March 31, Monday

Outside the barred window of the prosecutor's office one could see bare trees and a red-and-white billboard attached to the railings of a pedestrian overpass: "The decisions of the 26th party congress should be implemented!" Dead flies stuck to the dirty window pane. One the window sill, was an instant-coffee can full of cigarette butts.
Sergeich, head of the investigative department, sat at a scratched desk. He was in his fifties and wore an old dark grey suit with a pullover under the jacket and a rumpled blue shirt.
Investigators Sergei and Yura pulled up chairs to his desk.
"We have a positive identification on the victim," said Sergeich. He put his palm into his slightly curly grey hair, thinning above his forehead.
"They showed a photo at the nearby schools this morning. At school #17, they identified her. Tenth grade student."
Sergeich looked at a note lying on his desk.
"Svetlana Petrovna Smirnova. Born in 1969, May 20. How old would she have been this May? Seventeen. Yeah, right, seventeen. I can't believe it…"
Sergeich turned his head away, looked out the window. A Sozh radio - a white box with a black volume knob - was bubbling in the corner of the room. A speech by Gorbachev was being broadcast:
"…Perestroika is an imminent necessity that has grown from the profound processes in the development of our Socialist society. It is ripe for changes, we can say it has been yearning for them…"
"Was she raped?" Sergei asked.
"The forensic expert will give his report tonight. But it looks like she was. The panties and pantyhose were pulled down."
"What about her parents?" asked Yura, a guy of medium height, blondish, clad in a black sweater and worn jeans. He looked at Sergeich. "Why didn't they report? She'd been missing for more than a night and a day…"
"No clue," Sergeich said, waving his hand. "Maybe, that wasn't the first time she hadn't come home, or maybe they are drunks. That's your job to find out. Well, I'm putting you guys, on this case. Sergei is in charge and you, Yura, since you haven't dealt with a murder yet, should use it as an opportunity to learn. You've been here for nearly a year…"
Sergei, a guy with short dark hair, frowned and looked at his boss.
"Why doesn't the Transportation Prosecutor's office take the case?" he asked. "It's next to the railway."
"I spoke with Volkov," Sergeich replied. "Technically, it's their case, but he wouldn't take it. He's saying they are short-staffed and overloaded. He called the Republic's Prosecutor's office specifically about that, and they told him to give us the case."
"Jerks, that's what they are."
"Did they pick up the teenagers?" asked Yura.
"They picked up one, but after taking his address they let him go. Well, get moving guys. Honestly, I don't envy you. I don't envy you at all as far as this case goes."
He shook his head.
"This neighborhood is just about the worst in the city, only Grebenyovo may be worse. But Grebenyovo is special, as a lot of Gypsies live there. Amongst them, you know, you can find all types. Speculators, parasites, people without steady employment or residence… One good thing is that it isn't in our district."
Sergeich looked at Yura.
"You need a haircut," he said. "You look like a clown."
"Is my hair long, Stepan Sergeich?"
"And you're saying it's short? Is that the way an investigator at the prosecutor's office should look like? Look at Sergei, take him as a role model… Well, as far as the case is concerned, it is serious. Yesterday, the head of police went to the spot and this morning, he was supposed to report to the district Communist Party committee. So, while you're on this, I relieve you of any other caseload.


April 30, Wednesday

Yura sat at his desk, smoking and tapping ash into a jar of cigarette butts. The jar was full, and some of the ash fell on the scarred wood of the desk. Yura stubbed out the cigarette on the window sill, tried to put the fag into the jar. It fell. Yura swept it to the floor with his hand and took a typewritten sheet of paper from a pile on the desk. It read: "The protocol of job inspection for Nikolai Sergeyevich Ostapenko, an employee of the Central District Police Department."
Yura put the paper back on the pile, checked his wrist watch. It was half twelve. Shimchuk, who sat at the desk next to him, looked at Yura and said:

"Yura is a loner
He must have a boner."

Yura got up and went to Sergeich's desk. Sergeich was reading from a dog-eared paper. His glasses had slid to the tip of his nose.
"Sergeich, let me take that case," said Yura.
"What case?"
"The girl, murdered in that neighborhood. The second victim…"
"Yura, don't give me this rubbish. There are enough people on the case. I put Nizovtsov on it. He's taking his time…"
"Sergeich, it's the same killer."
Sergeich took off his glasses, put them on the desk, moved them around.
"I've told you, don't give me this rubbish. Your case was solved, right on the eve of the First of May holiday. Sergei will do the paperwork today and it'll go to court. You both did a good job. Don't worry that I assigned you to do that desk stuff. Once you're done, you'll get a new case by yourself, without Sergei. You've proven that you can do it."
Yura went back to his desk. A fly was moving on the dusty window pane. The sun outside was hidden behind a cloud.


Yura and Olya were walking on the bridge above the Dnieper. Beyond empty lots, trees and buildings, the sun was setting. Smoke came from the factory's smokestacks, dissolving in the darkening sky.
"When I was in about the fifth grade, me and mama went to that beach," Olya said. "She called it "children's beach". The next year, she no longer wanted to go there with me, she would say that she was tired and didn't feel like going. So I went with a few other girls to the river bank not far from our neighborhood. Swimming was banned there because of the 'stinky' stream, but we swam anyway."
"We normally went to the main beach," Yura said. "It was a shorter walk from where I lived. We didn't go to the actual beach but swam next to it, where the fire station and hydrants are. We floated on inner tubes down the current to the "children's" beach. And then we walked back with our inner tubes…"
Yura and Olya walked down the cement stairs and under the bridge. Overhead, trucks hammered, crossing the bridge.
"And mama didn't want to travel on holidays, either," Olya said. "She said we didn't have money for that, but I know that she just didn't want to go anywhere, even to Naroch Lake. She would come home from work and sit in front of the TV the whole night. And when she was on holidays, she did that all day long."
They came onto the embankment. On the other bank of the river, there was a beach with changing cabins painted blue. A towboat was towing a sand barge on the Dnieper. Waves moved to either side of it. Yura and Olya stopped at the railings, looked at stones, cigarette packs, butts and paper shreds floating in the water.
"I was sitting in class today and thinking about this evening, about meeting you," Olya said softly.
Yura moved closer to her. They kissed.
A motor boat passed by. Olya pulled away.
"Why do you have to go to Minsk?" she said. "What if you don't go?"
"I'll go there for one day. I'll be back tomorrow night."
"But why?"
"I'll tell you later. Are you going to the demonstration tomorrow?"
"Yes. They said it's mandatory."


Yura stood in front of a bookshelf, looking at the backs of the books. The door was ajar. In the kitchen, the radio was on:
"…at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, works aimed at liquidating the consequences of the incident are in progress. As a result of measures that were taken over the last day and night, the discharge of radioactive elements has been reduced, and the radiation levels in the vicinity have gone down. There are no chain reactions involving nuclear fuel, and the reactor is in a passive state…
Yura picked up a book and put it into his shoulder bag.
"…some media in the West are spreading rumors that thousands of people allegedly died as a result of the nuclear power plant incident. As reported earlier, two people actually died, 197 people were hospitalized, of which 49 were released from hospital upon examination. Factories, kolkhozes and organizations are operating as usual…

May 1, Thursday

Lights flashed by outside the train's window occasionally. Yura sat in a second-class compartment, leaning against the partition, looking out the window. Two ladies next to him were talking.
"…Ten thousand people have already died," one was saying. "And as many are yet to die. The contamination will reach us pretty soon."
The other one nodded.
"I'm scared even to think of what it could lead to," the first lady said.


Yura came out from an underpass. The clock on the train station showed ten past six. The square in front of the station was empty. A red and yellow tram passed by, followed by a watering truck and a truck decked with red cloth for the demonstration. A placard on its side read "Minsk Bearing Plant." Yura crossed the tram rails, took a cigarette out of the pack and lit up.


In the spacious kitchen sat Anya's father, short, bald, with a strong chin, clad in a blue sweat suit; her mother in a dressing gown, Anya - tall, slim, with long blond hair, wearing jeans and a white blouse, and Yura. The mother poured coffee from the pot into the cups.

"This is all propaganda," the father was saying. "Yura, you know perfectly well how these foreign radio stations operate. True, there was an incident. True, the consequences were dealt with. No more talk about that. It's a national holiday! By the way, are you going to the demonstration?"
Anya frowned.
"Are you kidding?"
"Well, what's wrong with that?"
"You're not going yourself."
"I did many times. Now it's you turn, young people…"
Yura took a sip of coffee.
"You're not looking well, Yura," Anya's mother said. "You didn't sleep on the train?"
Yura shrugged, got up and walked to the window.
Outside, on the avenue, participants of the demonstration were gathering. Some held balloons, paper flowers, slogans "Long Live the Communist Party!", "Peace, Labor, May" and "The People and the Party are United", portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Gorbachev and other members of the Politburo.


The barman, dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, was moving the pot on hot sand, making Turkish coffee. He poured coffee into two small cups. Yura took the cups and walked to the table where Anya sat. They were the only customers in the caf?. Yura set the cups on the table and sat down.
"Can you explain to me, what is going on?" Anya asked.
Yura sipped the coffee, taking out a pack of cigarettes.
"What's the matter? Are you going to stay silent, like this?"
Yura lit a cigarette with his lighter, inhaled, blew out smoke.
"Why did you come at all then?"
"To tell you that it's over between me and you," Yura said softly.
Anya frowned and looked at Yura, without blinking.
Yura didn't say anything.
Anya took her cup and splashed the coffee at Yura. He dodged, and coffee spread all over the wall, just a few drops on his shirt.
"You're a jerk!" Anya yelled. "That's what you are."
She threw the empty cup at the wall. It broke, the pieces fell on the floor.
"You're an asshole," she said. "Do you understand? I didn't dump you when you didn't stay in Minsk. And you didn't stay only because of your stubbornness and stupidity - my dad could have helped you. No, you chose to return to the sticks. Do you think I didn't have other alternatives? I had plenty, you see? I am twenty three years old, you understand?"
Anya jumped to her feet, approached Yura, pulled his hair, scratched his face with her painted pink nails, hit him with her fists. Yura didn't budge.
"Hey, what's going on?" yelled the barman. "Sort out your problems outside, will you? No breaking cups and ruining the walls here!"
Anya grabbed her bag and ran towards the exit.
"I'll pay for everything, don't worry," Yura told the barman.
He took another cigarette from the pack and lit up. A scratch on his cheek was bleeding.