Read an Excerpt
An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery
By Stuart M. Kaminsky
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Double Tiger Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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."CHAPTER 2
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.
Excerpted from Tarnished Icons by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Copyright © 1997 Double Tiger Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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