IN THE EVENING OF the very same spring day that Col. Nikolai Zhenya stood at the window of his new office in Lubyanka, three men, two in Moscow and one in Livadia, less than two miles from Yalta, were out walking.
Before the night was over, one of the men would call his wife, another would witness a murder, and the third man would be dead.
In spite of his burden, Yon Mandelstem walked briskly through the small park just beyond the Sokol Metro Station, from which he had just emerged. The case that bounced against his side was worn like a small mail sack over his shoulder. As an added precaution or to give himself better balance, he also held firmly to the cloth handle of the case.
The clouds above him closed in on the sun, and a faint sound that may have been distant thunder whispered from the west.
Mandelstem, this young, serious-looking, bespectacled man in a dark suit and equally dark tie, looked neither right nor left. He ignored the rusting twenty-foot-tall iron hammer and sickle standing just off the path beyond the trees he was passing. Nor did he even glance at the two boys fishing off the low concrete wall over the pond as he moved on.
One of the boys, a twelve-year-old named Ivan, looked over his shoulder at the blond young man who had begun to perspire from both his pace and the weight of the case and whatever was in it. Ivan thought fleetingly that the man was carrying a very small refrigerator, the kind his grandfather and grandmother had in their apartment on Pushkin Street. The shape was right, perhaps even the weight. Something tugged gently at Ivan's line. It proved to be not a fish but a ripple created by the warning wind of the coming rain. When the boy looked back, the young man with the case was gone.
Yon Mandelstem hurried on, his round spectacles slipping forward on his nose, but he did not slow his pace or loosen his grip on the case to adjust the glasses. Instead, he balanced his burden on his hip and, in annoyance, moved his hand quickly to his face to push the glasses back on his nose, knowing that they would only resume their descent until he dried the perspiration from his nose.
A distant crack of thunder and the rapidly darkening skies urged Mandelstem on even more quickly. He reached the street on the far side of the park as the rain hit. He waited for a trio of cars to pass and then tried to run. The case bounced awkwardly, uncomfortably, against his side, his hipbone catching a metallic thud with each hurried step. Reluctantly, he slowed down, resuming his rapid walk.
The two boys who had been fishing in the park ran past him, laughing at the rain. A babushka, an old woman wearing a black sweater and carrying a mesh bag containing what looked like some potatoes and a small block of quivering cheese, almost bumped into Yon Mandelstem on the sidewalk. Their eyes met, and through the raindrops that now dampened his vision he became alert and clutched his case to him as if he feared an attack by the soggy creature before him. She hurried away, muttering.
Yon Mandelstem was just past Building One of the four 14-floor concrete high-rise apartment buildings known to their older tenants as the Friedrich Engels Quartet when the rain abruptly stopped. It had lasted no more than a minute or two, and the sky was already clearing. A huge plane that had just taken off from the Sheremetyevo International Airport boomed overhead.
Yon Mandelstem continued, feet splashing in puddles, toward his goal, Building Two.
A few people emerged from the buildings and looked up at the clouds, which thundered a farewell and moved west, away from Moscow.
Opening the door was awkward. He could not put his case down on the wet ground, but it was difficult to open the heavy door with only one hand. Fortunately, someone came to his rescue and pushed it open.
"It stopped raining?" asked the woman