Aleksander Granovsky has dedicated his life to exposing the brutality of the Russian penal system. In two days he will be tried for the crime of smuggling essays to the West. It is a show trial, and there is no doubt he will be convicted and executed, yet before he dies, he intends to tell the truth one more time. But this is Moscow, where death is never heroic. While writing his final speech in his government flat, Granovsky is surprised by an assassin, who pierces his heart with the point of a rusty scythe.
The case is given to Porfiry Rostnikov, a veteran Moscow police inspector with a knack for navigating the labyrinths of Soviet bureaucracy. A bruising bear of a man, whose love of weightlifting and American pizza has left him as squat and powerful as a .38 bullet, Rostnikov may be the toughest cop in Moscow. This winter, his challenge is not just to find the killer, but to survive the investigation, as every question he asks takes him closer to exposing the dark heart of the KGB.
A Cold War–era hero, Porfiry Rostnikov is “quite simply the best cop to come out of the Soviet Union since Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko in Gorky Park.” (San Francisco Examiner)
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Death of a Dissident
An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery
By Stuart M. Kaminsky
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Stuart M. Kaminsky
All rights reserved.
Moscow winters are really no worse nor much longer than the winters of Chicago or New York. If they seem so, it is because Muscovites like to think of their winters as particularly furious. It has become a matter of pride, an expression of unnecessary stoicism somewhat peculiar to the Russian psyche.
In truth, when the snow falls for three or four days and the temperature drops to thirteen degrees, the huge plows radiate down the wide streets from Red Square, clearing the way for the well-bundled pedestrians, who show no particular discomfort as they flow around the machines and past the dvornik—the teams of husbands and wives with brooms who sweep the smaller streets and sidewalks. Two hundred feet below the ground and the snow, millions of Muscovites travel in the warmth of the Metro to their jobs or to stores to wait in line for a dozen eggs or a pair of Czech shoes that look like those in American movies. At night, the same people and the more than half a million students in the city travel quietly home.
It is the silence of winter in Moscow that most strikes a foreigner. The crowds of the day and evening are enormous, but they hum rather than shout. If one passes the Aleksander Garden at the foot of the Kremlin, however, one might hear the laughing voices of children, who have been skating through the day.
In the evening with the coming of darkness, most of the almost eight million citizens of Moscow stay in their apartments, and the city appears almost deserted except for the bored youth, tourists, criminals and those with enough money to venture to one of the restaurants or movie theaters within walking distance.
It was on such a night that Aleksander Granovsky paced the living room of his sixth-floor apartment on Dmitry Ulyanov Street, not far from Moscow University. Aleksander Granovsky, once a teacher, was now an enemy of the state. As he paced the wooden floor of his living room, the ceiling of the apartment below shook. Part of the fault was in the construction of the twenty-year-old building; bribes and bribe-taking had resulted in corners being cut and floors having less insulation than had been specified. However, part of the fault also belonged to Granovsky, who refused to put even an old rug on the floor to cut down the noise of his nightly pacing. The old Chernovs on the fifth floor had once complained to the manager of the building's housing committee and they had been visited by the K.G.B., the Committee for State Security—a rather extreme reaction, they thought, to so simple a complaint. As Granovsky became more famous in the neighborhood and the world for his dissident ideas, the Chernovs learned to suffer his noise in silence rather than risk another visit from the K.G.B. man with the flat nose who made them feel guilty. Besides, their complaint had had no effect on Granovsky's pacing.
Misha Chernov, who cleaned the benches and walks in Pushkin Park, never considered a direct confrontation with Granovsky, a tall, dark crow of a man who never smiled.
On this particular winter night, the Chernovs' ceiling shook more than ever, but they consoled themselves with the knowledge that their upstairs neighbor would be going on trial in a few days, and with any luck they would finally have their peace.
The Granovsky apartment was exactly like that of the Chernovs and the fifty other tenants in the building: two rooms and a small kitchen. The Chernovs and the Granovskys, however, were unlike most of the other tenants. There were only two Chernovs and three Granovskys. Some of the other apartments held as many as six tenants.
Granovsky's pacing stopped abruptly as his wife, Sonya, and his daughter, Natasha, came out of the second room of their apartment and faced him. He looked at them clinically. They were of a kind, thin and pale and frightened. Granovsky was driven to near fury by their fear, but he had learned to pretend not to notice it. It pleased him that in seventeen years of marriage his wife had no idea how much her concerned cow eyes infuriated him.
"We thought we'd go to Kolya's apartment for a little while," Sonya said so softly that he barely heard her. "That is, if you don't want us to stay and ..."
"Dress well," he said automatically. "Ask Kolya and Anna if they are going to try to come to the trial."
"He'll come," Sonya said. "Anna cannot. It would be hard for her at work."
Aleksander smiled, a dark, serious smile.
"Kolya will sit in the back and hide among the old women, the widows, and old maids who have nothing to do but watch the young lose their freedom," he said. He looked at Sonya for an argument about her brother's courage but as usual got none.
"We'll be back soon," Sonya said, avoiding his eyes and checking Natasha's red knit hat. Granovsky nodded, turning his back on the two women, who left, closing (he door as quietly as they could.
"Justice," he thought to himself, composing his trial speech as he resumed pacing, "is guaranteed us, but justice is not what we get." He would wait to write it down. So far he didn't like it. He moved to the kitchen and put on a kettle of water for tea and then strode to the window, where he parted the curtain and looked down into the street. He did not try to hide as he glared down with a sardonic smile at the K.G.B. man shivering in the street six floors below. Granovsky could see the winter steam freeze in front of the man's mouth. Granovsky pushed the curtain over to be sure the man in the street would see him and then turned to find his cup.
The trial speech had to be very brief, for he did not know how much they would let him say. He had to memorize the words and give them to his friends before the trial to be sure they would be smuggled out to the rest of the world. Pravda might give the trial no more than a few lines on the back page if it covered the event at all.
Granovsky had no doubt that he would be found guilty of anti-Soviet activity, consisting primarily of smuggling articles on the Soviet penal system out to the West for publication. It was not the outcome of the trial Granovsky wished or expected to affect. He was concerned with a matter of principle. What was important to him was that his words be given to the Western press, that he become an international figure, a rallying point for action and protest. Considering America's ideas of human rights, there was even the possibility that the Americans might be willing to trade his freedom for one of the Soviet spies they had. It would depend entirely on his speech and how much publicity he could generate.
The wording of the speech had to be emotional and precise. He could buy himself time and a little attention and sympathy at the trial by provoking the judge to anger. He considered the possibility of smoking during the trial, a gesture Judge Drinyanov would regard as extreme disrespect. Granovsky would feign surprise and innocence of the affront. But that was a minor gesture he couldn't allow himself to fantasize about. What he had to do was complete the speech.
Drinking his tea, he began to go through his worn copy of Basic Principles of Criminal Legislation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and of the Union Republics, with the vague hope of discovering something he might quote ironically. He knew the principles too well to expect an idea simply to leap out at him, but perhaps a word or phrase might bring inspiration.
He was dropping an extra sugar lump in his still steaming tea when someone knocked at the door. Granovsky was annoyed. He hoped it was not Sonya and Natasha back early. He had no patience for visitors and he had no time to spar with the K.G.B.
"All right, all right," he shouted, stirring his tea. The knocking continued. He gulped the hot liquid quickly, scalding his tongue. If it were the K.G.B., he might well be in for a night of harassment, and it would be good to have something warm in the stomach. The knocking grew louder.
Holding the law book in his hand, Granovsky strode to the door, fixing his most defiant expression, which would suffice for the K.G.B. or complaining neighbors. When Granovsky opened the door and recognized the person before him, the glare turned to a sardonic smile.
"This is a busy night for me," Granovsky said without any attempt to hide his impatience. "What do you want?"
The answer came before Granovsky could really register it. Something flashed from behind the back of his darkly dressed visitor. The flashing thing looked brown and alien and heavy, and it struck Granovsky in the chest. As a youth, a soccer ball had once struck him in the chest during a game at Sokolniki Recreation Park, taking his breath as this did. Granovsky opened his mouth and looked down at what had struck him and was now protruding from his chest. He could see his own blood forming on it, and he wanted to cast it away.
Granovsky could not scream. Something sweet and wet filled his throat. Still clutching the book in his hand, Granovsky staggered backward, wondering what to do about the thing in his chest. He had a vision of the Golem. If he were to remove the thing from his chest like the star of the Golem, he was sure he would cease to be alive. Yet the thing in his chest was making it difficult to breathe and he had so much to do—a speech to write, tea to drink. He looked toward his visitor for help but realized quite logically as he backed into the kitchen table that his visitor would surely not go through the trouble of killing him only to turn around and help. It would not be reasonable. Nichego, he thought, using the Russian word for resignation, a word that meant a sigh. Things were not going right. Trying to hold himself erect, Granovsky's hand touched the cup of hot tea and he pulled back, instinctively letting the book in his hand fly across the room. It hit the window he had looked out of earlier, broke it and sailed slowly into the cold darkness.
Khrapenko had not been looking up at Granovsky's window when it broke, but he heard the crisp tinkle of shattering glass and turned his head upward to see bits of light falling toward the street. In the midst of the shards of glass flew a white bird, its wings fluttering. Khrapenko was fascinated. A bird in Granovsky's apartment had apparently crashed through the window and was flying to the earth. Just before the object struck the snow, however, Khrapenko realized that it wasn't a bird, but a book. He looked up at the light in Granovsky's window before hurrying to the book, which had landed open in the snow. The book was covered with blood. Khrapenko ran for the entrance of the Granovsky building, wondering what madness Granovsky was engaged in.
Khrapenko was twenty-eight years old and had been in the K.G.B. for four years. His father before him had been in the K.G.B. and had known Beria. The elder Khrapenko had a reputation for loyalty and little intellect and had never risen very high above the lowest rank. His son was credited with carrying on the family tradition. The assignment to follow and watch Granovsky had been neither welcome nor unwelcome. It had been puzzling, but as always, he had questioned nothing and had taken the assignment as a possible sign of growing responsibility. Khrapenko did wonder why Granovsky had been allowed to go on the streets in spite of his impending trial, and he had been told that surveillance might lead to further evidence, and that letting Granovsky out would be a sign to the world of the fairness of Soviet justice. Besides, his superior had told him Granovsky welcomed the trial and would certainly not think of running away.
Khrapenko had followed Granovsky through the day and taken up his position opposite the apartment building a few hours earlier. He knew Granovsky was aware of his presence, had actually mocked him from the window, but that did not matter. Until the window broke, Khrapenko's single conscious thought had been the passage of the forty-five minutes until he would be relieved for the night. Now Khrapenko was running through the small lobby of an apartment building and up six flights of stairs to confront a dissident he had no desire to know.
Granovsky might simply have gone mad in fear over his trial. Khrapenko was not sure of how to deal with a bleeding madman. The K.G.B. man's only recourse would be to arrest him at gunpoint. If he had to shoot Granovsky, he was sure his K.G.B. career would be at an end.
Coming down the stairs was a figure in black who Khrapenko pushed past without looking. He hurried up the concrete steps two at a time, using the railing more with each flight and listening to the echo of his own footfall.
The hall on the sixth floor was empty. Either the neighbors had heard nothing or were too afraid to come out. The door to apartment 612 stood open, and Khrapenko approached it, panting and reaching for his gun. A distinct and broad trail of blood pointed along the wooden floor to Granovsky's body. The eyes were open, the mouth was angry and red, as if he had spat blood in wild fury. Cold air blew in through the broken window, but Khrapenko did not notice. His eyes fixed on the thing sticking out of Granovsky's chest.
Khrapenko knew he had to act quickly, efficiently, that his career might well be on the line. He put his pistol away and reached down to touch the body, to confirm to himself that the man was dead, and his hand came away covered with blood. He was convinced. His next step was to call headquarters, though his impulse was to dial 02, the police. He was on one knee near the body, looking around the room for a phone, when he heard the steps behind him and drew his gun again. He came within the thickness of a fly's wing of shooting Sonya and Natasha Granovsky. The older woman looked first at the gun, then at the stranger and finally at the body of her husband. Then she began to scream, and the girl at her side, little more than a child the age of Khrapenko's own sister, began to cry hysterically. Khrapenko rose from the floor and put out a bloody hand to calm the women, but they screamed even louder, a series of shrieks that sent ice through his brain. It was only then that he realized the two women probably thought he had killed Granovsky.
"I just found him like this," Khrapenko said, trying to keep composed, remembering his career, his father. "I'm a government officer. Please sit down and I'll call for help."
The two women turned their eyes from him, and the younger one stopped screaming. They were looking at the ugly, rusty sickle that someone had plunged deeply into the chest of Aleksander Granovsky.
In Moscow, the investigation of crime is a question of jurisdiction, and the investigation of important crimes is an important question of jurisdiction. Minor crimes, and no one is quite sure what a minor crime is, are handled at the inquiry stage by the M.V.D., the national police with headquarters in Moscow. Moscow itself is divided into twenty police districts, each responsible for crime within its area. However, if a case is considered important enough, a police inspector from central headquarters will be assigned. The doznaniye or inquiry is based on the frequently stated assumption that "every person who commits a crime is punished justly, and not a single innocent person subjected to criminal proceedings is convicted." This is repeated so frequently by judges, procurators, and police that almost everyone in Moscow is sure it cannot be true. This assumption of justice is also made for military and state crimes handled by K.G.B. investigators, who determine for themselves if the crime is indeed a state or military crime. Major nonmilitary crimes, however, are within the province of the procurator's investigator, who is responsible for a predvaritel'noe sledstvie, preliminary police investigation.
All police officers in the system work for the procurator's office. The Procurator General is appointed to his office for seven years, the longest term of any Soviet officer. Working under him or her are subordinate procurators, who are appointed for five years at a time. The job of the procurator's office is enormous: to sanction arrests, supervise investigations, appear at trials, handle execution of sentences, and supervise detention. The Procurator General's office is police, district attorney, warden and if necessary, executioner. The procurators of Moscow are very busy.
Excerpted from Death of a Dissident by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Copyright © 1981 Stuart M. Kaminsky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have a love for books about Russia. Have read several of these books in this series and have enjoyed them all. Plan on reading all of the series.
A great book. I am going to read the whole series. Takes me back to when I was growing up in the Soviet Union. Smart writing, some dark humor, loved it.