- 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
- Chapter 14
- Looking for more suspense?
- Begin Reading
About the Book
With his wife in the hospital, Porfiry Rostnikov tries to protect Moscow from chaos.
Porfiry and Sarah Rostnikov have been in love since the end of World War II, growing old together as the Soviet Union lurches towards modernity. Sarah is recovering from a brain operation, her police inspector husband at her side, when a bearlike man staggers into her hospital room. Hulking, naked, and insensible, he is about to leap out the window when Rostnikov talks him off the ledge. But before the orderlies take him away, the giant whispers a secret to the investigator. Someone has been stealing from the factory where he works.
As he puzzles over the colossal madman’s clue, Rostnikov must also focus on his colleagues in the Moscow police, as their team contends with a sudden jump in crime. Rebels are planting bombs, teenagers are plotting assassinations, and the KGB lurks in every shadow. Surviving all this without Sarah by his side will be a challenge for the limping policeman, but he has long proven adept at talking down the Russian bear.
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.
The Man Who Walked Like A Bear
An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery
Stuart M. Kaminsky
To Michael, Patricia, Collin, Cath, and Jane in Vancouver
“But why, why?”
“Simply because it is too neatly dovetailed … like a play.”
“Oh!” Razumikhin began, but at that moment the door opened and a new personage came in, a stranger to everybody in the room.
Fyodor Dostoyevski, Crime and Punishment
PORFIRY PETROVICH ROSTNIKOV SAT in a rough but apparently sturdy wooden chair in ward three on the third floor of the September 1947 Hospital a little over twelve miles outside of Moscow. The September 1947 Hospital got its name from the fact that the city of Moscow was eight hundred years old in the year 1947. The citizens of Moscow had celebrated, cheered, drunk, and wept that their city had survived the war, the Nazis, the antirevolutionary forces.
People had hugged strangers in the street, and Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov, an army veteran at age fifteen with a leg badly mangled in an encounter with a German tank, had sat on a stone bench in front of the Pashkov Mansion, which had become the Lenin Library. The leg had been patched, sawed, stretched, sewn, and supported, and Rostnikov had worked dutifully to use the appendage, which had almost been removed by an overworked and underexperienced young doctor in the field.
Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov allowed no one to see his pain, and not one of his superiors on the uniformed MVD traffic patrol knew of the pain he felt each day as he stood on some prospekt directing postwar traffic. It was that day in September 1947 that he met the woman who lay before him in Bed One of the hospital ward. Sarah had sat next to him on the bench, an old-fashioned kerchief around her head, her cheeks bright with life, her red hair curled over her forehead. She couldn’t have been more than twelve years old. She had asked him if he was all right. He had replied that he was fine, and she had offered to share an apple with him. The rarity of an apple and the enormity of sharing such a gift with a stranger overwhelmed him, and he loved her, he loved her at that moment as he loved her at this moment. He had learned her name, her address, and had stayed away from her for six years, waited till she grew up. And then he had found her again.
Rostnikov shifted his weight in the sturdy chair and considered pulling out the battered American paperback mystery in his jacket pocket. His eyes met those of the young girl, Petra Toverinin, in Bed Two. Petra Toverinin was fourteen years old. Officially, she was there for gynecological complications. Unofficially, she was there for an abortion. Rostnikov had discerned this from no direct inquiry but from the guarded comments of the medical staff when he was present. Petra Toverinin was not pretty. She was thin. Her nose was too large and her hair too straggly and lifeless, but her eyes were large and blue and her lips carried a knowing smile, which she exchanged with Rostnikov whenever he came to visit his wife in Bed One. Petra Toverinin and Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov shared a knowledge of life that needed no words and no conversation.
In Bed Three, however, there resided a woman named Irinia Komistok, heavy of heart, body, and thought. Irinia Komistok, somewhere over age sixty, whose heart had been abused by diet and discontent, had undergone one operation and was awaiting another.
“You are a policeman,” Irinia Komistok informed Rostnikov, looking at him critically.
Rostnikov exchanged a knowing glance with Petra Toverinin, who put her head down on the pillow and turned away from the older woman in the third bed. Rostnikov looked at his sleeping wife and wondered if after the bandages were removed her red hair would grow back as bright as before, or if the gray would now take over. She was within a month of her fifty-fourth birthday. Dr. Yegeneva had assured him that Sarah would, barring complications, be home for her birthday.
“I am a policeman,” Rostnikov confirmed, since Irinia Komistok had made a statement and not asked a question.
“I knew it,” said the woman, who folded her hands in front of her over her blanket. “I knew it,” she told the wall. “I could tell. My cousin Viktor was a policeman. A man named, named—I don’t remember—lived downstairs from us in Volgograd. That was a few years ago. You know Volgograd?”
“No,” said Rostnikov. Somewhere beyond the closed door of the ward a voice called out, distant, indistinct.
“Volgograd is beautiful,” Irinia informed him, nodding her head. “I was a girl and the policeman looked at me with longing. I was a handsome girl. Not beautiful, mind you. I’ll make no great claims. I’m an honest woman. Why did you become a policeman?”
Petra looked at Rostnikov with sympathetic blue eyes.
“I don’t know,” said Rostnikov. “I had always wanted to be a policeman, perhaps because my parents had named me Porfiry Petrovich. He is the policeman in—”
“Crime and Punishment,” Irinia injected impatiently. “I am no uneducated Gypsy.”
Another sound, deep, almost a growl beyond the ward’s door.
“Have you noticed,” Irinia Komistok said with a smile on her face that indicated no joy, “that time moves faster as you get older? When I was a girl, a year took forever, and now two years ago seems like last week.”
“I have noticed,” said Rostnikov.
And now the sound outside the ward’s door could not be ignored. It approached in an echo, the corridor echo of a wounded animal. Petra Toverinin sat up afraid, her wide eyes wider from fear. Sarah stirred and shifted. Rostnikov leaned forward to touch her leg reassuringly through the blanket. Irinia Komistok seemed to have heard nothing. She spoke to the wall and saw ghosts until the door to the ward exploded open and banged with a roar into the wall. A large white sack hurtled through the door, crashed into the wall, and groaned.
An animal bellowed in the doorway, a huge, bearded, and quite naked animal. In the corner, the man who had been thrown against the wall tried to rise, groaned, and sank back to the floor. Irinia Komistok whimpered and Petra Toverinin scrambled painfully from her bed and climbed in next to Irinia, who hugged her. Sarah shifted her weight, and Rostnikov used the edge of the bed and the back of the sturdy wooden chair to stand. His back was to his wife’s bed, and he faced the creature, who he knew was a man.
The man groaned and ambled forward like a great black bear Rostnikov had seen in the Moscow Circus the year before, a bear, he understood, who later attacked its trainer during a visit to Canada. The bear man slouched forward. Behind him Petra whimpered and Irinia comforted. The creature took a step toward Sarah’s bed, and Rostnikov put up a hand.
The moment was fixed, frozen. The great creature, who stood a foot taller than the compact barrel of a policeman, let out a low growl and took two steps toward the window. Rostnikov stepped between the man and the window.
“No,” Rostnikov said softly, firmly. “You are frightening these women.”
The bearded creature blinked and looked around at the three women, noticing them for the first time.
“Sit in that chair,” Rostnikov said, nodding at the chair in which he had been sitting.
The creature looked at the chair and then back at the policeman.
Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov was, with good reason, known to his colleagues as the Washtub. There was nothing imposing about the fifty-seven-year-old man with one good leg and one very bad one, but Rostnikov had his passions—his books, his wife and son, his job, his weights. The creature before Rostnikov was at least fifteen years younger and at least fifty pounds heavier, in addition to which the man was obviously quite mad.
In the hall and far away footsteps echoed, clattered. Someone was running. Voices were calling out in fear, and the man before Rostnikov heard them, too. He took another step toward the third-floor window. He was stomach to stomach with Rostnikov.
“Please,” said the man, but it was less a human voice than the hum of a wounded dog.
“Sit,” said Rostnikov gently.
The moment was absurd and Rostnikov felt the absurdity of himself and the creature in front of him. They were a bad joke. The man’s breath smelled of black bread. The man’s enormous penis brushed Rostnikov’s chest.
“Please,” the man insisted this time.
The footsteps were clambering closer.
“What?” Sarah said behind him, waking from her drugged sleep.
And this time the creature put his hairy hand on Rostnikov’s shoulder, crunched his jacket in a great fist, and tried to shove the man in front of him to the side so he could get to the window. But the shorter man did not move.
“Please,” bellowed the man, his head turned upward in near prayer and total panic.
“Sit,” Rostnikov said firmly. “You are a man, not an animal. Sit.”
The man looked at Rostnikov and raised both hands into tightfisted hammers. Someone stood in the doorway, but Rostnikov couldn’t look. Petra screamed behind him. Rostnikov stepped forward quickly under the descending fists and locked his arms around the man’s body at the waist. The massive man’s fists thundered down on Rostnikov’s back, but Rostnikov tightened his grip and lifted.
“Sit,” Rostnikov repeated, but the man was thrashing and screaming and could hear nothing.
Rostnikov lifted him and stepped forward, forcing himself to put weight on his left leg, a weight that sent a familiar spasm of cold electricity through the policeman’s body. He felt tears of pain in his eyes but took another step and placed the writhing creature in the chair.
Two white-uniformed men rushed forward and pinned the man’s arms behind him, or attempted to. The creature threw one of the men from him. Rostnikov moved behind the chair and pushed the man down just as he was about to rise again. A stream of urine, dark and yellowish, shot forward from the man in the chair and barely missed one of the two uniformed men, who struck out with his closed fist at the nearly secured man in the chair, who kicked forward and sent the chair sliding back several feet.
“Leave him alone,” Rostnikov said to the two uniformed men.
“Leave him …” one of the two uniformed men said, panting. Rostnikov couldn’t tell which one spoke. He had not yet taken a look at them.
“Leave him,” Rostnikov repeated firmly. The orderly who had spoken ignored him and reached out for the man. Rostnikov grabbed the orderly’s wrist and repeated, “Leave him.”
The orderly tried to pull away but couldn’t free himself from the grasp. The man who walked like a bear tried to rise from the chair but Rostnikov firmly pushed him back down and said, “Sit.”
Rostnikov looked up at the second orderly, a heavyset man with straight white-yellow hair who stood back and folded his arms waiting to see what the little round madman planned to do with the enormous creature. Rostnikov thought he detected a touch of intelligence or at least cunning in the orderly, in contrast to the fear he felt in the man whose wrist he held.
“Leave him, Anatoli,” the man with white-yellow hair said.
Rostnikov released the wrist, and Anatoli backed away with a curse and moved to the wall to help the hurtled orderly, who sat stunned and disoriented. The creature in the chair kicked out with an animal growl and tried to rise again, but Rostnikov could feel that there was less desperation in his throes. Standing behind the chair, Rostnikov put both hands on the man’s shoulders, pushing him down and whispering, “You are a man, a man with a name.”
The man breathed heavily, clenched his teeth, and tried to rise again. Rostnikov pushed him down.
“You are a man,” Rostnikov repeated. “Behave like a man, not an animal. What is your name? You are a man. You have a name. What is your name?”
“His name is—” the orderly began.
“I asked him.” Rostnikov stopped him. “I asked this man who sits before me. What is your name? My name is Porfiry. My wife in that bed is Sarah. In the bed in the corner cowering in fear, thinking you are an animal and not a man, are an old woman and a little girl. Let them know you are a man.”
“Bulgarin,” rasped the man, going limp.
“Bul—” Rostnikov began.
“Bulgarin,” the man repeated in a whisper so low that only Rostnikov could hear.
“Bulgarin,” Rostnikov repeated. “Can I release you now? Will you go calmly with these men?”
Bulgarin shook his head no.
“We can’t sit here all morning, Bulgarin,” said Rostnikov with a sigh. “I have work to do. The women need rest. These comrades have other patients to deal with. And you’ve made a mess in here. Someone will have to come clean it up.”
“I’m sorry,” said Bulgarin, his head going down.
“You want to be covered?” asked Rostnikov quietly.
Bulgarin nodded his head yes and Rostnikov nodded at the orderly with yellow-white hair. The orderly, amusement on his lips, stepped over to Petra’s bed and pulled off a rumpled sheet. He threw the sheet to Rostnikov; who wrapped it around the now shivering giant.
“Go with them quietly, Bulgarin,” Rostnikov said, releasing his hands from the man in the chair.
Bulgarin rose, wrapping the sheet closely to him, shaking. The three orderlies moved to the man’s side and Bulgarin went gently with them to the door and then stopped suddenly and turned to Rostnikov.
“I had to,” Bulgarin said, nearly weeping. “The devil came to devour the factory and I couldn’t stop him. And he’s found me here and has come to devour me.”
“There is no devil, Bulgarin,” Rostnikov said.
“Yes, there is,” said Bulgarin, being led out the door and into the hall.
And Rostnikov thought but did not say that the world would be easier to deal with if there were a devil, if evil were clear and announced itself and wore the proper clothes or even disguised itself. In his thirty years of criminal investigation, Rostnikov had encountered only two criminals who admitted they were evil, and both of them were as mad as Bulgarin and not nearly as evil as dozens of criminals Rostnikov had encountered who defended their murders and rapes till the cell doors clanged closed at Lubyanka.
Rostnikov limped over to the door and closed it gently before he turned back into the room to face Sarah, whose white-turbaned head rested on the white pillow. Her face was pale, and there was a smile on her lips. The surgeon had assured Rostnikov that the tumor that had pressed against Sarah’s brain had been removed and that she would gradually recover completely.
“I need rest, not entertainment, Porfiry Petrovich,” she said.
Rostnikov moved to her side, touched her hand. Her hand was still cool. Not cold, but cool.
“He’ll come back!” Petra cried from Irinia’s bed.
Rostnikov looked over at the girl, who had less than three months ago been raped by a trio of drunks. Irinia was comforting her and herself.
“No,” Rostnikov said. “He won’t.”
“He’ll come back and—” Petra went on.
“He didn’t come here to get you,” Sarah said, taking her husband’s stubby hand in both of hers. “He came in search of a window.”
The door opened behind him and Petra let out a frightened squeal. Dr. Yegeneva, who had operated on Sarah, stepped in.
“They just told me,” she began. “Are you all all right?”
Dr. Yegeneva adjusted her glasses and pushed her straight hair from her face. Dr. Yegeneva was somewhere in her thirties and, Rostnikov knew, had two children. “I don’t know how that patient got up here. The mental ward is two flights up in the south section and—”
“I’ve got to get back to the city,” Rostnikov said as the doctor moved to the far bed to comfort the girl and reassure the old woman.
“I wasn’t afraid, Porfiry Petrovich,” Sarah whispered.
“Thank you,” he said.
“No, not just because of you,” Sarah said, squeezing his hand. “I awoke from a dream I can’t remember and I saw him there and there was such pain in his face. He reminded me of Benjamin.”
Benjamin was Sarah’s older brother, a large, dark, sullen, and suspicious man who had, from the first, been opposed to Sarah’s having anything to do with Porfiry Petrovich. Sarah’s father had died in the war. No one knew how or where. No one was even certain. He had gone, and when the war ended, he did not return. There were no records. But Benjamin had returned angry and bitter over the treatment he had received at the hands of the goyim, the non-Jews. He had received neither deserved promotions nor the small considerations that were common. He never considered that part of the fault might lie not in the anti-Semitism of his superiors but in his own attitude. Even under the best of situations, Sarah had admitted, Benjamin carried with him a rage so deep its roots could not be found.
And so Benjamin hated Porfiry Petrovich, and the reasons he gave were many. Porfiry Petrovich was not a Jew, and though there was not great profit in being Jewish in the Soviet Union, it was still safer to remain with your own people, the chosen people. In addition, Porfiry Petrovich was young, crippled, and a policeman. Porfiry Petrovich remembered the last time he had seen Sarah’s brother. Benjamin had warned Rostnikov that neither he nor his mother wanted Rostnikov to see Sarah again, that if he persisted, Benjamin would kill him.
Rostnikov had looked into the blue eyes of his future brother-in-law and believed him.
“I will marry Sarah,” he had said. “And you will kill no one.”
“We will see, police boy. We will all see,” Benjamin had whispered.
And, indeed, they saw. Benjamin was killed in a street in front of the Aragvy Restaurant. Someone had insulted him, or Benjamin thought someone had insulted him. The someone had friends. This had not deterred Sarah’s brother, who tried to strangle the offender while the offender’s friends beat on the head of Benjamin Rosovsky with a convenient block of concrete from a nearby construction site.
“I wasn’t afraid,” Sarah said. “I … be sure he is all right.”
“I’ll be sure,” Rostnikov said, releasing his hands gently from her grip. “I’ll be back tonight.”
“You don’t have to come back,” she said. “I’ll probably be sleeping.”
They had gone through this pattern for the past two weeks, and they both knew it as a ritual of reassurance.
“I’ll see,” Rostnikov said.
“Tell me something, Porfiry Petrovich, something of the past,” she said dreamily. “My thoughts move to the past in here, to my brother, my mother, to Iosef when he was a boy. Remember when he built that boat and it sank in the park? He was only a baby, and he jumped in after it and tried to swim.”
“I’m not good at sentiment,” he said.
“You are fine with it,” Sarah said. “Are you going to deny your ailing wife?”
“The week before we married,” he said softly, “we went to Gorky Park with a loaf of bread and some herring in a bottle. You wore a blue dress and sweater and we drank kvass from a jar and you laughed at a joke I made about vegetables.”
“I remember,” Sarah said, closing her eyes.
“You were beautiful,” he went on, almost to himself. “I should have borrowed Mikhail Sharinskov’s camera, even if it wouldn’t have captured the fire of your hair. But I …” and he could see she was asleep.
He leaned forward and kissed her forehead and then moved to the door, willing himself not to show the pain in his leg, knowing that he could not, ultimately, hide it from Sarah. All he could do was pretend so that she, too, could pretend.
So much is pretense, Rostnikov thought as he glanced at the young girl and the old woman across the room. He closed the door to the ward as Dr. Yegeneva moved past him and leaned over to look into Sarah’s eyes.
The corridor walls of the September 1947 Hospital were uniformly gray, and the windows were all decorated with white linen curtains. The individual ward doors were heavy and closed, and Rostnikov had a dreamlike feeling, a feeling that he was wandering through a maze, an endless, echoing maze. Yes, it was the echo more than the seamless, uniform walls that gave him the feeling. He turned a corner, moving slowly, bidding his leg to respond, knowing how much he could coax out of it. A man in white and a heavyset woman came toward him, talking to each other loudly about some meeting. The man barely glanced at Rostnikov as they approached and passed.
Rostnikov found the administrator’s office on the main floor after checking with a talkative, flighty woman at the central desk in front of the entrance to the hospital. The administrator’s name, he discovered, was Schroeder, and the administrator, according to the woman at the desk, was a remarkably busy man. He had been on the job only a few days. The previous administrator had suddenly received a transfer to a very important position in the city.
Rostnikov knocked and entered when he heard a clear male voice call, “Come in.”
The room was bright. A large window caught the morning sun and lit the cheerfully decorated room. There was a small white rug on the floor, an efficient and not uncomfortable-looking set of chairs around a low, round table, and a wooden desk behind which sat a pink-cheeked, robust man with short-cropped hair and a smile on his large lips. His suit was neatly pressed and he looked at Rostnikov like an indulgent priest.
“Yes?” the man asked eagerly.
“Correct,” said Schroeder, waiting for more.
“My name is Rostnikov. My wife is a patient of Dr. Yegeneva on the third floor.”
“Sarah, brain tumor. Removed successfully. Prognosis excellent,” said Schroeder. “I know each and every patient in this hospital. Eighty-five patients at present. Learned the essential information in three days.”
“Admirable,” said Rostnikov. “May I sit?”
“Please,” said Schroeder.
Rostnikov sat and felt an instant easing as the weight left his throbbing leg.
“I want to ask you about another patient,” Rostnikov said.
“Bulgarin, Ivan,” Schroeder supplied.
“Yes. You’ve been informed, then, about the incident?”
Schroeder looked pleased with himself.
“I am responsible for all aspects of this hospital,” he said. “I am constantly informed.”
“Admirable,” said Rostnikov.
Schroeder reached into his desk and withdrew a folder, which he opened and flattened before him.
“Bulgarin, Ivan, age … let me see. He will be forty-two next week. He has been here for six days. Fatigue, overwork. He is a foreman in the Lentaka Shoe Factory. Diagnosis is a bit complicated but, essentially, he suffered a mental breakdown caused by hard work, an unstable personality, and domestic difficulties. He has a wife and four children. I am assured by the staff that he will be ready for release and a productive return to society in less than a month, depending on his response to medication.”
“You are most informative,” said Rostnikov, trying to make eye contact with the administrator.
“You are a police officer,” Schroeder said, closing the folder and looking up. “See, I even know that. Easy enough. It was in your wife’s admission record.”
“Who is paying for Comrade Bulgarin’s hospitalization? Why wasn’t he sent to a public hospital?”
Schroeder again looked at Rostnikov for an instant. “I’ll be honest with you, Comrade. Bulgarin is a party member, not because of his political zeal but because he has relatives who are … well connected. I’ve said more than I should, but I expect I can trust to your discretion.”
“Why?” Rostnikov asked again.
“I just—” Schroeder began in some confusion.
“Why do you expect you can trust to my discretion? You’ve never met me before, and I am a policeman.”
“I don’t … I … am I incorrect?”
“No,” said Rostnikov. “What is Bulgarin’s problem?”
“A breakdown. He—”
“No,” Rostnikov interrupted again. “He appeared to have some delusion. What is the nature of that delusion? He said something about a devil devouring the factory.”
Schroeder shrugged nervously and adjusted his tie.
“Who knows?” he said. “Devils, spacemen, talking animals, plots. We have a woman here who speaks to Karl Marx. Who knows with these? I can summon the physician assigned to his case.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Rostnikov, standing.
“You are in some physical distress?” said Schroeder, rising from his chair and proving to be considerably shorter than Rostnikov had thought.
“An ancient wound,” said Rostnikov. “I thought I hid it reasonably well.”
“You do,” said Schroeder. “But remember, though I am not a physician, I have almost thirty years of experience with symptoms. Can I tell you anything else?”
“Your name is German,” Rostnikov said, walking to the door.
“Yes, my parents moved to the Soviet Union before I was born. I can’t even speak German.”
“Thank you for your cooperation,” said Rostnikov.
“Not at all,” said Schroeder, coming out from behind the desk. “Such incidents are rare, very rare, and, besides, Bulgarin is quite harmless. I’m assured he is quite harmless. Your wife is quite safe.”
“I wasn’t concerned about her safety,” said Rostnikov.
“Well, you know—”
And with that Rostnikov departed, closing the door behind him.
The morning was pleasant, cool, and the sky a bit threatening. Rostnikov reminded himself to take the umbrella the next day. He frequently reminded himself, but invariably forgot unless Sarah was home and caught him before he left the apartment.
There was an MVD car, a not reliable 1974 Zhiguli, waiting for him in front of the hospital. Officially Rostnikov was a member of the MVD, the uniformed and non-uniformed police responsible for maintaining order, preventing crime, and pursuing lawbreakers for all but political and economic offenses. Political and economic offenses were the mission of the KGB, the Komityet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or State Security Agency. And Rostnikov had discovered when still a young policeman that any crime was political or economic in the Soviet Union if the KGB chose to see it as such, even the beating of a wife by her husband or the murder of the husband by a beaten wife.
Rostnikov climbed into the back of the car. He did not drive. He knew how to do it and had done it many years ago. The skill was probably still there, but the desire had never glowed. Driving was a distraction. Rostnikov’s superior, Colonel Snitkonoy, the Gray Wolfhound, had insisted on Rostnikov’s taking the car and uniformed driver, and Rostnikov had not refused.
“I want you back as quickly as possible,” the Wolfhound had said, standing tall, hands folded behind his back, brown uniform perfectly pressed and glowing with medals. “There is much to be done, and I can’t afford to have you wasting your time on buses. You understand.”
“Completely,” Rostnikov had said.
And so he sat in the backseat of the car, heading back to Moscow along the Volokolamsk Highway while the young woman driver made no conversation. Rostnikov always sat in the back of the car, though the custom was to sit in the front to keep from looking like an elitist. Rostnikov had no concern about such accusations, and the distance from the driver relieved them both of the obligation to carry on an unwanted conversation.
Schroeder, he was sure, had been lying. Rostnikov wasn’t sure about how much lying he had done, but he had lied. The administrator had been too ready, too cooperative. The busy administrator had been sitting there waiting for Rostnikov, possibly expecting him. And Schroeder had been sweating. There was nothing wrong with sweating. Many people sweated in the presence of a policeman, even if they were guilty of no crime. In fact, it was almost impossible in the Soviet Union to be innocent of all crimes, since the definition of crime included intent. Someone could be guilty of thinking improperly. Yes, things had changed recently. People talked of demokratizatsiya, democratization, but those things could change back again with a bullet, a quiet coup. It wasn’t that Schroeder sweated but that he did not take the handkerchief out of his pocket and wipe his brow. It had been important to Schroeder to make it seem that he was not nervous. Something was being hidden. It might be anything, from illegal purchase of medical supplies to the use of banned medications, but Rostnikov didn’t think so. He was convinced that it had something to do with Bulgarin, the man who walked like a bear.
Rostnikov pulled the worn paperback from his pocket and turned to the page where Carella had just learned about the headless magician.
THE WOMAN SAT looking straight ahead, her coat still buttoned, her mouth firmly set. She was somewhere in her late forties and, Sasha was sure, wanted to be thought of as a stylish modern person. He discerned this because of the woman’s short haircut, her use of makeup, and the stylish if somewhat worn imitation leather coat she wore.
She was also a challenge. She had been sitting silently in the small interrogation room of Petrovka for more than fifteen minutes and had said nothing after informing the uniformed officer at the entrance that she had something of importance to say to a policeman. Petrovka consists of two ten-story L-shaped buildings on Petrovka Street. It is modern, imposing, utilitarian, and very busy.