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The young man and woman sat eating porterhouse steaks at a table in the restaurant of the Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel and Business Center at Bereszhkovskaya Naberezhnaya 2. The restaurant's meat was reputed to be the best in Moscow. The hotel, on the other hand, though it had once been the most popular in the city, had been quickly overtaken and passed in size, quality, and service by more than a dozen new capitalist hotels within walking distance of the Radisson.
Originally the hotel had been one of the many Soviet Intourist tombs of dark rooms and darker hallways. For about two years, it had been the headquarters for business travelers. Americans still accounted for a large number of its guests. Indeed, President Clinton had stayed here on one visit, eating the famous meat and watching CNN in his room with his shoes off.
Gradually the hotel had become a hangout for members of the various Mafias. The coffee shop, in fact, was a meeting place for Moscow's hit men, or keellery, who argued, drank, ate, and bragged to impress each other and the women who hung on their every word. The coffee shop was known as Café Killer to those who knew its reputation, which was much of the population of Moscow.
This young man who sat in the restaurant eating steak with his companion was dressed in designer clothes from Italy. His hair was brushed back. His face, though young, resonated with experience. He drank, ate, looked around, and minded his own business. The young woman was pretty, slightly plump, and dressed in an expensive green Parisian frock. The two talked quietly, neither smiling nor seeming to savor the expensive food brought to their table.
There were others watching the two. Since they were new to the restaurant, the regulars naturally wondered who the newcomers were and whether they were tourists or potential regulars. The regulars were curious, but they minded their business. Two of those examining the pair were Illya Skatesholkov and Boris Osipov, who had already discovered that the young man and woman were registered in the hotel, that they were Ukrainian, that his name was Dmitri Kolk and hers Lyuba Polikarpova, and that he had asked a bellboy, whom he had slipped a twenty-dollar American bill, if he knew who he might contact about attending a dogfight.
Packs of hungry dogs roamed Moscow. They had been pets, or attempts at protection from the soaring rate of personal crimes in the city. Most of the dogs were rottweilers, which cost as much as five hundred American dollars. Licensing was optional. Many of the dogs had been released by owners who could no longer feed themselves adequately, and certainly could not afford to feed a dog. They had been replaced by guns. Russians can own rifles, shotguns, and tear-gas pistols, and the number of registered weapons in Moscow, whose population hovers at nine million, was over three hundred thousand. Adding in the nonregistered weapons, the police estimated that there was one gun for every three Moscow residents, including babies and babushkas.
So, the dogs had formed into packs that came out at night, scavenging, attacking lone dogs, and, ever more frequently, humans. Recently, the packs had started to emerge during daylight hours. Food was scarce. Almost forty thousand dog attacks had been reported by Muscovites over the past year. Two-thirds of those had resulted in hospitalization of the victim.
Crews of uniformed policemen had begun combing the streets and dark corners of the city, shooting strays. Five policemen had been among those hospitalized with bites. One of the policemen had lost an eye. Another had lost the use of his left arm.
It was inevitable that enterprising criminals would find a way to reap profits from the wild dogs. First, some small-time dealers in stolen goods had captured the fiercest of the wild dogs and had organized dogfights, fights to the death in garages where men stood betting, shouting, smoking, and drinking from bottles sold them by their hosts. The enterprise was an immediate success. The newly rich, government bureaucrats, and a rabid assortment of bored tourists and Muscovites came to the illegal fights and wagered huge sums.
It was only a matter of time before the Mafias took an interest in the dogfights. The Armenian Mafia took over the original enterprise after persuading the four leading arrangers of such fights to sell out for a very reasonable price. One of the enterprising promoters had required a square carved in his back before becoming reasonable.
The Armenians, in turn, had made a quick profit in weapons by selling out to a group of Muscovites reported to be heavily financed by international investors.
Now, the dogfights were turning into big dollars in the early-morning hours of darkness. Now, there were private arenas, some with padded seats. Now, one could win or lose thousands of American dollars or millions of rubles.
The bellhop had told the young man in the silk suit that he would see what he could do. Dmitri Kolk had nodded, saying, "Tonight, if possible."
The bellboy had told the bell captain, who had told a contact he knew was into illegal dogfights, and the contact had gone to Illya and Boris.
The restaurant was abustle with hurrying waiters, table-hoppers, and busboys. Dmitri Kolk sat passively looking around the room. He made no eye contact and drank slowly.
Illya called a waiter, who came immediately to the table. "That man," Illya said, looking at Dmitri. "Give him this address and tell him to be there at midnight to get what he is looking for."
Illya wrote an address on a napkin with a felt-tip pen and handed it to the waiter, who immediately took it to Dmitri Kolk, who listened, glanced at the napkin, and tucked it into his inside jacket pocket. Kolk did not look around to see who might be watching him.
Sasha Tkach and Elena Timofeyeva had been assigned to track down those who were running the illegal fights. This was not considered a choice assignment and neither of the two deputy inspectors from the Office of Special Investigation had any idea of why the Yak, Director Igor Yaklovev, had taken on the dogfight problem. There had to be some political gain to be had, but neither officer could come up with an idea of what that gain might be. They had dutifully taken on the identities of Kolk and Lyuba, and for several days Sasha had enjoyed the rich life and the four-hundred-dollar-a-night room. Elena would have preferred her own identity.
Sasha was just past thirty but looked at least five years younger, in spite of his growing problems with his wife, Maya, and the prisonlike condition of living in a tiny two-room apartment with two children. Making the situation worse was the neurotic intrusion of his mother, Lydia, who appeared whenever she wished, shouted her directives for proper living and child rearing, and was constantly on the verge of battle with Maya. Younger men were being promoted ahead of Sasha, who was considered part of the old guard in spite of his age. Sasha was seldom in a good mood, but he was feeling rather content tonight.
Elena, on the other hand, was a few years older than Sasha. She was being pursued by Iosef Rostnikov, Inspector Rostnikov's son, who had recently joined the Office of Special Investigation. Iosef was smart, handsome, and, in spite of being considered Jewish, looking toward a promising future. Iosef had proposed marriage to Elena three times in the last few months. She had turned him down each time. She had a career and ambition, and she did not want to come home each night to anything but the emotions she had earned during the day. Still, Iosef was wearing her down, which was not entirely an unpleasant experience.
When they got the assignment from Chief Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov, with a warning to be especially careful, Sasha had told Maya that he would be away for several days on a dangerous assignment. Maya didn't look convinced, but she accepted the situation after getting a call from Porfiry Petrovich telling her that, indeed, her husband had been selected by Yaklovev himself for the job, a job he was not at liberty to discuss.
Elena, on the other hand, had had little trouble after telling her aunt Anna that she would be away on assignment for a while. Elena lived in a small, one-bedroom apartment with her aunt, who'd been a state procurator until a series of heart attacks had sent her into retirement. Recently, Anna and her niece had been finding it difficult to make ends meet. Anna's pension money had not come in for months, and Elena's salary, not particularly high, had arrived later and later each month. The two women had lived increasingly on Anna's small savings.
It was the Yak's idea that Sasha and Elena engage in this role playing. It was the Yak who had arranged for Sasha to have both a pocket full of American dollars and two credit cards in the name of Dmitri Kolk. The investment seemed out of proportion to the crime, but the Yak was not to be questioned. Besides, Sasha thought, it was a respite, a small if possibly dangerous vacation with enormous benefits.
"How do I look?" Sasha asked Elena when they were back in the hotel room and he had changed clothes.
Elena examined him. Sasha had daubed more hair cream into his hair and combed it straight back. He had changed out of his designer suit and was now wearing gray slacks, a blue button-down shirt, and a gray silk zipper jacket.
"Fine," she said. "You saw the dog?"
"A pit bull," he said. "Kennel has several of them. This one is supposedly particularly mean, but he looked quite benign to me. I hate dogs. My aunt had a dog. He growled and snapped at me and my cousins. Twice he bit me. I dreaded visiting my aunt. When the dog, Osip, died, my cousins and I celebrated. This pit bull is named Tchaikovsky. He was shipped to Kiev and then shipped here to me. He's in a private, very expensive kennel. You should have come to see him."
"I prefer cats," said Elena, more than a bit irked but not showing it. She had never been offered the opportunity to examine the animal upon whose performance their safety and the success of their assignment depended. "It's almost midnight."
Sasha nodded, adjusted his shirt and sleeves, and checked his hair with the palm of his right hand. "I'd better hurry," he said.
"I still think I should go with you," she said.
"The invitation was for me," he said.
"I can follow, watch," she said.
"Unnecessarily dangerous," he said.
"You look pleased. You've looked pleased about this whole assignment."
"Perhaps, a little," he said.
"You're not curious about why so much money is being spent to put on a front for us—hotel, clothes, shipping a dog to Kiev and back, bets you'll have to make?" she asked.
"No," he said. "That is the concern of Director Yaklovev."
"Be careful," she said.
"Of course," he said, checking himself again in the mirror.
Elena wasn't so sure.
"You have the address where they told me to come," he said, adjusting his hair. "If I am not back by morning ..."
"Then I'll know you are really enjoying yourself," she said.
The naked, rather hairy body of a large man floated facedown in the Moscow River. His massive buttocks rose and bobbed like twin pale balloons. The body was corpse white and bore a tattoo on the left arm which, like the right, drifted outward from the dead man.
The tattoo, Rostnikov could see from the police boat, was of a knife with a snake twisted around the blade and handle.
"Shall we pull him out?" asked a uniformed officer.
"No, not yet," said Rostnikov. "We'll wait. You have coffee?"
The uniformed officer, a very young man with a cap that looked a bit large for his narrow face, said yes.
"Please," said Rostnikov, sitting on the wooden seat at the rear of the boat. "What is your name?"
"Bring a cup for yourself, too, Igor Druzhnin," said Rostnikov. "We can talk while we wait."
The young officer left.
An excursion boat, filled no doubt with tourists, chugged past. One or two people on board saw the body and began to take pictures. Others joined them.
In English, one of the tourists said, "Can't we get a little closer?"
The boat cruised on down the river.
Once, the river had been relatively clean, a wide, dark, flowing, meandering path which Muscovites liked to watch from the banks while fishing, eating lunch, or simply thinking. But that was gradually changing. There had always been those who under cover of night dumped their garbage in the dark water. Now, though such dumping was illegal, it had grown less covert. And garbage was only part of the problem. Far north, factories poured liquid waste into the river. Much of it was filtered out by natural processes. Much of it was not.
"Others do it. So, I do it too," was the often-spoken excuse of those who lived near enough to the river to defile it.
It had grown worse with the fall of the Soviet Union and the chaos that had overrun the city. The police, in the days before the new democracy, would from time to time arrest people who spread filth in the waters. Now no one seemed to care.
There were those who said the river had taken on a new and not pleasant smell.
"It has the stink of freedom," Lydia Tkach had said.
Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov was the senior investigator in the Office of Special Investigation. This office had been started as a dumping ground for politically touchy cases and cases the MVD and even State Security, the old KGB, wanted no part of because they promised nothing but failure and a threat to those who might pursue them.
Rostnikov and his staff had been brought to the Office of Special Investigation by the pompous Colonel Snitkonoy, the Gray Wolfhound, who was considered a fine figure of a fool on whom could be dumped disastrous cases without the possibility of furthering his ambition.
They had been wrong. When Rostnikov had been transferred from the Moscow Procurator's Office after one confrontation too many with people in power—the KGB and the chief procurator himself—he had taken with him his small staff. The sensitive crimes that others had imposed upon the Wolfhound and his staff began to be brought to conclusions, and at one point the Office of Special Investigation had even stopped an attempted assassination of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was then president of the Soviet Union. There were those later who said that it would have been better had Rostnikov failed, but at the time it had brought grudging respect for Snitkonoy and his men.
So successful was the office that the Gray Wolfhound was transferred and promoted to head the security service at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He was a perfect choice in his neat, be-medaled uniform, a relic standing tall with flowing silver hair, an exhibit worthy of placement next to a Rublyov icon.
The Office of Special Investigation had recently been taken over by Igor Yaklovev. The Yak was about fifty, lean, with hair cut short and the bushiest eyebrows Porfiry Petrovich had ever seen, with the possible exception of Leonid Brezhnev. The Yak, a former KGB officer, was given to dark, uneventful suits and suspenders. His hair was receding and his glasses had thick lenses. He was ambitious, Rostnikov knew, and was using the office to further that ambition. Information gathered in the course of investigations could and well might be used by the Yak to put pressure on those above him, or traded to them to aid his ascension of the ladder of political power.
But to give the man his due, Yaklovev had promoted Rostnikov, given him a free hand, and pledged his support if one or more of the varied criminal organizations and the confused state bureaucracy attempted to impede the performance of his duties. Up to now, the Yak had been as good as his word and had successfully bought the loyalty of Rostnikov and his staff.
The wake of the passing excursion boat, now about a half mile down the river, had lifted the corpse and set his right hand moving in what looked like a wave to a school of small fish below him.
The boat was on the northern bank of the meandering river, directly across from the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski Moskau. An elegant hotel built in 1898 and reopened in 1992 after a complete renovation by a German-Russian group, the hotel boasted 234 luxury rooms. Rostnikov knew that on the other side of the hotel was St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, and the Kremlin.
Rostnikov shifted his weight as the young uniformed officer came back on deck and offered the detective a blue mug. Officer Druzhnin had a gray cup. Rostnikov took the cup, thanked the man who looked out at the corpse, and began to drink. The coffee was tepid and awful, but it was coffee.
Excerpted from The Dog Who Bit a Policeman by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Copyright © 1998 Double Tiger Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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