Porfiry Rostnikov was one of the top detectives in Moscow—until he crossed the KGB. On the orders of the secret service, this bulldog cop is busted down to the minor crimes unit, where his talents are utterly wasted. When a drunk climbs the statue of Nikolai Gogol in Arbat Square and threatens to kill himself, Rostnikov tries to talk the man down. But with a perfect somersault, acrobat Valerian Duznetzov leaps from the statue—the final jump of a storied career.
Across town, Duznetzov’s partner, Oleg, practices his trapeze routine high above the circus floor. After letting go of the bars and going into a perfect double flip, Oleg falls, expecting the net to catch him. But the net has been sabotaged, and Oleg dies. As Rostnikov digs into this strange pair of deaths, he finds dark secrets inside the Moscow circus—secrets sure to grab the attention of his old friends at the KGB.
“The shrewd, temperate Inspector Rostnikov . . . himself is like an acrobat on the high wire without a net, a target of both his jealous supervisor and the unknown murderer . . . This witty, intricate thriller reaches a suspenseful finale in the center ring under the Moscow Circus Big Top.” —Publishers Weekly
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A Fine Red Rain
An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery
By Stuart M. Kaminsky
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 Stuart M. Kaminsky
All rights reserved.
The man sitting on Gogol's shoulders was weeping and shouting, but Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov couldn't hear him. Rostnikov stood in Arbat Square across Gogol Boulevard, straining to hear the man's words over the gentle bump-thump of the light September rain. It was very early on a Monday morning. Buses and cars crept up Suvorov Boulevard. People on their way to work on Arbat Street and on the New Arbat—or Kalinin Prospekt, as it was officially known—climbed off the buses or hurried out of the underground Arbatskaya Metro Station behind Rostnikov.
A few people, like Rostnikov, paused to watch the ranting man and wonder how he had climbed the statue, which stood tall and apparently unclimbable in the small park. People pressed their faces against the windows of the buses to catch a glimpse of the man on Gogol's shoulders. A Volga stopped and the bespectacled driver stepped out, cupped his right hand over his eyes, squinted at the man and Gogol, and got back in shaking his head.
"Gogol looks amused, like it's a game," said an old man clutching a cloth bag. He had spoken to Rostnikov, who grunted in reply. Gogol did look amused. There was a small smile on the statue's face, and the man who clung to it had his arms wrapped around the statue's eyes so that it looked as if Gogol were trying to guess who the man might be.
"Gogol liked games," the old man said.
Rostnikov grunted and looked around for a uniformed MVD police officer. Had he not made a routine stop to check on the possible sighting of a known pickpocket, Rostnikov would not now be standing in the rain. He looked again for a uniformed officer. Usually they were quite visible. Moscow is the center of the MVD, the national police responsible for minor law enforcement, initial crime inquiry, traffic, and drunks who climb public statues.
Rostnikov's left leg began to ache and he knew that he should get out of the rain. The leg had been injured when Rostnikov was a fifteen-year-old boy fighting the Germans outside Rostov. He had been labeled a hero then, had been made a policeman—one of the youngest policemen in the Soviet Union—despite his handicapped leg, had been honored with medals that made his father proud and his mother weep. Rostnikov had married, had fathered a son, had been promoted to inspector in the Procurator General's Office in Moscow. The Procurator General, appointed for seven-year terms, the longest term of any Soviet official, was responsible for sanctioning arrests, supervising investigations, execution of sentences, and supervision of trials. As an inspector in the office of the Procurator General, Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov had earned a reputation as a determined, intelligent investigator. But that was all in the past.
Rostnikov had recently been transferred "on temporary but open-ended duty" to the MVD—the police, uniformed and ununiformed, who directed traffic, faced the public, and were the front line of defense against crime and for maintenance of order. It was clearly a demotion for Rostnikov's too-frequent clashes with the Komityet Gospudarstvennoy Besapasnosti, the State Security Agency, the KGB. It wasn't that Rostnikov was a troublemaker. Far from it. It was simply a matter of the KGB's being involved in so much that it was difficult to avoid them.
Rostnikov was now assigned to central MVD headquarters, serving directly under Colonel Snitkonoy, the Gray Wolfhound. Rostnikov's job was to handle assignments from the Wolfhound on less-than-important cases. After the investigations, if the doznaniye, or inquiry, indicated it, the cases might be turned over to the Procurator's Office for further investigation and prosecution, provided, of course, that the KGB did not label the cases political. Since the KGB could label as political everything from sabotage to driving over the thirty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit, every investigation had to be cleared with the KGB. Still, important cases of theft, robbery, and murder usually went to the Procurator's Office. Until August, Rostnikov had been a chief inspector in that office, pursuing the investigations of such important cases.
At the moment, however, Rostnikov was getting wet as he engaged in a literary debate with an old man.
"Jews and cossacks," the old man next to Rostnikov said with a smile. The old man wore a soggy workman's cap and a faded gray jacket. A soppy cigarette that had long ago been stilled by the rain still sat in the corner of his mouth. "Gogol was obsessed with Jews and cossacks," the man explained.
"He was a Ukrainian," said Rostnikov, straining to hear what the man who had now climbed onto Gogol's head was shouting. It was probably Rostnikov's responsibility to try to get the man down. It was a responsibility he preferred to deal with only if no other solution could be found. He had faced drunks and madmen throughout his career. It was always a disaster. Now, at fifty-five, Porfiry Petrovich wanted no more disasters. What he wanted was a young uniformed MVD officer or two who would gain valuable experience from dealing with this ranter and the traffic jam he was creating.
"Gogol was greater than Pushkin," challenged the old man at Rostnikov's side. "You know that."
The crowd under Gogol's statue was growing and would soon spill into the street, tying up traffic.
"Pushkin praised Gogol's depth of feeling and poetry. Tolstoy called Gogol a genius," said Rostnikov.
"I'm not questioning his genius," insisted the old man. "Who's questioning the genius of Gogol? Did I question his genius?" the old man asked. "What I said was—"
"Who is a genius?" interrupted a portly, well-dressed woman with a little mesh bag full of vegetables. "That one's a genius?" She nodded at the ranting man perched on the statue.
"We're not talking about him," corrected the old man. "We're talking about Gogol."
"Of course he was a genius," said the woman. "Who said he wasn't?"
The old man pointed at Rostnikov. "He did."
Rostnikov made up his mind and sighed. "I'm a policeman," he said.
"Then that's different," said the old man, walking in one direction while the well-dressed woman with the vegetables headed toward the metro station.
The word fly came wailing from the man on the statue through the sound of gentle morning rain, heavy traffic, and the gathering curious. Rostnikov watched a young uniformed MVD officer push his way through the small, but growing, crowd. If the rain were to stop, the crowd would become a circus. The young policeman called out something official sounding to the man on Gogol's head, but the man laughed. The police officer looked confused, and someone called advice from the crowd. Rostnikov sighed and trudged across the square and Gogol Boulevard, holding out his hand to stop an advancing Moscova sedan that seemed determined to roll over him. At the fringe of the crowd, in spite of the rain, an enterprising man with a sad face badly needing a shave had set up a makeshift fold-out stand and was selling, or trying to sell, vegetable seeds.
"Five for a kopeck," he shouted. "All from Africa. They'll grow as big as your fist."
Business was bad, but not terrible. A family—man, woman, and two young boys—that seemed to be from the country began to talk to the seed salesman without taking their eyes off the man on the statue. Rostnikov lumbered past them and made his way through the crowd.
"Don't shove," said a young man with long hair. He, was wearing American jeans and holding the hand of an equally young girl with practically no breasts who was also wearing jeans—and a white T-shirt that had "The Police" written on it in English. Rostnikov momentarily pondered the meaning of the message. Was it in support of the police? A subtle challenge? Why was it in English?
The rain had slowed, but not stopped, as Rostnikov pushed through the front row of the crowd and heard the police officer shout up at the man blasphemously atop Gogol, "You are disrupting traffic and failing to display proper respect to a national monument. Come down now."
The man moved down to sit on Gogol's shoulders and hugged Gogol's neck and laughed at the sky and the rain.
"Come down?" he shouted, the rain dripping down his dark face. "I can fly down. I flew up here and I can fly down. I am a flyer."
Rostnikov examined the man above him. He seemed familiar, not familiar like a friend, or even like the driver of a bus one sees over and over, but like a face one has encountered, examined. He was in his forties, wearing neat, wet-dark pants, a heavy gray shirt, and a jacket that almost matched the pants. He was well built, like an athlete. He seemed to have some secret that he shared only with the sky and the ear of the statue, which he leaned over to whisper into.
"Officer ..." Rostnikov said to the policeman.
He responded, "Back, stay back."
"I'm Inspector Rostnikov," Rostnikov explained, wiping rain from his brow.
The police officer turned quickly, came to attention, and then relaxed openly, pleased to have a superior take over a situation that was beyond him. The officer, hardly more than a boy, had reddish cheeks and a pouty lower lip.
"Yes, Comrade Rostnikov, I recognize you," he said. "This man ..."
"Timis Korostyava," the officer said.
"Korostyava," Rostnikov said, looking up at the man above them, "get some help and move the crowd back. Tell them they'll be late for work. I'll deal with the man who flies on statues."
"Yes, Comrade," Korostyava said with a relieved smile as he turned with great zeal to order the reluctant crowd back. The crowd argued, Korostyava insisted, and as far as Rostnikov could tell, the policeman did an adequate job. From the corner of his eye, Rostnikov saw two more uniformed officers making their way down the sidewalk. The crowd seemed to have grown to more than a hundred as Rostnikov took another step toward Gogol.
"I am Inspector Rostnikov," Rostnikov called up to the man.
"Gospodin, Comrade," the man called down with a smile. Then the smile turned to a frown. "I don't care who you are. I am here to talk to Gogol, to cheer him up, to ask his advice."
"Then," said Rostnikov, "you have chosen the wrong Gogol. The one you are on is the smiling Gogol, the standing Gogol. He was put here in 1952 after the war to replace the seated, sad Gogol. The Gogol you want is down there." Rostnikov pointed over his shoulder down Suvorov Boulevard. "Just on the other side of the underpass," he continued, "in the courtyard on the left, number 7a Suvorov Boulevard, right in front of the house where Gogol lived in Moscow, where he wrote. You can't see him from the street. Why don't you come down and we'll go talk to him, cheer him up?"
The man leaned forward, almost falling. From the crowd behind him Rostnikov heard a woman gasp in fear, anticipation of tragedy.
"You hear that, Nikolai?" the man whispered loudly into the statue's ear. "This fire hydrant of a policeman who knows so much thinks I should abandon you."
The man leaned dangerously forward to examine the face of the statue and then sat back again.
"Gogol is amused," he announced.
"I was a young policeman when this statue went up," Rostnikov explained. "I helped to keep traffic back then as the young men behind me are doing now. It was even raining that morning."
"History repeats itself," the man said, shaking his head wisely.
"As Marx said," Rostnikov continued. "Where I now stand and you sit once stood the walls of the White City. This is where the Arbat Gate stood and where in 1812 Napoleon's army entered the city, set up their cannons, and destroyed the Troitskaya Gate of the Kremlin."
"The 1812 Overture?" asked the man, letting go with one hand to clean his face of rain.
Rostnikov wasn't sure, but he nodded.
"You know history," the man on the statue said.
"Some," agreed Rostnikov conversationally.
"Can I ask you something, policeman who knows history?" the man said in a loud whisper no more than fifty or sixty people in the crowd behind Rostnikov could hear. Rostnikov nodded for the man to ask. Again he had the feeling that he had seen this man, even that the man looked appropriate clinging to the statue.
"What's a man to do? He works. His whole life he works until he can fly. And then he discovers that he can fly over the city, over the country, over the ocean. Would you like to fly over an ocean, Comrade Rostov?"
"Rostnikov," Rostnikov corrected. "Yes, I would like to fly," he said, thinking of his own failed attempts to get out of the country with his wife, Sarah. "But I have a bad leg and I am too old to fly. You need a special passport, special papers, to fly."
"No, you don't," the man said, leaning dangerously forward. He held the pointing finger of his right hand up to his lips to indicate that he was about to tell a secret. His lone, clutching hand almost failed him, but he balanced expertly and didn't fall. A smattering of applause from the crowd drew a small smile and a nod of the head from the man on the statue.
"I could tell you how to fly if you had property, money, not Soviet money, but money from the dirty"—the man spat into the wind and rain at the thought—"countries."
"I would like to have you tell me," said Rostnikov. "But look," he turned and pointed at the crowd, at the traffic, "you are stopping people from going to work. I'm standing here soaking. I have only two suits and can't afford to lose one to the weather. I'm not such a young man and I have a leg—"
"What do you take me for, a fool? May your father choke on half-cooked jelly if you take me for a fool," the man said, and then, loudly to the crowd, "He takes me for a fool."
"Don't take him for a fool," a young male voice called out, followed by a ripple of laughter.
"You're not a fool," Rostnikov said gently. "You are a little drunk, a little confused, a little unhappy, a—"
"Of course I am!" cried the man. "I'm a Russian. But the important question is, Do you like me?"
"At the moment." Rostnikov sighed. "But I will probably begin to grow impatient and have to call in a truck and ladder."
"If you do," the man announced, "I will simply fly from here." With this he let go with both hands, and Rostnikov leaped forward awkwardly to try to anticipate and possibly break his fall. But the man didn't fall. He clung to the neck of the statue with his feet, leaned backward, and then sat up, arms out, dripping with rain, as the crowd applauded.
Rostnikov turned, found Korostyava, and beckoned for him to come forward. The young officer came at a run, his black boots splashing in puddles.
"You and the others clear the area, break up the crowd," he whispered. "This man is playing to them. He might even jump."
Korostyava nodded, turned, and hurried toward his fellow officers to begin clearing the street if they could.
"What's your name, Comrade?" Rostnikov called up to the man, who watched as the police started to disperse the crowd behind Rostnikov.
"What? My name? Duznetzov, Valerian Duznetzov."
"Duznetzov, what do you do when you are not tying up traffic and whispering to statues?"
"I told you," Duznetzov said. "I fly. I leap. I fly. I bend. I spring. And sometimes, when I can, I drink. Gogol is not answering. You are not helping. It is time for me to fly."
The man began to rise. Keeping his balance with one hand, and in spite of a definite drunken swaying, he managed to stand on the shoulders of the statue. A good wind would send him tumbling backward. In the street a bus or car driver hit a horn, though it was prohibited by law inside the city. Duznetzov touched his forehead in salute to the warning horn and looked down at Rostnikov. The rain had begun to fall harder, sending a chill through Rostnikov, a familiar ache through his leg.
"Why are you doing this, Duznetzov?" Rostnikov asked.
"Because I can neither go nor stay. It's very simple. They give me no choice. They never did."
"They?" shouted Rostnikov. "Who are they?"
"One is the man who sees thunder." Duznetzov laughed as he spoke into the falling rain. "My body can fly but my soul is weak. I shall miss vodka and ice cream, Rostnikov. It would be better if the sun were out. I think I could like you."
"Perhaps we could be friends?" Rostnikov suggested.
"Too late," said Duznetzov with a shrug. "I should have shaved."
Excerpted from A Fine Red Rain by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Copyright © 1987 Stuart M. Kaminsky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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