her. She tried to bring it into focus. For an instant she thought it might be the man from the river, but something about the concern in his eyes and the warm feeling of a white room calmed her.
“We’re in a hospital,” the man said gently. “You have lost some blood but you will recover. Agda is being brought here in a police car. We found her name in your purse.”
Katrina nodded, her mouth painfully dry.
“Water,” she whispered.
The burly man poured a glass of water from a pitcher next to her bed.
“Just a sip or two,” said the man.
She nodded and did as she was told.
The man appeared to be in his fifties. He had dark hair just beginning to turn gray and the body of a small delivery truck. Under his coat he wore a yellow turtle-neck sweater that gave him the appearance of having no neck at all.
“My name is Chief Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov,” the man said. “My colleague is Inspector Timofeyeva.”
Katrina turned her eyes but not her head to a second figure in the room, a young, pretty, blond woman definitely on the solid side. The young woman was wearing an open dark coat and a long red scarf. She could have been mistaken for Katrina’s younger sister.
“We are with the Office of Special Investigation, Petrovka,” the man said. “Can you talk?”
“Yes,” she said dryly. She took another small sip of water. “Will I be able to use my arm again?”
“Yes,” said the young woman. She stepped to the edge of the bed and touched Katrina’s right arm gently. “The wound is not bad. What happened?”
Katrina told her story. The young woman took notes and the man stood, hands in his pockets, listening. When Katrina finished, the man said, “You did not recognize the man you shot?”
“Did I shoot him?” Katrina asked.
“There were two sets of blood drops,” he said. “Yours and someone else’s. Yours went straight to the street. The other person’s went into the park. He apparently got into a car he had there.”
“Are you sure it was a man?” the young woman asked.
Katrina nodded yes and said, “At first I thought it was a big animal.”
“I mean,” said the young woman, “could it have been a woman?”
“No,” said Katrina.
“Could you identify him?” the young woman asked.
“No,” said Katrina. “But you said I shot him?”
“It appears so,” said the man.
“I’m going to show you photographs of the four dead men,” Elena Timofeyeva said. “Can you look at them?”
Katrina closed her eyes and nodded another yes. Elena held up Polaroid head shots of the dead men on the river-bank. Each face was eerily illuminated by the white flash of necessary light. Katrina looked at the four faces. Two of them had their eyes closed. Two had open eyes. One of the two with open eyes looked frightened. The other with open eyes looked angry. All four had dark holes in their foreheads and faces. Three of the men were young, possibly even in their teens or twenties. The defiant man was older, but she couldn’t tell how much older.
“No,” Katrina said. “I’ve never seen them.”
Elena put the photographs away.
“Anything you can tell us about the man who did this?”
Katrina thought and remembered the man coming up from the riverbank, aiming at her and then …
“He walked funny,” she said. “Like an animal.”
“You say he moved quickly,” said Rostnikov.
“Yes, I think so, very quickly. Not like a cripple.”
Elena Timofeyeva glanced at Rostnikov, who continued to look down at the woman lying in the bed. Only six months earlier, Rostnikov, at the urging of his wife and son and his wife’s cousin Leon, who was a doctor, had agreed to allow the removal of his left leg just below the knee. It no longer made medical sense to preserve a gradually decaying leg, subject to infection and providing no support.
It had taken Rostnikov weeks to come to terms with this truth. He had earned the withered leg as a boy soldier fighting the Nazis. He had destroyed a tank. The tank had almost crushed his leg. For almost half a century Rostnikov had lived with the pain from the leg. Because he was a war hero, he had been allowed to become a policeman after the war. He was powerful. He was calm. He possessed the one attribute that made him an ideal member of the police in the cold war period—he had no ambition other than to live with his wife and his son and do his job.
He had moved up the ranks as a street officer and then as a detective in the office of the procurator general of Moscow. When he ran afoul of some of the powerful and displayed a determination that could not be blunted even by political expediency, he was eventually transferred to the supposedly dead-end job of investigator in the Office of Special Investigation, a dumping ground for cases no one wanted.
With an irony that was not lost on some of the more intelligent of the members of the National Police and the KGB, the Office of Special Investigation not only took on dead-end cases but also managed to solve most of them. Rostnikov had gradually brought other investigators from the procurator general’s office. Their moment of initial glory came when Rostnikov’s people thwarted an attempt on the life of Mikhail Gorbachev. They had since managed to walk the line that allowed them to survive the political breakup of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party.
Through all this, Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov had been accompanied by his withered left leg. It was not an easy decision to let it go.
Rostnikov’s surgery had been performed in Moscow by an American surgeon obtained through a friend in the FBI who had been assigned to counsel the Russian police on dealing with organized crime. Within days after the surgery Rostnikov had begun learning to walk with a prosthetic leg. Gradually the pain went away. In its place was an occasional soreness where what remained of his leg had to be fitted into the device he now had to endure. He walked with only the slightest of limps, and though he told no one, there were many times when he missed the leg that had given him half a century of torture. He even wondered what had happened to the leg, but he had decided never to ask.
Rostnikov said to Katrina, “The ground was trampled by the first police who arrived, but basically, the prints in the snow were clear.”
A tall, thin woman in white, who Rostnikov guessed was probably from Uzbekistan, came into the room and whispered to Rostnikov. He nodded and looked down at Katrina with a smile.
“Inspector Timofeyeva has a few more questions. Your friend Agda is here.”
As Rostnikov left the hospital room with the nurse, a woman came quickly in. She was a short older woman in a heavy coat. Her dark hair was a wild mess, and she was pink-cheeked from the cold. Rostnikov was already out of the room when the tearful Agda bent over to kiss her friend on the mouth and whisper to her.
Elena stood back waiting. In spite of the difficulty of getting information through the outdated computer network, Rostnikov and Elena had known a number of things about Katrina Ivanova before they talked to her at the hospital. They knew her age, that she had come from Georgia as a child, that she had never used her gun before, that she was a reliable employee of the Ukrainia Hotel, and that she had a long-term relationship with Agda, who played the violin with a band at the Metropole Hotel. Elena stepped farther back to give them some privacy.
Before he had taken five steps into the hospital corridor, Rostnikov found himself facing a man of about forty, slightly shorter than himself and considerably lighter. Through the man’s open jacket it was clear that he was remarkably muscular.
Though it was warm in the hospital, an unusual phenomenon for any Russian building in the winter, the man did not remove his small fur cap. He was clean-shaven and light-skinned, with light brown hair and cheekbones tightened in determined anger.
“What happened?” the man demanded. Rostnikov could not quite place his accent.
“Who are you?” Rostnikov asked.
“I asked a question,” the man said, standing very close to Rostnikov. People passing in the hall tried to ignore the two men, who looked as if they might be about to engage in a monumental brawl.
“As did I,” said Rostnikov. “My name is Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov. And you are?”
“Belinsky, Rabbi Avrum Belinsky.”
“Ah, yes. I wanted to talk to you. Your name was on cards in the wallets of four men murdered tonight. You knew the victims?” Rostnikov handed the rabbi the Polaroid pictures.
“My question first,” said Belinsky. “I’ve seen the bodies. Identified them. I have no need of photographs to remember them.”
The man seemed nothing like what Rostnikov expected in a rabbi.
“Four men were murdered on the Taras Shevchenko Embankment slightly after midnight,” said Rostnikov. “Judging from the names we retrieved from the bodies, the four men were Jewish.”
“With the two last month, that makes six,” Belinsky said. “All from our congregation. We can’t and won’t lose more Jews. What are you doing to find the murderers?”
“What can you do to help us?” asked Rostnikov, thinking he felt a twinge in his no longer extant left leg.
“More questions for answers,” said Belinsky impatiently. “I have some information that might be relevant. But how do I know you and the rest of the police will bother with the murders of Jews?”
“My wife is Jewish,” said Rostnikov. “And my son, therefore, is half Jewish. In the old Soviet Union and the days of the czars, that would have made him entirely Jewish. As he discovered when he was in the army, under our new system too, he is considered Jewish.”
“And you don’t want that,” Belinsky said sarcastically, now taking off his jacket and draping it over his arm.
“I needn’t tell you it is difficult to be Jewish in Russia, now and always, Avrum Belinsky,” said Rostnikov. “You are not Russian, are you?”
“I’m Israeli,” said Belinsky. “I came here to help rebuild the Jewish community. We are not to be stopped. A Jewish community center just opened in Saint Petersburg where they estimate there are one hundred thousand Jews. There were only some sixty synagogues in all of the Soviet Union, half of them in Georgia. Now we are trying to reignite Judaism in Russia, to give dignity and faith to those who have too long been without it.”
“Is that a sermon?” asked Rostnikov.
“It comes from one of my sermons,” Belinsky admitted. “When you check on my file, you will find that I was an officer in the Israeli army, that I have been twice wounded. I volunteered for this job when a group of Jews in Moscow requested assistance. I was, you will also discover, a member of the Olympic team in Germany when the massacre took place. I knew the men who died there as I knew the men who have died here.”
“You were a wrestler?”
“Greco-Roman,” Belinsky said.
“You lift weights?” asked Rostnikov.
Belinsky looked irritated.
“Yes,” he said.
“There will be a meeting in a few hours of the Office of Special Investigation, in which I work,” said Rostnikov. “I will ask that I be assigned exclusively to this case with adequate support.”
Belinsky nodded, still wary.
“Don’t do anything on your own, rabbi,” Rostnikov said.
Belinsky didn’t answer.
“Now,” said Rostnikov, “let’s go to the canteen for some tea and talk.”
Belinsky hesitated and then nodded in agreement.
Sasha Tkach was running late. It seemed as if there were a few truths by which he could live with some certainty. First, he would never get enough sleep. Second, he would always be running late. Third, he would never escape from his nearly seventy-year-old mother, Lydia, who, though she now had a tiny apartment of her own, spent almost every evening and many nights in the already cramped apartment of her son, his wife, and their two children. Sasha had found her the small but neat room in a concrete one-story apartment building. Elena Timofeyeva, the only woman in the Office of Special Investigation, had arranged it.
Actually, Elena, who lived in one of the two-room apartments in the building, had enlisted the aid of her aunt, with whom she lived. Anna Timofeyeva, who still had friends who owed her favors from her days as first deputy director of the Moscow procurator’s office, had gotten Lydia into the building. Anna had laid down a series of rules by which Lydia Tkach could live there. The rules were in writing. First, Lydia could visit Anna and Elena only when invited or in the case of a real emergency. The determination of whether the situation was an emergency would depend on Anna’s assessment of information given in no more than two sentences. Second, Lydia must wear her hearing aid when visiting. If it was broken, she could not visit. Third, discussions of her son’s job or complaints about her daughter-in-law were not to be tolerated. Although it wasn’t a rule, Anna made it clear that she did not particularly want to hear about Lydia’s grandchildren unless it was Anna who brought up the subject. Lydia had agreed to abide by the rules. She still spent as much time at her son’s apartment as her daughter-in-law Maya’s tolerance would permit. As much as Maya disliked the frequency of her mother-in-law’s visits, she had to admit that Lydia’s willingness to take care of the children while Maya worked was extremely helpful.
Sasha was an investigator in the Office of Special Investigation. He and Emil Karpo had been transferred to the office with Rostnikov when Rostnikov had lost favor within the procurator general’s office. The Office of Special Investigation had been a strictly ceremonial dead end until the often confused regime of Yeltsin and the reformers, when it took on more important cases, often politically sensitive ones, that the other investigative branches—State Security (formerly the KGB), the Ministry of the Interior (including the mafia task force), the National Police (formerly the MVD), the procurator’s office, the tax police—did not want. It was not uncommon for disputes to rage at a crime scene as to which of the investigative branches had jurisdiction. Often, two police districts would engage in heated argument in front of the public about who was in charge. The criminal investigation system of Russia was not quite in a shambles, but everyone seemed to be lying back and waiting to see if the reformers would hold on to power or the new Communists and Zhirinovsky Nationalists would combine and seize control. No one wished to fail. It was easier to shift the difficult cases to the Office of Special Investigation.
Sasha, who was over thirty but looked no more than a few years past twenty, dressed quickly to the morning din of his apartment. Lydia has slept over, and now, refusing to wear her hearing aid, she was shouting about having slept badly. Pulcharia, who was nearing four years old, was telling Maya, her mother, that she did not want to stay with Grandma Lydia. Illya was gurgling calmly in his makeshift crib.
Sasha examined himself in the mirror of the tiny bathroom. The bulge of the gun in the holster under his jacket did not show. The suit he wore was baggy and a bit frayed. A new suit was out of the question. His salary and Maya’s combined were barely enough to keep the family fed, dressed, and in a reasonable two-room apartment. He adjusted his shirt, slightly yellow from too many washings, and decided this was the best he could do. Besides, he would be out on the streets in his coat and scarf most of the day.
He was alone in the bedroom with the baby. When Lydia slept over, which was often, she slept in this room on the bed with Pulcharia. The baby slept in the other room. Even with the door to the bedroom closed, Lydia’s snoring could be heard just below the decibel range of a metro. Pulcharia had always been completely oblivious of her grandmother’s snoring.
Sasha stepped out into the combination living room/dining room/kitchen where he and Maya slept on the floor. The futon had been rolled up and stored, and the room was reasonably neat, but the look from Maya as their eyes met let him know with sympathy that neither of them would escape the apartment this morning without conflict. Maya, dark, pretty, showing no sign of having had two babies, shrugged slightly and shook her head, her short, straight dark hair moving in near slow motion.
Maya was dressed for work, dark skirt, green blouse, shoes with a low heel. She looked beautiful. He wondered how many men made passes at his wife in the course of her day at the Council for International Business Advancement. Sasha tried to ignore his mother and moved to give his wife a kiss. She was already made up, so the kiss was nearly chaste.
“Me,” said Pulcharia, knee-high to his baggy trousers, holding out her arms.
Sasha picked her up, kissed both her eyes and nose and hugged her, thinking that in spite of Lydia’s insistence that the child looked like Sasha’s grandmother, Pulcharia was clearly Maya’s child. This was how Maya had looked as a child. They had photographs. Lydia denied the striking resemblance and insisted that her granddaughter was a replica of Lydia’s own mother.
Sasha put his daughter down and accepted a cup of coffee and a slice of bread from Maya. Only then did he turn to his mother, a small, wiry woman with a determined face that would have been considered handsome were it not for her nearly constant scowl. There was more than a bit of gray in her short, wavy hair. She wore a sagging, heavy blue robe and regarded her son with a look of determination.
“Dobraye utra,” Sasha said, continuing to eat. “Good morning, Mother.”
“Two things,” Lydia shouted as Pulcharia sat herself down at the table near the window and ate last night’s bean soup and a large piece of bread. The child had the enviable ability to tune out her grandmother.
“Yes, Mother,” Sasha said, sitting in front of a bowl of soup and joining his daughter. He was sure that Maya had finished eating sometime before.
“First,” said Lydia, “the child kicks in her sleep. She moves all around. I can’t sleep.”
Lydia’s unceasing snoring was evidence to the contrary, but Sasha looked up as his mother moved toward him.
“I’m afraid you’ll just have to sleep in your apartment more,” he said.
Hovering over him, she ignored his comment. Maya looked at her watch, gulped down the remainder of her coffee, kissed Pulcharia, gave Sasha a look of sympathy, and moved to give the baby a good-bye kiss. “Second, this apartment is too cold,” Lydia said.
“Everyone’s apartment is too cold or too hot,” said Sasha. “It is a fact of winter life in Moscow.”
“I intend to complain,” Lydia went on.
“To whom?” he asked, dipping his bread into the soup.
“Third,” Lydia said. Maya was putting on her coat.
“I thought you said there were only two things,” Sasha said before he could stop himself.
“Grandma did,” Pulcharia confirmed.
“You have still made no effort to be assigned to an office job,” Lydia said.
“I don’t want an office job,” Sasha said with what he thought was remarkable composure considering that he had gone through this conversation with his mother perhaps a hundred times before.
“You have a family,” she said.
Maya closed the door quietly and escaped.
“Yes,” he said.
“People try to kill you. You do dangerous things.”
“Sometimes,” he said.
“You’re like your father,” Lydia said. “You have a temper. You’re easily angered and your emotions get you into trouble.”
Sasha checked his watch. On this point, he knew, his mother was right. Sasha’s father, whom Sasha did not even remember, had been an army officer. He had died on duty in Estonia when Sasha was two. The official cause of death was pneumonia, but Lydia was convinced that he had died of debauchery.
“Your father was always volunteering to go to distant places, even Siberia,” she said, “because of his hot blood.”
And, Sasha was certain, to escape from his wife, who had been a beauty but who almost certainly had the same personality then as she was displaying now.
“Today you ask for a transfer to a ministry office position,” she insisted. “I will go back and see some of my old friends. They have already said they would help.”
Sasha took his and Pulcharia’s bowls and put them and the spoons in the small sink behind him.
“No, Mother,” he said.
“Then I will talk to Porfiry Petrovich again,” she shouted.
To this the baby reacted with a scream followed by crying. Lydia didn’t seem to hear him. Pulcharia ran to the crib, where she had some success in quieting little Illya.
“Porfiry Petrovich has no power to transfer me,” Sasha said. “Besides, he would not do so without my consent, even if he could.”
“Colonel Snitkonoy,” she said. “I’ll go directly to him.”
“He will pat your hand, tell you he understands, promise to see what he can do, and then forget you came except to tell me that it would be best if I did what I could to keep you away from him.”
“Stubborn,” she said. “Like your father.”
“He needs a new diaper,” Pulcharia called. “He stinks.”
“The baby needs a new diaper,” Sasha shouted, walking across the room to take his own coat and wool cap from the rack near the door. “And I am very late.”
“This conversation is not over,” Lydia said.
“Of that I am certain, Mother,” he said, buttoning up.
“Gloves,” Lydia said.
He pulled his gloves from his pocket and displayed them.
“He stinks,” Pulcharia repeated, leaning over the railing of the crib to get the odor more directly.
Sasha hurried back across the room, kissed his mother’s cheek, and marched quickly toward the door.
“I don’t want to stay home with Grandma,” Pulcharia said as he opened the door. There were tears in her eyes.
“She loves you,” Sasha whispered so that his mother could not hear. “You must stay with her.”
“Yah n‘e khachooo,” said Pulcharia. “I don’t want to.”
“I’ll bring you something special,” Sasha said, taking his daughter in his arms and kissing her again. “Now I’m late.”
“We’ll go for a walk,” said Lydia, moving to the crib. “We’ll go to the park.”
“Okay,” said Pulcharia.
When Lydia had worked in the offices of the Ministry of Public Affairs, she had frequently lived with Maya and Sasha and it had been almost tolerable. Now Lydia was retired, on an insignificant and often unpaid pension, and had plenty of time. In spite of the pitiful pension, Lydia was not poor. During her more than forty years in the ministry, Lydia had quietly managed to put away money. What little she saved, she converted from rubles into jewelry, jewelry she bought from people who needed cash for bread. Gradually Lydia learned enough about jewelry to know what she was buying and to make sometimes remarkable purchases. She kept everything in a box she hid carefully wherever she was living. Then, after she had officially retired, with the Soviet Union in the process of falling, Lydia sold her jewelry, piece by piece, at a profit, to the sudden influx of entrepreneurs, carpetbaggers, and outsiders in Moscow.
While Yeltsin stood on the top of a tank proclaiming the end of Communism, Lydia was going to the proper ministry offices and arranging to buy government Bread Shop 61 half a block from where she was living near Solkonicki Park. When Gorbachev had started using words like perestroika—the restructuring of the Soviet communist system—and glasnost—openness to express one’s opinions—Lydia had called a cousin who was a farmer on a collective outside of Kursk and made a deal with him. It was simple. If the government ever did fall and the farmers became free to own and deal, she would be willing to purchase all the wheat he could produce on his land and that of some of his neighbors. It was not an enormous amount, but it would be enough to supply flour for the bread she planned to sell. Lydia’s cousin even knew someone in Kursk who could convert the wheat to flour at a reasonable rate, with her cousin, of course, getting a small commission for that service. Lydia and her cousin would annually reset the price, and she would make it a fair one. Living in fear of having no government to which to sell his crop, her cousin and his friends had readily agreed. Then she had made the necessary vzyatka—the unofficial bribes needed to get services—obtained the necessary purchases, and became the owner of a bread store.