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Capitalism comes, communism goes . . . but crime springs eternal. For Inspector Rostnikov and his metropolitan police force, democracy seems only to have increased the call for their services. A bloody Mafia execution, a gang of murderous children, a vanished treasure trove of Czarist artifacts, and a kidnapping are amongst the cases that bedevil Rostnikov and company as they struggle to uphold the law.
A Day Not Unlike Other Days
Oleg Makmunov knew it was night. There was no sun. He knew he must be somewhere off of Gorky Street, for that was where he had started. The rest was a drunken blur. Even though he was dressed only in shoes, worn socks, threadbare pants, and a yellow and red American flannel shirt, Oleg Makmunov couldn't even have told a policeman if it was winter or summer.
Alexei Chazov and his two brothers had followed the drunkard for about five blocks. They had stayed back in the darkness, though it was unlikely the drunken man would see them unless they were in his face.
The street was narrow and empty. Well, not completely empty. The Chazovs had seen a young man and woman with their arms around each other in a doorway.
The drunkard had wandered far since he had been thrown out of the New Hampshire Café with its blaring American music. He had stumbled, seemingly without knowing it, in the general direction of the Strogino District, a neighborhood of cement tenements. When he entered the Strogino, the Chazovs spotted him.
The drunk stopped, but Alexei held his brothers back.
In front of them, sitting on a low stoop, a man smoked a pipe. The man seemed big, but it was hard to tell because most of the lights on the small street were out, and the ones that were on were dim.
Oleg slumped into a doorway and searched his pockets for the small bottle of vodka he had tucked away, but found nothing. Another search, this time for money, produced enough rubles to buy a small bottle should he stumble on someone who might have one to sell. He repocketed the money and tried to decide which way led back to Gorky Street. He guessed left and took his first few steps in that direction.
The big man on the stoop finished his pipe. He tapped the ashes out on the sidewalk, rose, turned, and went through the door behind him.
Now the Chazovs could move. As they neared the drunkard, Alexei supposed that the man was old, at least fifty.
In fact, Oleg was thirty-three. He had given up most of his teeth to drink and dissolute living. He was known to the down and the drunk as Smiling Oleg, not because he smiled so much but because he looked so incredibly funny when he smiled his near-toothless grin.
"One small step for Oleg," he said to the man who'd been smoking across the street, but now the man was nowhere to be seen. Oleg shrugged and took another step. "And one more step for the glorious future of Mother Russia."
Before he took another step, he tottered. Almost certainly he would fall to the pavement. It had happened to him before. And so many times he had rolled over on the street to look up at whoever had pushed him and saw no one. This time he did not fall.
He took another step and was shoved hard from behind. His hands went out to protect his battered face from smashing into the pavement. At that he was successful. He was aware of more than one person above him as he rolled over on his elbows and looked up with his loopy smile that usually brought a laugh. The three faces hovering over him did not laugh. Oleg was trying to rise when something hit him, something hard, something heavy, just above his left eye. It wasn't quite pain he felt but surprise. He slipped back down.
The second blow caught him flush in the face, and he was aware of his nose being smashed once again, probably along with his cheekbone. When something crushed his chest, cracking ribs, he found it very difficult to breathe.
He tried to speak when something cracked his skull, and he was vaguely aware that he must be dying. He made some attempt to breathe and think, but failed.
The three brothers continued picking up pieces of concrete and throwing them at the bloody mutilated head of Oleg Makmunov. When they were certain he was dead, the one who had jumped on his chest went through Oleg's pockets where he found his few rubles, two keys, a piece of smooth stone, the color of which they could not see, and a stub of a pencil.
It was enough. The Chazovs expected no more. They walked down the narrow street, saying nothing, in no great hurry.
Alexei Chazov was eleven. His brothers, Boris and Mark, were nine and seven.
Porvinovich stood in line reading a book at the Registration Chamber. The book was in Russian, a rather boring novel about a family that could not make a living in the new Moscow.
Making a living was not a problem for Alexei Porvinovich. He was a wealthy man with a weekly income, after payoffs to all including the tax police, of twenty-four million rubles a week, approximately twelve thousand dollars.
He owned three companies—a lamp factory, a cigarette factory, and a movie company. The lamps were flimsy things with green shades that sat on tables and would take no more than a 30-watt bulb. The cigarette factory was actually a packaging plant where the Turkish cigarettes Alexei bought for practically nothing were repackaged and sold at a profit of five hundred percent. The movie company was new. Alexei knew nothing about movies, but he had discovered that American, French, German, English, and Japanese producers wanted to make movies in Russia. Alexei's job, for a very high fee, was to get the foreign filmmakers through the new bureaucracy. Alexei was a master of proizvol, the exploitation of a system in confusion; the wielding of power to make rubles, and rubles to give power; the use of his power to further his own ends. He had been masterful at it when the bureaucrats were Communists, and he was an even greater master now that the bureaucrats were working for themselves. Capitalism had come with a typically Russian slant.
In addition to wealth, he had acquired a beautiful, intelligent wife who could speak five languages she had learned during her early years as a prostitute, and he supported his brother, who was little more than a lokhl, a simpleton.
The line moved up. Alexei could read the book no longer. He offered it to a lean, coughing man behind him. The man took it with no sign of thanks or gratitude. Alexei expected none.
Finally, it was Alexei's turn to sit in the metal folding chair across the desk from the man with many chins. Alexei had dressed for the occasion—a conservative definitely-not-new gray suit, a slightly rumpled white shirt open at the collar, a gray tie with little blue lightning bolts. He put his black vinyl briefcase on the desk and smiled wearily as he handed over the papers. The man took them in his swollen fingers.
"Let's see," the man said.
He was dressed more formally than Alexei, in the near-uniform of dark suit and dark tie at the tightly buttoned collar.
"Protokal Sobradi is in order, addresses are ... Is this a seven?"
Alexei leaned over and confirmed that it was indeed a seven. The man nodded his head seriously, the opening move to inform Alexei that there would be a price to pay for this problem and others he would surely find.
"Your ustav, charter, seems to be correct. You are requesting a limited-liability charter. What will you be making or selling?"
"Books and other related items," said Alexei.
The other items included computers and apartment sublets.
The fat man did not pursue this. He turned the page to the financial statement, the heart of the matter.
"You have the twenty million rubles to start this venture?"
"As is stated on the forms, which are all certified," said Alexei. "All dues and charges have been paid, as the documents show."
"Good, good," the man said, moistening his finger and slowly turning the page to the landlord guaranty letters. "You will maintain your business at Forty-five Pushkin Lane?"
"I will," said Alexei.
The document before the fat man was signed by Alexei's wife, who was officially the owner of the office building where all of Alexei's businesses rented space.
Behind Alexei, the line waiting for permission to open a new business was long. Everyone waited patiently. They had waited patiently all their lives, and most of them fully expected that their requests to open businesses would be rejected and that they would be sent to some other office to have their documents "corrected."
"Temporary registration also in order," said the fat man, looking at the card before him.
It had cost Alexei five hundred thousand rubles to the lawyer appointed by the Registration Chamber to be sure the registration forms were in order so that he could be issued the card.
"Official police stamp," the man said. "Code number assigned by State Statistics Committee. The stamp is a bit underinked."
Alexei let out a small sigh.
"And your company stamp looks a bit too much like that of several others who have applied in the last month," the fat man said, shaking his head at the incompetence of those who did such things. "Signature card in order and notarized," he went on. "Three names. Partners?"
"Yes," Alexei said.
The fat man went to the next document.
"Bank account for the business seems to be fine." The fat man looked directly at Alexei for the first time.
"We are fortunate enough to have raised sufficient money for this venture," Alexei said softly.
"Good, good, good," said the fat man. "Let's see if we can move this along. Pension-fund papers are signed and stamped, and you have the form from the Tax Inspectorate."
The man flipped through the documents, once more shaking his head.
"I would like to issue you a permanent registration certificate," the man said, "but there are some minor discrepancies, words crossed out, stamps too faint. I would like to ..." He shrugged his shoulders to show that he would like to help.
"I have one more document that might help," Alexei said, handing the fat man a small brown envelope.
The man opened the envelope and looked in, careful to keep anyone waiting in line or the registrar at the next desk from seeing. There were five one-hundred-dollar bills. The fat man slipped the envelope into the drawer of his desk and stamped the final certificate that would permit Alexei Porvinovich to open his new business. Alexei accepted the document, shook the man's flabby hand, and put all of his papers back in his briefcase.
Alexei relinquished the folding chair to the thin, nervous man who was next in line, the one to whom Alexei had given the book.
Success. It had taken only three weeks of waiting and bribing to get the document. He had two more envelopes in his briefcase, each with five hundred dollars. He had been prepared to give them all to the fat registrar. The man had sold his approval well below the going rate.
Swinging his briefcase, Alexei left the bureau building. Outside, he looked at the sky. It was early October. The first night frosts had already come, and soon the first snow would follow. Within a month the Moscow River would freeze and the city would be covered in snow. Good.
It was early, just before two in the afternoon, and Alexei decided to stop at the Grand Hotel for a drink and perhaps a sandwich before he went to his office.
He hurried down Nikloskaya Street—formerly Twenty-fifth of October Street—a street as old as the city of Moscow itself. The street was crowded with people. Alexei paused in front of the Old Printing House at Number 15. With its pale blue facade and neo-Gothic working of white stone, sundials, spires, and the prancing lion and unicorn above the main entrance, it was a building Alexei much admired. The first Russian book was printed there in 1564 by Ivan Fedorov. Alexei was confident that in time he would own this building.
He was looking up at the unicorn when the black Mercedes-Benz pulled up at the curb and two men stepped out of the car, both wearing ski masks and holding automatic weapons. People ran, fell to the ground, and screamed.
Alexei turned, saw the men, started to go to the ground, and then quickly realized that the weapons were aimed at him.
"In the car," one of the men ordered.
Alexei was stunned. A mistake was being made.
"I'm not—" he began but was cut off by the blow from a steel barrel against his face.
His cheekbone broke and he spat blood. The kidnapper repeated, "In the car."
Alexei staggered into the backseat of the car, followed by one of the masked men. The driver took off his mask as the car sped down the street, and his partner in the backseat screamed, "What are you doing? You want him to recognize you?"
"I can't drive down the street wearing a mask," the driver answered reasonably.
The kidnapper in the backseat still wore his mask. He let out a grunt of nervous acceptance.
"Try not to bleed all over the car," he said, taking off his own mask and handing it to Alexei, "it's not mine."
Alexei took the mask and put it to his throbbing cheek. Then he looked up and recognized the man who had given him the mask. The man's hair was a wild frenzy and he was panting.
Alexei was certain that he was going to die very soon.
A few short blocks from the Neva River, not far from Saint Isaac's Square, a tall, lean man in black slacks, shoes, shirt, and jacket stood watching uniformed men pile efficiently out of two vans. At the side of the tall man—who some passersby thought resembled a vampire—stood a pretty, slightly plump young woman wearing an efficient gray suit. They were an odd and serious couple.
The men coming out of the vans carried standard-issue AK-47s and wore dark blue uniforms with helmets. Over their uniforms they wore bulletproof jackets that would have done little good against the automatic weapons that had been circulating in Moscow since well before the rise of Yeltsin's democracy.
A crowd was quickly gathering, most with nothing better to do, some with a curiosity that demanded satisfaction.
"Terrorists," one old babushka said with assurance to the plump, pretty woman. No one dared talk to the forbidding and somber Tatar.
The pretty woman, whose name was Elena Timofeyeva, nodded her head. This encouraged the babushka, who shifted a heavy cloth bag from her right hand to her left and said, "Afghans."
A murmur ran through the crowd, some accepting this conjecture, others declaring it garbage.
"Chechens. It was Chechens. I saw them," someone shouted.
There were now more than twenty uniformed men arranging themselves at even intervals in front of the ancient two-story wooden apartment building. They reminded Elena of the men she had once seen in an old American horror movie, The Thing, where the scientists circled a giant flying saucer buried beneath the ice.
There was no ice this morning, just the first cold nip of winter.
Elena had taken the number 3 bus down Nevsky Prospekt and walked another two blocks to get there. Deputy Inspector Emil Karpo, the gaunt man at her side, had arrived by metro at the Gostinniy Dvor stop.
Someone gave a sharp command and the uniformed men pulled out long lines of rope with grappling hooks.
Cameramen madly clicked away. Journalists frantically made notes in their pads.
"If they are trying to surprise the terrorists," grunted a one-legged old man with crutches and a two-day growth of white beard, "they are idiots."
"Not terrorists," said another man with a voice of weary knowledge. "Mafia."
"Mafia," ran voices through the crowd.
Elena Timofeyeva knew why the men in uniform were hurling their grappling lines to the roof of the two-story building, lines that were as likely to pull down the ancient bricks of the roof as to support the weight of overarmed men wearing supposedly bulletproof vests.
This was a show. Elena and Karpo had been assigned to the show as representatives of the Office of Special Investigation. They were to work, according to Colonel Snitkonoy, as liaison with the tax police, who were now scurrying up the sides of the building to the applause of the crowd. It was not the Moscow Circus, but it was quite a spectacle and cost nothing.
Karpo and Elena knew that there was no need for this show. The tax police could simply have knocked down the door. This was not a raid on a dangerous group or individual, but a follow-up on a tip from a reliable informant. The old man who owned the building had recently died. He had accumulated valuable jewelry and other items subject to taxation.
It was the job of the tax police to enforce the new tax laws that would bring in many billions of rubles from individual citizens, businesses, and foreigners doing business in a new but more than slightly frayed Russia. It was also the job of the tax police to strike fear into the people so that they would pay their taxes. Daytime raids featuring fully armed men were now common. The media were always informed when raids would take place. It was common now to see bewildered businessmen led out of their offices with their hands cuffed behind their backs.
A position in the tax police was much desired, for the tax police received not only their salaries but also a small percentage of what they recovered. Karpo doubted that such rampant capitalism had ever been practiced even in the United States.
Excerpted from Blood and Rubles by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Copyright © 1996 Double Tiger Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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