excerpt is taken from the book's final section. Zhdanovich, the head of
a marginal political party, is under attack from the authorities and a
criminal organization. Following an anonymous final warning, he and his
much younger girlfriend Olya, together with his aide Andrei, are about
to leave Moscow.
area. On the floor: scattered papers, a computer monitor, a keyboard,
a broken chair-back. On the walls: dirty footprints. The TV screen: a
Sveta sits on the windowsill holding a wet handkerchief to her swollen
cheek, a dried blood stain on her lower lip. The entire office has gathered
in the doorway.
Sveta: "No, those weren't the mobsters. I remember them… Plus, they
didn't have that look… All wearing suits, all silent… They were going
through the papers, looking for something… Got a whole briefcase of documents…
Only when I tried to interfere…"
Zhdan squeezes through the crowded office, to Sveta, and hugs her. Sveta
sobs. The cigarette falls to the windowsill.
Zhdan yells, "Where were the security guards?! I'm asking - where
were the security guards?! And you lot, don't hang around here. Everyone
back to work!"
I sit with
Olya on a bench, in a park off Arbat.
"He'll get off the hook. He should… He's got so many connections…"
A pause. We look at a bench across the path. A drunk in a "Deep Purple"
T-shirt, sucking on a bottle with a crooked label. "777" it
says. Next to him are two long-haired guys with swollen faces. Eager looks.
"How is he doing?" I ask, "You see him out of work hours
"It's hard to tell. He's quite an introvert…"
"Are you happy with him?"
"Don't ask ridiculous questions."
"Okay, I'm sorry. Here's what you asked me to bring."
I get a cassette tape out of my backpack. The soundtrack for the movie
Pulp Fiction. On the cover, Mia Wallace reads a cheap crime novel.
sound. The windows crack and break, glass shards falling to the floor.
I cover my head with my hands. Car alarms go off. Female cries beyond
I look out the window. The Volga is burning. Zhdan and the guards run
towards it, stop. Covering their faces with their hands.
Zhdan and Gena were supposed to head to a meeting. Gena left the building
first, got into the car. Zhdan was held up in the office. When Gena turned
the ignition key, a bomb went off.
I stand up, slip on broken glass. I grab the desk and run out of the room.
Noise and fuss in the corridor.
Flames. Black plumes of smoke. The asphalt is covered with broken glass,
patches of artificial leather from the car seats, Gena's shoe, his bare
severed foot; it's smudged with blood and soot.
cars and an ambulance are parked in front of the building. Police technicians
tinker with the soot-covered remains of the Volga. The area is cordoned
off. A bunch of office people and gawkers have gathered on the lawn.
The phone rings again. I pick it up.
Ilyenko: "Hi, I already know. I'm calling to get a direct comment."
"Hi. Nothing is clear at the moment. The technicians are working,
and the cops aren't saying anything."
"What does he think? Off the record, of course…"
"That the Kursk mob is behind it…"
"Can I quote 'a source close to Zhdanovich' on that?"
"No. Why overplay the mob angle?"
"Okay, you're right… But could I at least quote the 'source' as saying
that it was an attempt on Zhdanovich's life?"
"Isn't that clear?"
"It is. But I still need a source."
"Okay, go ahead."
I look out the window. The crowd on the lawn makes way for a police Mercedes.
A fat colonel gets out of the car.
dark outside. I sit at the computer, mechanically playing a game. The
Zhdan: "Let's go to the store to pick up some liquor. We have to
have a drink for Gena."
I get up, take my denim jacket off the hook.
on a bench in the courtyard. Zhdan didn't want to come back to the office.
Zhdan: "To Gena's memory."
We drink cognac from plastic cups.
"Basically, Andrei, things are too bad. I have to lie low for a while.
And I don't know how long. Tomorrow, I have meetings with various people
and after that… By the way, Marushevich got cold feet. Yesterday I talked
to his aide… I didn't have a chance to tell you."
He takes the bottle, pours us more cognac. We drink again without toasting.
I take a piece of chocolate and begin to chew on it.
"And now, Andrei, the main thing… You have to make up your mind…
I'm not just going to lie low for a while, I'm leaving Moscow. The party's
apparatus will carry on as usual, at least for the next month or two.
For this time, the financing has been secured and all salary obligations
will be met. But what next?… I am sure it's a temporary thing. But, you
know, I can't guarantee anything. I would like you to come with me, but
it's up to you. They don't have anything against you. You could continue
in your role and then, if necessary, find another job. And everything
is going to be fine."
"Is Olya coming as well?"
"Why do you ask? Yes, she is… I can tell you, between two guys, I've
become very close to her, I just couldn't do without her. And if she said
that she wouldn't go…"
up. Over the last year and a half I haven't collected many things. The
only item I'm sort of sorry to leave behind is the Hi-Fi, the most expensive
thing purchased here.
I put clothes, a small old stereo and my favorite album cassette tapes
into a duffel bag. No video cassettes or books.
It's twenty to four. At six pm I have to be at Komsomolskaya metro station.
That's all I've been told so far.
I take a few steps around the room, kicking dust balls. No point cleaning
Yesterday I called my parents. I told them I'm going abroad on business
and won't be able to call them for some time. They were worried. I tried
to do whatever I could to comfort them.
I step out onto the balcony. It is crammed with crap left over from the
previous tenants. Shoe boxes. A stack of papers and magazines. A big bag
with a torn handle. Beer and vodka bottles.
The rent has been paid until early July. Then, if I don't come back, the
landlady will take everything of value and dump the rest of my stuff here.
the metro car and stops. I give her a slight nod. She is already on the
other side of the platform. I stay where I am. Three Asian-looking guys
block my view of Olya. They wear black jeans and black windbreakers and
carry big duffel bags.
A train. Arriving. Slowing down. Doors opening. People getting off, getting
on. Olya jumps into the car. I follow her, using another door. "Attention!
The doors are closing. The next stop is Prospekt Mira."
metro station. Going up the escalator. Olya is a few steps in front of
me. Between us are three gypsy women, one holding a baby. I look behind
me. A blond girl gnaws on a chocolate bar. Her lips smudged with chocolate.
We sit in silence, as if not knowing each other. Zhdan with a newspaper.
Olya with a portable CD player. The fourth passenger with a beer bottle.
He finishes his beer, places the bottle on the floor, gets another one,
opens it with his lighter. The cap falls onto the floor. The guy sucks
on the bottle, belches, begins to speak.
"You know what's going on? The collective farms have been destroyed,
and now what? And I'll tell you what. We're buying everything abroad,
supporting their farmers. And who supports ours? Could you, please, tell
A police uniform appears in the crack of the door. Gives me a start. I
wait. Nothing happens. The cops go past the compartment.
"So, could you tell me? Why doesn't the Russian state support its
farmers? I'll tell you why. This is called sabotage!"
The train starts moving.