"I WAS JUST WALKING my dog," the old man said, pointing at his dog. "I walk Petya every morning. Here. There. Everywhere. I'm a veteran."
They were standing next to a thick tree in Sokolniki Park. The bark of the tree was peeling with age or some blight. Tkach didn't know which, but he did notice that the tree was dying. As he had conducted the interview, Sasha had turned the old man, whose knees buckled with arthritis, away from the police laboratory crew and Emil Karpo, who were going over the area and examining the mutilated body of the girl.
"Citizen Blanshevski," Sasha said. "Did you see anyone in the park this morning? Any people you usually see? People you have never seen before?"
"Comrade," said Blanshevski. "I prefer to be called Comrade. I don't mind saying I am a veteran. My brother died fighting the Germans." The old man spat. "Whenever I think of the Germans, I spit. I have given my life to the Party. You should know that. So call me Comrade or I have nothing to say."
Sasha gently bit his lower lip. He said nothing for a moment. For the three weeks since his thirtieth birthday he had, with the help of his wife, Maya, managed to pull himself from the thick pool of self-pitying misery in which he had been immersed for months.
Thirty was not as bad as he had feared, and there had been a great compensation. Their second child had come, a boy whom they named for Sasha's father, Ilya, much to the joy of Sasha's mother, Lydia, who was still temporarily living with Sasha, Maya, and their two-year-old, Pulcharia. Ilya was healthy, and he slept reasonably well. Maya had begun to get her figure back and with it the health that had seemed to ebb away in pregnancy.
Sasha felt that he was looking like himself once more. The mirror showed him a face that looked no more than twenty-three. He was, he knew, reasonably good-looking if a bit thin. His straight blond hair tended to fall over his eyes and he had to throw his head back to clear his vision. There was a large space between his front upper teeth, which seemed to bring out the maternal instinct in many women, and this had gotten Sasha into trouble on more than a single occasion.
But now things were looking better. Elena Timofeyeva, with whom he had been teamed for almost four months, had gone to Cuba with Rostnikov. Elena's cheerful sense of the future had been almost unbearable. Sasha preferred, at least for now, the company of Emil Karpo. At his worst moments of depression, Sasha knew that he was a dynamo of good cheer compared to the man known throughout the MVD as the Vampire.
"Comrade Blanshevski," Sasha Tkach tried again, "did you see ... ?"
"A man," Blanshevski said, adjusting the blue cap on his head. "Petya, wait. The police don't want your crap around here. Dog is really my wife's." Blanshevski leaned toward Sasha; he whispered now in case his wife might be hiding in the tree. "Hate the dog. Hate it. I'm a prisoner of the dog. The Nazis ..." He spat again. "The Nazis couldn't have tortured me more if they had captured me. If I believed in God, I would pray for the dog to die."
"Then why don't you kill it?" Sasha whispered back.
The old man looked down at the whimpering little dog and shook his head.
"Can't," said Blanshevski. "I'm not a violent man. Besides, I'm used to him."
Something shuffled where the search was taking place, and Tkach found himself looking over the old man's shoulder. Karpo was kneeling next to the body. The amount of blood was ...
"You saw a man," Tkach said.
"I saw Comrade Aloyon, who sits on the bench way over there and reads the paper when it's warm, cold, hot, who cares," said the old man. "I saw the woman with the fat baby. I don't know her name. See her maybe twice, three times every week. Saw her even before the baby. Never even said hello. She's always in a rush. Me, I'm not in a rush. Where have I t