The Man Who Walked Like a Bear
The Man Who Walked Like a Bear
THE WOMAN SAT looking straight ahead, her coat still buttoned, her mouth firmly set. She was somewhere in her late forties and, Sasha was sure, wanted to be thought of as a stylish modern person. He discerned this because of the woman's short haircut, her use of makeup, and the stylish if somewhat worn imitation leather coat she wore.
She was also a challenge. She had been sitting silently in the small interrogation room of Petrovka for more than fifteen minutes and had said nothing after informing the uniformed officer at the entrance that she had something of importance to say to a policeman. Petrovka consists of two ten-story L-shaped buildings on Petrovka Street. It is modern, imposing, utilitarian, and very busy. It is a place most Muscovites avoid. Often citizens will come through the doors determined to be heard and seen, only to change their mind at the sight of the humorless young officers carrying dark automatic weapons. But this woman, though afraid, had persisted.
Sasha Tkach had the unfortunate luck to be seated at his desk opposite Zelach when the woman was brought up. Sasha was usually successful with reluctant witnesses. He was handsome if a bit thin and looked much younger than his twenty-nine years. His hair fell over his eyes, and he had an engaging habit of throwing his head back to clear his vision. He also had a rather large space between his upper teeth, which seemed to bring out the maternal response in most women, but this woman, whose identification confirmed that her name was Elena Vostoyavek, did not respond to Sasha's charms and, truth be told, Sasha had other things on his mind, particularly the fight he had had that very morning with his wife, Maya, over whether Sasha's mother, Lydia, would be moving with them and the baby to the new apartment. It had been an unusually difficult fight because Lydia, deaf as she was, had been in the next room and might hear.
Sasha did not need this silent challenge before him. He needed a simple day of desk work, distracting, absorbing desk work without human contact. He had a pile of reports to write. He longed to write those reports, to lose himself in the routine of those reports, and so he decided to charm the reluctant woman.
"Can I get you some tea?" Sasha said, leaning close to her and smiling.
"This must be difficult for you," he went on, speaking softly, intimately. "Whatever it is you have to tell us must be important, and we appreciate your sense of responsibility. Too many citizens walk away from their responsibility."
The woman did not look at him. He pulled up a chair and sat directly in her line of vision. Inspector Rostnikov had told him there would be moments like this when they moved to special assignments in the MVD. They-Rostnikov, Tkach, and Emil Karpo-had handled important cases, murders, grand theft when they were with the procurator general's office, which under Article 164 of the Constitution of the USSR is empowered to exercise "supreme power of supervision over the strict and uniform observance of laws by all ministries, state committees and departments, enterprises, institutions and organizations, executive-administrative bodies of local Soviets of People's Deputies, collective farms, cooperatives, and other public organizations, officials, and citizens." The procurator general's office was a place of great prestige and, as long as its mission did not conflict with the KGB, great power. But Rostnikov had, once too often, incurred the wrath of the KGB and had been demoted, assigned to the staff of Colonel Snitkonoy, whose duties were largely ceremonial.
Tkach and Karpo, already under suspicion because of their loyalty to Rostnikov, had been given the opportunity to join him. The opportunity had no alternatives, and Tkach had accepted it gladly, though at moments like this he longed for a good murder.
"You're married?" Tkach said. "Yo