The highway that crossed the Oxnard Beach area was an old, narrow two-
lane that more or less paralleled the ocean that stretched just to the
west. From the highway I could see mostly small, intermittent houses back
off the road along the edge of a low cliff that faced the beach area.
The sun was already getting lower. I had a hard time making out the
numbering on the mailboxes along the edge of the highway. I reached box
number 12800 and then came to 13000, at which point I turned around.
Going back the other direction I finally made out box 12200. There was a
narrow dirt drive stretching back about a hundred yards to the house. I
pulled in and killed the engine and sat there for a minute.
If Creek had in fact kidnapped Mary Pollard I figured it would be best
to go in quietly and check things out. I got out of the car and walked
up the side of the drive, keeping to the low bushes as much as possible.
It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. Once up the drive I
noticed that the back of the house was toward the driveway, the front
toward the beach. It was a tiny house, really, one that certainly could
have stood with some repair work on the exterior. The white paint was
peeling in spots and shingles needed to be replaced on the roof.
There was a car parked just five feet short of the back door. I crept
up and crouched behind a bush and checked out the license plate number.
It was 280806, the license number of Mary Pollard's car.
I pulled my Smith and ran for the side of the house in a crouch and
checked out the window on that side. Inside I could make out some sort
of living room or den that accessed through back door, with an archway
on the opposite end leading into a dining room. After my eyes adjusted
a bit I made out a pair of legs sticking out from the edge of the dining
table. I waited a few minutes, then looked again. Nothing had changed.
There was still the pair of legs, masculine legs in trousers. There was
no sound from inside. I made one more check and went around to the back
I tested the knob. It was open. I leveled the .38 and went in. Once
inside the legs connected themselves to a thin, tallish man sloped
in a chair holding a wine bottle in his hands. He had a dark pair of
slacks on and a while shirt. I went up to him, the gun pointed at his
belly. He gave me a blank stare. Even in the dim light I could make out
the heavy circles under his eyes, and he had a thick growth of beard going.
"William Creek, I presume."
He gave me a dirty look and pulled the wine bottle up to his lips and
took a huge gulp. Then he stuck the bottle down between his legs. Since
he wasn't in any mood to be sociable I sat down at the table uninvited.
Creek eyed my gun like it was just some sort of odd thing that had
popped up into existence that he didn't worry too much about. Compared
to the photo of him that I had gotten from Baffin, he looked like some
strange, dream-altered version of himself.
"My name is Pat Maginess, Creek. I'm a private investigator. I was
hired to find you. But first things first. Why don't you just tell me
where Mary Pollard is. Then you can get back to your wine."
Creek looked me in the eye, took another drink.
"She's out on the barbecue" he said flatly.
"Out on the barbecue?" I said, not sure if I had heard him right.
"Yeah. The barbecue."
He was drunk. But nevertheless I had to check it out.
I walked out the same way I had come in, through the back door, but it
took me three times as long to cover the distance. I had a funny feeling
that whatever Creek had meant by "out on the barbecue" that I wasn't
going to like it. About thirty feet in the back of the house on a little
patch of what passed for grass in that area there was a large stone
barbecue. There was no sign of Mary standing around. Not that I had
expected there to be. If she had been out by the grill I would have seen
her while I was checking out her car.
I walked up to the grill. On top of it was a large lump of some sort
forming a vague U-shape on top of the metal grates. I pulled out a pencil
and poked the large lump with the eraser end of the pencil. The lump was
in fact a large, rolled up carpet that had been partly incinerated. There
were also some flakes of what looked like burnt paper on the top of it.
"This had better not be what I think it is" I said under my breath.
I poked the lump some more. At one end there was a gap in the roll. I
pulled at it with the pencil and a white shape slid out from the roll
around it. I poked it with the pencil. It took a few seconds to sink in,
but when it did I realized that what I was looking at was the charred
remains of a human heel.
"Oh, Jeesus frigging Christ" I said, turning suddenly. The anger in me
rose up, and I threw down the pencil and walked all the way back to the
Plymouth and got my pint of rye out of the glove compartment and walked
the distance back and into the house. I had needed every yard of the walk
and every second I used taking it to get my anger back under some sort
of control. I pounded the bottle of rye down onto the dining room table,
turned a chair around and sat on it and put my .38 down next to the bottle.
"Well that was a real shit-ass job you did out there, Creek. I hope you're
proud of yourself."
In the interval, Creek had gotten himself a new bottle of wine. The old
empty one sat on the table, and he had the neck of the new one in his
"Yeah, well, I only had a half-gallon of kerosene to use as an
accelerant" he said. "I don't really give a shit."
I sipped some rye and lit a cigarette. "Why don't you tell me about it,
Creek. Get it off your chest. Trust me, you'll feel better if you do."
"I feel like crap" he said, slamming the bottle down.
"So go ahead and tell me, then. You won't feel any worse, right? Just
start at the beginning. Take your time. We don't have to make any trips
right away. It's just me and you."
He picked up the bottle again.
"She was a stupid, lying whore" he said.
"She was having an affair with Clovis Richardson" I put forward, trying
to get things moving a little more rationally.
Creek looked up at me, fury in his eyes.
"Yeah, Richardson. My friend, supposedly. The guy I gave my best for.
The guy who I played golf with. The guy I taught to play backgammon. My
friend. Yeah, right. The rotten, stinking bastard."
"So you were jealous" I said.
"Hell yes I was jealous" he roared. He took another gulp of wine, and
the gesture seemed to settle him down a bit. When he continued he was a
bit calmer. "I knew from the very beginning. From the day I first saw
her. It was like a chemical reaction going off inside of me. And it
didn't stop. A few days after she was hired I asked her out to dinner.
We had dinner. We went to this nice restaurant, a Greek place. Outside
the restaurant she leaned up against me, threw herself at me, literally.
And I knew that she wanted it as bad as I did. And we were happy for a
while. For me, it was the happiest time of my life. I had just put the
final refinements into this new formula I had been working on. But it
wasn't anything compared to how Mary made me feel."
I sipped some more rye, put the bottle down.
"So when did trouble in paradise begin?" I asked.
"It was last May. When we first started going together, we'd get
together all the time. Sometimes we'd spend the whole weekend together.
But then last October she started this babysitting thing. Or at least
that's what she told me. Babysitting for her upstairs neighbor's kid,
she said. I had no reason to doubt her. I didn't like it, but that was
her thing, I guess. If she wanted to babysit, then fine. We had other
nights together. But then she started throwing in other excuses for
Friday nights. That's what made me suspicious. Lots of excuses, but
always Friday night. She has a bad cold. Friday night. Her aunt wants
her to visit. Friday night. Fucking frogs rain down from the sky. Friday
night. Always fucking Friday night."
He drank some more wine and ran his fingers through his hair.
"That's what made me suspicious. So one Friday I followed her from
work back to her place. I parked outside her apartment. A couple of
hours went by. Then this green Jaguar pulls up. It was Clovis. He went
into her building and they came back out together. They had their arms
around each other."
"And so why didn't you confront her, call it quits?"
Creek laughed. "Because I couldn't stand to lose the lying little
slut. Pathetic, isn't it? We'd still sleep together. But that couldn't
last. After a while it got harder and harder to look at her. I couldn't
pull myself away from her. But I couldn't stand the way things were,
either. If you can't progress one way and you can't progress the
opposite way, you have to find a new third way. So that's when I started
thinking about it. About killing her. But I knew that if I was going to
do that I'd have to have a plan set. Some way to get out of the country.
I thought about Argentina for a while. And then I thought about the
Russians. Crazy, but there was no way the Russians would turn me in. And
I had this new formula I had been working on to add as bait."
"You contacted Yuri Nabokov."
"I wrote a stupid letter to their embassy in Washington. I wrote two
stupid letters, in fact. Then one Friday she said she had to babysit,
the usual lying bullshit. I stopped at a bar after work and proceeded to
get good and drunk. That's when Nabokov sat down next to me. We talked.
I didn't tell him anything about Mary or what I was planning to do. I just
told him I was sick of this country and wanted out. I told him what I had
to offer and what I wanted in return. He said he thought it could be
arranged. So that was it. I'd kill Mary. Then I'd screw Richardson too
by taking off with the formula."
"So what happened with your deal with the Russians?"
"I didn't go through with it. After I killed her, it just didn't seem
to make any difference anymore. I never got back in touch with them.
Besides, I've been kinda busy. I had three cases of Merlot in the
cellar to work on."
"And it looks like you've been putting in a lot of overtime. Tell me,
Creek, how did you and Mary end up here?" I asked.
"I invited her. I said, let's go to my place on the beach. She had
never been here. It's a long drive, I don't come here much. I thought
about how I might get her simply to disappear. Just vanish. So I told
her, don't pack any bags. We'll stop and have a shopping trip first. You
can buy all the new clothes you want. I'll pay for them. Just to
celebrate the new formula and everything."
"And she went for it."
"Of course she went for it" he said, laughing like a movie madman.
"I picked her up Saturday morning and took her shopping, like I had
promised. We hit stores in Hollywood. I paid cash, every bit of it. I
didn't care how much we spent. I bought her everything. Hat to heels.
She had never been on that type of wild shopping spree before. She would
try something on and then giggle and come up and put her arms around me.
And then she would give me that smile of hers, like she cared about me
so much and like I was the only man she would ever want. And for a second
I would actually believe it. But then she would go to the mirror and adjust
her dress, and as she stood there in front of the mirror I thought about
how there were actually two of her. And of how one was a lying fucking
Creek finally sat up and pulled himself to the table. In the slightly
better light I could see his blood-shot eyes. He obviously hadn't slept
in days. He drank some more wine.
"And then we came here. I made dinner, lasagna. I'm a pretty good cook
when I want to be. Cooking is basically just chemistry. We had dinner. I
put out some cheese torts for desert. All the while I had the big
butcher knife under my napkin. But for a while I didn't think that I was
going to do it. Everything was just so normal, so seemingly perfect. And
then it happened. Out of the blue. There we were just having a nice
dinner. And then she tells me that she has to babysit again the next
Friday. There was a perverseness about her telling it that was just
unbelievable, like she honestly couldn't wait to lie to me again. And
she just smiled as she said it. That was the worst. Just that smile."
"I lost it. I grabbed the butcher knife and yanked her so hard out of
her chair it tore her dress. Then I pushed her up against the wall and
held her by the throat. I called her every name I could think of. Then I
stuck the knife in her. Slow, at first. The knife had just the slightest
bit of resistance as it went in. I slid it the rest of the way. Then I
pulled it out and slid it in again. There wasn't any smile on her face
then, I guarantee you, the little bitch. I kept at it, stabbing her.
Finally I realized that her eyes were totally empty. I let go of her
throat and she fell to the floor. I looked around. There was blood all
over the fucking place. I sat down at the table. It was kind of a blank
after that for a while. When I came around, I went into the bedroom and
got the rug off the floor and brought it in and rolled her and the knife
up in it. Then I took her out to the barbecue. When the fire got going I
came back in and got the file for the new formula and took that out and
put it on top. And that was everything. Everything was gone. There was
I shouldered my .38 and walked the few feet into the kitchen. With the
better light coming from the overhead fixture it wasn't difficult to
tell how much violence had occurred there. Creek had made an attempt to
clean up after the murder over the past days, though given his mood I
wasn't exactly sure why. There were still large traces of blood splatter
high up on the wall and a good inch to inch-and-a-half strip of dried
blood along the baseboard. Besides that, he hadn't exactly been doing
the dishes, either, and there were empty and half-full cans of chili and
other stuff spread all across the counters. In any case it was evident
that the cops would have plenty of evidence to work with. Not to mention
the horror out on the barbecue.
I didn't have any handcuffs. Searching through the kitchen drawers I
found some basting twine that I thought would get the job done. I tied
Creek's wrists together and led him out to the Plymouth and stuck him
in. As I got in the car, I took a last look over at the barbecue grill.
Hearts raked over the coals, I thought to myself. I bid a silent
farewell to Mary Pollard, and turned the ignition.
Creek didn't say anything on the ride back in. He had already said
everything he had to say. As for myself, there were plenty of things
that I wanted to say. But I was afraid that some of them would involve
reaching over and punching Creek in the jaw a few times.
It was a long, dark, quiet drive back to Los Angeles.
When we got back to the city I stopped at a gas station and called
Baffin. After a while Richardson came on the line. I told him that I had
Creek and would be there in fifteen minutes. He seemed surprised, then
"Well, I wouldn't get too excited quite yet, Richardson. You'll see why
when I get there. Anyway, I've got Creek. Now I want the cash. And I
would like it in a nice white envelope."
I had Richardson transfer me over to Jerry Salazar, and talked with
him a few minutes. He agreed to meet me at Richardson's office.
Back at Baffin, I didn't bother parking in the V.I.P. lot this time.
I parked directly in front of the entrance and pulled Creek out of the car.
Once in the building I got out my Swiss Army knife and cut the string
off of Creek's wrists. I didn't care about whether Creek suffered the
personal indignity of having his wrists bound with basting twine like a
roast chicken. He could go to hell for all I cared. But I remembered
what Casey had said about scientists liking to keep things simple. I
didn't know anything much about chemistry, but I thought there was a
pretty good chance that Creek had the formula in his head. And though it
all seemed a bit meaningless now considering what had happened to Mary
Pollard, I felt it was part of my job as a private investigator to look
out after my client's interests. I was thinking that I might be able to
swing some sort of deal between Creek and Richardson. And if untying
Creek's hands made him feel a little more amenable, then it was no big
The security guard at the front desk being absent for some reason, we
took the regular slow elevator up to the seventh floor. Richardson's
secretary had left for the day or perhaps given the circumstances had
been sent home.
Richardson sat behind his desk. Jerry Salazar stood in front of him, a
security guard off to the side. He tipped his head to me as we walked up
to the desk.
"Have a seat, Creek" I said, pushing him down into a chair. Richardson
came around from behind the desk.
"Here's Creek, Richardson. You got the cash?"
Richardson nodded, reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an
envelope and handed it to me almost absent-mindedly. He kept staring at
Creek, and it wasn't hard to figure out why given the way Creek looked
at that point.
"My god, what happened?" he said.
I was standing between Richardson and Creek. Nevertheless I didn't
think that I would be able to keep a man of Richardson's bulk away from
Creek's throat if it came down to that. I decided not to worry about it.
"Seems Dr. Creek here is a little on the jealous side. Went after his
girlfriend with a carving knife. Mary Pollard is dead, Clovis."
At first I thought Richardson was indeed going to go after Creek. But he
put one hand at his back and the other at his forehead.
"My god" he said. "Poor Mary. Poor, poor Mary."
"And I'm sure you mean that, too, Richardson. Considering you were the
one she was seeing on the side. Not that I'm being judgmental, or
anything. But it all figured into it. William loves Mary. Mary loves
William. Mary also loves Clovis. A recipe for trouble."
Richardson went back to his chair and sat down. He glared at Creek.
Creek in his turn glared at Richardson. It was going to be more
difficult than I had thought.
"Gentlemen, the way I look at it, you probably hate each other's guts
right about now. But Mary is dead. There's nothing we can do about that.
Creek, you're probably looking at Murder I. That's the electric chair.
Unless you can come up with the money for a really top-notch defense
lawyer. Then you might get Murder II. Sit around and read books about
chemistry for the rest of your life. Maybe even write some poetry, who
the hell knows. But you'll be alive. Clovis, you have the future of your
company and its employees at stake. Creek has the formula in his head,
no doubt. What he needs is a good legal defense. One like the Baffin
Corporation might be able to get him. I'm not telling you people what to
do, but it seems to me that it'd be better for both of you to come to
some sort of an arrangement with each other."
Richardson and Clovis avoided looking at each other. Creek crossed his
arms and looked at the carpet. Richardson lit a cigarette and stared at
"I suppose we might be able to come up with some legal counsel for him"
Richardson said finally.
Creek tried crossing his leg, missed on the first try, succeeded on the
second. He was still drunk.
"I don't want the electric chair, I damn well know that" he said
"Good. Then we'll assume you can help each other then."
I took Jerry Salzar over to the other side of the room. I gave him
Creek's address and told him what to expect. He said he would call the
cops and get them in to pick up Creek and fill them in.
"They'll probably want to talk with me, but I don't feel like going
through all of that tonight. I'm tired. Tell them they can stop by the
office when they're ready for my statement."
"Okay, Pat. Sure will. God, that's just terrible about Mary, you know?
I mean, she always seemed like such a nice girl."
I didn't know what to tell him, really.
I went back down in the slow elevator and past the empty guard station
and got in the car. As I drove out of the Baffin lot it occurred to me
that either Richardson or Creek might welch on the deal that I had
brokered, and that if they did that it wouldn't be too surprising.
Richardson had the future of his company at stake. Creek, the summit of
his life's work and the possibility of the electric chair. But when it
came down to it they were primarily just men, men who had the misfortune
to love the same woman. And when it comes to that kind of thing, good
judgment rarely figures into it.
As tragic as Mary Pollard's death was, it had inadvertently given me a
good out with the Russians. Nabokov could hardly blame me for what Creek
had done. And I knew that none of his men had been following me out on
the lonely stretch of highway along Oxnard Beach. I suppose he could
have some sort of informant at Baffin. In fact, it was likely. But the
building had been empty when I had taken Creek in. And I certainly knew
Jerry Salazar wasn't a communist, five kids or not. That left the one
security guard who had been there. If it were Poker, the odds would
be in my favor.
If it had been something like the latest plans for the atomic bomb or
the latest military jet, I had no doubt that Nabokov would kill to get
stuff like that. But as far as the Creek matter was concerned, I didn't
think he would go that far. It wouldn't be worth playing his hand for
that kind of thing and possibly exposing his network to the F.B.I. or
the C.I.A. The formula was just a part of the game to him, a small part
of it. Tomorrow he would be on to another round in the game, and he'd
forget all of it. Or so I hoped.
In any case I needed to talk with him, and I didn't just want to leave
some message with someone on the other end of the phone. I wanted to see
him in person. I called my contact at the L.A.P.D. and got an address
for the telephone number Nabokov had given me. It turned out to be a
small office about a mile south of my own. I stopped at a local liquor
outlet and got a fifth of my favorite Canadian rye, and drove over to
the office building and took the elevator up to the fourth floor.
Locating the right office, I tried the knob. It was locked, so I set
down my package and got out the lock-picking kit and jimmied the lock.
Turning the knob slowly, I pulled my .38 and pushed the door open with
two fingers, hoping like hell the hinges didn't squeak. There was no
noise from inside, so I took a few steps forward and peeked into the
office. To the right there was a vacant desk. I allowed myself a half-
second peek around the corner of the door. There were two more desks in
the room, each facing the same direction. At the third one, up against
the left wall, a man sat with his back to me. I walked in quickly and
quietly and approached him, the gun leveled.
"I'm here to see Yuri Nabokov" I said as I reached the desk. The man
jerked up from his newspaper and whirled around. Instinctively, his hand
went for his pocket.
"No, no gun" I said. "It's too late for that." I reached into my
pocket and pulled the business card that Nabokov had given me and
extended it to him with two fingers. He looked at the card, then up at
me. He just sat there. Now that I had a better look I could tell that
the guy was young, probably not more than twenty-two or so. Like any
organization, I guess the KGB had its share of rookies.
"Go ahead, kid. Take the card. It won't bite. Neither will I as long
as you don't go for that gun."
The kid reached out and took the card, turned it around and looked at
it. Then he looked back up at me.
"Now, reach down in your pocket with two fingers and pull the gun out.
Take it nice and slow. Slow motion. Pick it out by the butt."
After a few seconds the kid stuck his hand down and picked a Walther
PPK out and held it up in front of him by two fingers. I reached out
quick and grabbed it and stuck it in my pocket.
"Great. Now that we have that taken care of, why don't you give Yuri a
call? I guarantee you, he wants to see me. Tell him that Pat Maginess is
over, with a bottle of whiskey for us."
The kid was stuck. He didn't want to obey me, but he didn't know what
else to do either. I went over to the desk facing him, keeping the gun
leveled at him, and pulled a chair and sat down.
"Go ahead, make the call. I'm not going anywhere." I waved the back of
my hand at him, trying to get him in motion. Finally, the kid decided
that the only alternative he really had was to make the call. He reached
over and pulled the receiver, not taking his eyes off of me. Then he
turned slightly and dialed a number. When the person came on the line,
he spoke quickly and in whispers. I couldn't make out most of what he
said, but I made out enough to recognize my name and to know he was
speaking English. The KGB wouldn't speak Russian over the phone, of
The kid hung up.
"Mr. Nabokov says that he'll be over in fifteen minutes" he said.
"Great" I told him. "Hey, would you mind doing me a favor? I left a
small package outside the door. Go over and pick it up, will you?" I
waved my gun on him and he finally moved and went to the door and got
the bottle of whiskey and carried it back in.
"Thanks" I said. "Just put it down on the desk here."
The kid put the bottle down and returned to his own desk. He hardly
ever took his eyes off of me. He didn't seem too happy about things.
"You speak very good English" I told him. "Or should I say American."
"Thanks" he said simply. The kid was the new breed of KGB. He had
probably been speaking English most of his life.
We waited there for a while, neither of us saying much. At what I
figured must be fifteen minutes on the dot the door opened and Yuri
Nabokov walked in. The first thing he did was to walk up to the kid and
give him the eye. Nabokov wasn't happy with him. The kid just looked
down at the ground like a whipped puppy. Nabokov finally jerked his
head, and like some unspoken communication the kid headed for the door
and walked out. Only then did Nabokov acknowledge my presence.
"Well, Mr. Maginess. I hear you have invited me to have a drink with
you" he said. His mood wasn't the best, and it was obvious that he was
still thinking about the kid. I still had the .38 out.
"Yeah" I said, pulling the bottle out of the sack with my free hand.
"Trouble is, I didn't think to bring any glasses."
The Russian considered that for a moment. "I might be able to do
something about that" he said. He went over to the other desk and opened
a few drawers. His face brightened. "Ah" he said, pulling two glasses
out. He clamped the glasses between two fingers with one hand and
grabbed the back of the chair with the other and brought it over and set
it to the left of me.
At that point I shouldered the .38 and reached over and grabbed the
bottle. I slid my fingernail around the seal and opened it and poured us
each a good three fingers each. I picked up my glass and tipped it. We
drank for a few sips.
"You shouldn't be so hard on the kid" I said, lighting a smoke.
"He should have known better" Nabokov said angrily.
"Yeah, but he's young."
"He still should have known better." I was sorry that I had mentioned
it. The kid was going to be on Nabokov's shit-list for months. Maybe
even years. But there was nothing I could do about that.
The Russian picked up the bottle and read the label, pointed to some of
"Canadian!" he laughed. "I remember. Yes, it is very good whiskey, Mr.
Maginess. Very good." As if to confirm the fact he picked up his glass
and emptied the contents into his mouth, swirled the rye around a bit
and swallowed it in one clean swallow. I poured him another.
"Well, here's to the Canadians" I said, pushing my glass forward a bit.
We made the toast.
"So, Mr. Maginess. Maybe I call you Patrick? We are drinking now. No
need for formalities."
"Sure" I said.
"And you may call me Yuri. In any case, what news have you for me?"
"You might not like this news. I found Creek. He's in jail. Seems he
got a little jealous and went at his girlfriend with a butcher knife.
He'll be charged with murder."
"And the formula?"
"Destroyed. Creek set fire to it. Along with his girlfriend."
Nabokov just shook his head. "Oh, well."
"I suppose you could visit him in prison. Try to get the formula out of
him. He's still got it in his head."
Yuri just shook his head again.
"It wasn't the formula we wanted, Patrick. Not really. It was Creek
himself. The formula was just an excuse to draw him in. He was a genius.
Perhaps a misguided one, fooling with toothpaste. But it is a strange
thing about genius. It has an ability to alter itself, to wander hither
and thither. We would have put his great ability to better uses."
"Like developing weapons?" I said, tending to our glasses again.
"And you don't have anyone doing that here? I don't think so."
I had to give him that one. "Yeah, I'm sure we do."
It occurred to me what a two-edged sword science was, that a mind like
Creek's could be used to develop biological weapons on the one hand, or
mint flavored toothpaste on the other. But that was the way the world
was, anymore. It was the hideous versus the vacuous. The whole world was
torn in two.
"Well, you don't get your money, Patrick" Yuri said finally.
"No Creek, no cash. That's okay, Yuri. Baffin Corporation gave me the
bonus anyway. It's not as much as you were offering. But for a guy like
me, it's a lot of money."
Yuri nodded. "I am happy for you." he said.
That was it, then. I was clear with him. I breathed an inner sigh of
relief. Although there was still the matter of the shadowy Mr. Smith and
my own government to worry about.
We drank a bit. I studied the Russian's face. He had deep hairlines
around his eyes and on his forehead. It was an ancient face, much older
than its time.
"Did you serve during the war, Yuri?"
"Of course" he said, throwing up a hand. "Every Soviet citizen served
during the war. Me, I was at the siege of Leningrad. Two and a half
years, Patrick. Eight hundred and eighty days. I was running those who
were carrying messages out of the city. Five or six a day I sent them
out. I felt like the devil himself for doing it. Young ones, mostly,
most of whom I never saw again. Nor did anyone. Every once in a while a
communication would get in to us, and we would know that one of our men
or women had somehow managed to get through the German lines. And we
would rejoice. It was a minor victory in the overall scheme, perhaps.
But for us, it was everything."
Yuri reached up and filled his glass slowly with more whiskey, placed
the bottle down and stared at it.
"I didn't want to send them. But of course it was necessary. We had to
know what the Germans and the Finns were doing. And there was no way we
could tell from inside the city. But at night, I would lay in the dark
and wish for carrier pigeons. Imagine that, Patrick. Carrier pigeons. I
imagined myself feeding them and taking care of them. And making little
cooing noises to them, like they were my children. And I would put the
little notes onto their legs and release them into the air, where they
would fly far above the city, and out over the Germans, and on. What a
foolish thing it was to imagine. But I imagined it nonetheless. That they
would just fly, then, and never be harmed, fly on and on."
I gulped hard, my throat thick with the pain of it. I reached over and
grabbed the bottle.
"And you" Yuri said, a bit more brightly, "you were in Italy. A nice
place, Italy. Although I prefer the northern part of it. Milan, Turin. I
am a Russian. We like the cooler weather. I have read that you and your
partner caught a good number of fascist scientists in your web. And then
sent them back to America and made good use of them."
"Your side caught a good number also, if I recall. And you also made
use of them."
"Ha!" he said, slapping his thigh. "So we did. But I think your side
caught most of the better ones. And a few butchers as well. I read about
I filled our glasses again. Between the two of us we had knocked off
two-thirds of the bottle so far. I was a guy who could hold his liquor
pretty well. But I had no doubt that Yuri Nabokov could drink me under
the table. He had already got a pretty good start on it.
"Well, let us drink to the defeat of fascism" Yuri said, raising his
glass. We clinked our glasses together. "To the defeat of fascism" I echoed.
"Ah, and here we are. Enemies, now. What a world, eh, Patrick?"
I sipped some whiskey, then rolled my glass around. It really was too bad
we hadn't had any ice.
"Do you think our two countries will destroy each other, Yuri?"
The Russian stared off into space for a few seconds, then turned to me
"Well" he said, "if we do destroy each other, we will have deserved it
for being such incredible fools. And if we do not destroy each other,
well then we will have deserved that also."
I pulled out a smoke and lit it, and Yuri pulled out one of his little
cigars and I lit that, too.
"A guy tagged me the other day, Yuri. A Mr. Smith. Claims he is with
the government. Took me for a little ride around the city. He threatened
to revoke my investigator's license. And to pack me away to Virginia.
He's going to know that I met with you here this afternoon."
Yuri considered that for a moment, then nodded.
"Well, it seems this location is compromised, then. But it is no
matter. It was compromised the minute you walked into the room. But we
were due to move to another office at the end of the month anyway. In my
business, it is never good to stay too long in the same location."
"You mean the tractor business?" I said.
Yuri roared. "Yes, the tractor business! You never can be too careful
in the tractor business. In any case, as for this Mr. Smith, I know him
very well, in fact. Not personally, of course. More of a professional
relationship." Yuri reached over and patted me on the shoulder. "I wouldn't
worry too much about Mr. Smith if I were you, Patrick. I can find plenty
of ways to keep him busy over the next few days. Nothing serious, mind you.
Just a little harmless fun and games. Don't worry. A week from now, Mr. Smith
will be so preoccupied he won't even remember that you exist."
I nodded and tipped my glass to him, then gave him a quizzical look.
"And what about Mr. Smith? Does he keep you busy too, sometimes?"
The Russian leaned back in his chair and let out his big booming
"He has his moments" he said, smiling.
I had to admit, it was a killer smile.