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August 6–August 12, 1991
In Moscow, the summer night looks like fire and smoke. Stars and moon fade. Couples rise and dress and walk the street. Cars wander with their headlights off.
“There.” Jaak saw an Audi passing in the opposite direction.
Arkady slipped on headphones, tapped the receiver. “His radio’s out.”
Jaak U-turned to the other side of the boulevard and picked up speed. The detective had askew eyes set in a muscular face and he hunched over the wheel as if he were bending it.
Arkady tapped out a cigarette. First of the day. Well, it was one A.M., so it wasn’t much to brag about.
“Closer,” he said, and pulled the phones off. “Let’s be sure it’s Rudy.”
Ahead were the lights of the peripheral highway that circled the city. The Audi swung onto the ramp to merge with highway traffic. Jaak edged between two flatbed trucks carrying steel plates that clapped with every undulation of the road. He passed the lead truck, the Audi and a tanker. On the way, Arkady had caught the driver’s profile, but there were two people in the car, not one. “He picked someone up. We need another look,” he said.
Jaak slowed. The tanker didn’t pass, but a second later, the Audi slid by. Rudy Rosen, the driver—a round man with soft hands fixed to the wheel—was a private banker to the mafias, a would-be Rothschild who catered to Moscow’s most primitive capitalists. His passenger was female, with the wild look achieved by Russian features on a diet, somewhere between sensual and ravenous, with short, stylishly cut blond hair brushed back to the collar of her black leather jacket. As the Audi passed, she turned and sized up the investigators’ car, a two-door Zhiguli 8, as a piece of trash. In her thirties, Arkady thought. She had dark eyes, and a wide mouth and puffy lips, parted slightly as if starving. As the Audi swung in front, it was followed by the sound of an outboard engine and the appearance of a Suzuki that inserted itself between the two cars. The motorcycle rider wore a black dome helmet, black leather jacket and black high-tops that “sparkled with reflectors. Jaak eased off. The biker was Kim, Rudy’s protection.
Arkady ducked and listened to the headset again. “Still dead.”
“He’s leading us to the market. There are some people there, if they recognize you, you’re dead.” Jaak laughed. “Of course then we’ll know we’re in the right place.”
“Good point.” God forbid anyone should exercise sanity, Arkady thought. Anyway, if anyone recognizes me it means I’m still alive.
All the traffic squeezed off the same exit ramp. Jaak tried to follow the Audi, but a line of “rockers”—bikers—swarmed in between. Swastikas and czarist eagles decorated their backs, all wreathed in the rising smoke of exhaust pipes stripped of mufflers.
At the end of the ramp, construction barriers had been pushed to one side. The car bounced as if they were crossing a potato field, and yet Arkady saw silhouettes that loomed high against the faint northern sky. A Moskvitch went by, its windows crammed with swaying rugs. The roof of an ancient Renault wore a living-room suite. Ahead, brake lights spread into a pool of red.
The rockers drew their bikes into a circle, announcing their stop with a chorus of roars. Cars and trucks spaced themselves roughly on a knoll here, in a trough there. Jaak killed the Zhiguli in first; the car had no neutral or parking gear. He emerged from the car with the smile of a crocodile who has found monkeys at play. Arkady got out wearing a padded jacket and cloth cap. He had black eyes and an expression of bemusement, as if he had recently returned from a long stay in a deep hole to observe changes on the surface, which wasn’t far from the truth.
This was the new Moscow.
The silhouettes were towers, red lights at the top to warn off planes. At their bases were the chalky forms of earthmovers, cement mixers, stacks of good bricks and mounds of bad, rebars sinking into mud. Figures moved around the cars and more were still arriving, an apparent convention of insomniacs. No sleepwalking here, though; instead, the swarming, purposeful hum of a black market.
In a way it was like walking through a dream, Arkady thought. Here were cartons of Marlboros, Winstons, Rothmans, even despised Cuban cigarettes stacked as high as walls. Videotapes of American action or Swedish porn sold by the gross for distribution. Polish glassware glittered in factory crates. Two men in running suits arranged not windshield wipers, but whole windshields, and not merely carved out of some poor sod’s car, but new, straight from the assembly line. And food! Not blue chickens dead of malnutrition, but whole sides of marbled beef hanging in a butcher’s truck. Gypsies lit kerosene lamps beside attaché cases to display counterfeit gold czarist rubles in mint condition, sealed and sold in plastic strips. Jaak pointed out a moon-white Mercedes. Further lamps appeared, spreading the aura of a bazaar; there might be camels browsing among the cars, Arkady thought, or Chinese merchants unrolling bolts of silk. An encampment to themselves was the Chechen mafia, men with pasty, pocked complexions and black hair who sprawled in their cars like pashas at their ease. Even in this setting, the Chechens enforced a space of fear.
Rudy Rosen’s Audi was in a choice central location near a truck unloading radios and VCRs. A well-behaved line had formed outside the car under the gaze of Kim, who stood, one foot on his helmet, about ten meters away. He had long hair that he pushed away from small, Korean features. His jacket was padded like armor and open to a compact model of the Kalashnikov called Malysh, Little Boy.
“I’m getting in line,” Arkady told Jaak. “Get some license-plate numbers, then watch Kim.”
Arkady joined the queue while Jaak loitered by the truck. From a distance, the VCRs seemed solid Soviet goods. Miniaturization was a virtue for consumers of other societies; generally, Russians wanted to show what they bought, not to hide it. But were they new? Jaak ran his hand along the edges, searching for the telltale cigarette burns of a used machine.
There was no sign of the golden-haired woman who had come with Rudy. Arkady felt himself being scrutinized, and turned toward a face whose nose had been broken so many times it had developed an elbow. “What’s the rate tonight?” the man asked.
“I don’t know,” Arkady admitted.
“They twist your prick here if you have anything but dollars. Or tourist coupons. Do I look like a fucking tourist?” He dug into his pockets and came out with crumpled bills. He held up one fist: “Zlotys.” He held up the other: “Forints. Can you believe it? I followed these two from the Savoy. I thought they were Italian and they turned out to be a Hungarian and a Pole.”
“It must have been pretty dark,” Arkady said.
“When I found out I almost killed them. I should have killed them to spare them the pain of trying to live on fucking forints and zlotys.”
“Rudy rolled down the window on the passenger side and called to Arkady, “Next!” To the man waiting with zlotys, he added, “This will take a while.”
Arkady got in. Rudy was well wrapped in a double-breasted suit, an open cashbox on his lap. He had thinning hair combed diagonally across his scalp, moist eyes with long lashes, a blue cast to his jowls. A garnet ring was on the hand that held a calculator. The backseat was an office of neatly arrayed file boxes, laptop computer, computer battery, and cases of software, manuals and computer disks.
“This is a thoroughly mobile bank,” Rudy said.
“An illegal bank.”
“On my disks I can hold the complete savings records of the Russian Republic. I could do a spreadsheet for you some other time.”
“Thanks. Rudy, a rolling computer center does not make for a satisfying life.”
Rudy held up a Game Boy. “Speak for yourself.”
Arkady sniffed. Hanging from the rearview mirror was something that looked like a green wick.
“It’s an air freshener,” Rudy said. “Pine scent.”
“It smells like armpit of mint. How can you breathe?”
“It smells cleaner. I know it’s me—cleanliness, germs—it’s my problem. What are you doing here?”
“Your radio’s not working. Let me see it.”
Rudy blinked. “You’re going to work on it here?”
“Here is where we want to use it. Behave as if we’re conducting a normal transaction.”
“You said this would be safe.”
“But not foolproof. Everybody’s looking.”
“Dollars? Deutsche marks? Francs?” Rudy asked.
The cashbox tray was stuffed with currencies of different nationalities and colors. There were francs that looked like delicately hand-tinted portraits, lire with fantastic numbers and Dante’s face, oversized Deutsche marks brimming with confidence and, most of all, compartments of crisp-as-grass green American dollars. At Rudy’s feet was a bulging briefcase with, Arkady assumed, much more. Tucked by the clutch there was also a package wrapped in brown paper. Rudy lifted the hundred-dollar bills from the tray to reveal a transmitter and microrecorder.
Excerpted from "Red Square"
Copyright © 2007 Martin Cruz Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
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