Olga came into my flat and asked: "Don't you want to tell me anything?"
I have always been puzzled by the ability of the women creatures to force me (and, as I guess, the majority of mankind) into a defensive position. When my ex wife would phone me from the other city where she was on a business trip her first question would always be: "What are you busy with at the moment?" That implied that I was being engaged in an orgy with at least two call girls. Finally I decided to do my best to fit her expectations and we divorced. Olga was my current paramour and the implication behind her question might be something like: 'If you are guilty why don't you kneel and kiss my feet to beg pardon?'
She was married to a university professor (twenty years older than she was) who had recently been invited to work at a university in the USA. Olga had to decide whether to go with her husband to live a comfortable life in America or stay with me here in Siberia. She was reasonable enough to choose the first alternative and my great fault was that I didn't stir a finger to dissuade her from going abroad. I was supposed to rend my hair in despair pleading her not to leave me. I did nothing of the sort and that fact infuriated her so that she began each her visit during the last two weeks trying to have it out with me.
I know from my experience that the best thing in such a situation is either to attract the woman's attention to her own appearance or to the appearance of some other woman. That was why I said pointing to a large newly bought LG LCD 43" TV: "With fair hair she looks much prettier and younger, doesn't she?"
Olga immediately fixed her eyes on the screen where a famous actress was performing her new song. She examined the image for a minute and then said: "Ha! The fair hair has nothing to do with her good looks. Don't you know that she had her face lifted in Switzerland? And do you know how much she paid for it? One hundred thousand bucks!" Her voice rang with true satisfaction: at the age of 27 one doesn't need any plastic surgery. My little trick had worked and Olga began to share with me all the information about the celebrity she had.
Meanwhile the picture on the screen changed and there appeared a handsome robust presenter of the 'Criminal Chronicles' programme. "The criminal situation in this city remains rather complex", announced he broadly smiling. "Today in the afternoon a famous scientist, Professor, Ph.D, Nicolas Smirnov was found murdered in his laboratory at the State University".
Olga fell silent at once and stared at the screen. The famous scientist was her husband. The TV presenter began talking about his biography and scientific achievements.
"But that simplifies matters!" - exclaimed she. "Now as I'm free we can safely marry!"
I looked at her with pity. As a lawyer I knew very well that the main suspects in such cases were spouses and their lovers.
"Dr. Smironov's throat was cut ear to ear and the body lay in the pool of blood. Our reporter managed to interview Colonel Egorov, the Chief of the Police Headquarters", cheerfully proceeded the presenter.
"We will make all efforts to investigate this brutal crime", declared the bold-headed Colonel. "The reasons for the murder may be found either in Dr.Smirnov's professional activities or in his personal life". The Colonel stopped and seemed to scrutinize us from the screen.
Olga burst out crying. Perhaps she remembered at last that Nick Smirnov was her husband to whom she had been married for seven years. Or she was impressed by such intimate details as 'throat cut ear to ear', and 'pool of blood'. Or something else.
I headed to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of vodka and two glasses that I promptly filled with the crystal liquid.
"Let's pray for the soul of the God's humble servant, Nikolas Smirov", pronounced I the traditional Russian phrase and empted the glass. Olga, still softly weeping, followed my example. The universal remedy produced its usual effect: the woman ceased weeping, she calmed, her large brown eyes brightened, the cheeks flushed. She looked so attractive that in an instant I found myself kissing her with my arms round her waist. I felt her relax and made up my mind to continue the relaxation process in a more comfortable place, i.e. on the bed.
As we were lying after intensive relaxations it was time to seriously consider the situation.
"Look here, darling, are you aware that you and me will be the main suspects during the investigation? Anyway you should be well prepared for long police interrogations".
That idea evidently hadn't occurred to Olga. She frowned, raised herself leaning on the elbow with frightened look in the eyes. Her round rosy breasts touched my body and I couldn't help comforting her with another round of relaxations. When it was over I said:
"The body was found in the afternoon. When did your husband leave for his office?"
"About half past eight", answered Olga. "He said he had to be in the laboratory at no late than nine. They planned to conduct some experiments.
"So the murder was committed between nine and the afternoon. With what were you busy between 9 a.m and 2 p.m. Siberian mean time? If you finished off the old man I'm ready to listen to your confession".
"You, freak, watch what you are saying!" Olga sat up and began putting her clothes on with her angry back to me. I followed her example. My trick had worked again: the atmosphere changed from relaxation to concentration.
Of course I didn't believe that Olga could have killed her husband. Her main advantage was that she was a Female, i.e. female to backbone. She would faint at the sight of a mouse, didn't stand the sight of blood, and was always ready to put to use her charms. As any other person she could commit a crime under some circumstances, in an uncontrollable gust. And I knew that she had had a hard time with Smirnov who I believe was an unpleasant personality. Being really a good scientists he thought himself the most intelligent man in the world, used to teach everybody (and his wife in he first turn), and displayed rudeness not typical of a university professor in case somebody contradicted him or underestimated his scientific contributions. But to cut a throat ear to ear? Impossible for Olga.
"I didn't love Nick, you know, but he was kind to me and generous", continued Olga.
Here she was right. Unlike most of his colleagues Nick Smirnov had money. His works were published abroad, and he had contracts with American firms, and he never forgot about his wife's birthdays. Olga had jewelry with diamonds, sable fur coats, and a Hyundai off-road vehicle. Smirnov himself was the proud owner of a Land Rover full-sized jeep that he ordered from Moscow and that was a rarity in this city. Local gangsters and regional officials preferred Land Cruisers.
"And he was a good lover", added she looking at me with reproach and combing her fair hair. She was already sitting at dressing table.
Once she told me the story of her romance with Smirnov. He made a pass at her when she was a graduate student and he read them lectures in Computer Science. He began courting her, invited to restaurants; they even traveled together to a fashionable resort at the Canaries. She did her darndest to resist the Professor's attacks but finally he coerced her by threatening that he would fail her in the final exams.
For me there wasn't a grain of truth in the whole story. Smirnov was a typical representative of scientific species. He was tall and lean with broad forehead, thin hair, and thick glasses. Only a person with morbid imagination could believe he was able to seduce or coerce a woman into unwanted sex. As I was a practical man I was firmly convinced that actually it was Olga who seduced the Professor to get excellent marks in the final exams.
"Listen to me, Ole", said I. I called her so after the personage in Anderson's tales who used to tell small children unbelievable stories. Olga herself had no idea of my implication. For her 'Ole' was just a diminutive of "Olga".
"The first question that occurs to an investigator is 'Who has profited from Smirnov's murder?' As soon as he answers this question he asks a second one: 'What was that person doing at the time of murder?' So who will inherit Smirnov's property?"
I sat at the desk, took a sheet of paper, wrote in the centre 'Smirnov' and included it into an oval.
"According to the law hairs apparent are parents, children, and spouses", declared I and made three more ovals placing parents above Smirnov, children - below him, and spouses - to the left of him.
"You are his second wife, aren't you?", asked I Olga who was painting her lips and seemed completely calm. My firsthand knowledge is that sex and makeup produce a sedative effect on women.
She nodded. I put down her name in the oval with spouses.
"And who was his first wife?"
Olga knitted her brow and pondered for a moment having put aside her lipstick that was a distinct manifestation of her interest. I got all ears to listen to a story from my personal Ole Lukøje.
"I got acquainted with Smirnov as I was a student, as you might remember", began she with inspiration. "By that time he was already several years divorced. His ex worked as a lecturer at the University. I happened to see her once. She was as flat as a board wearing thick glasses and shapeless clothes".
"What was her name?", interrupted I; my fingers itched with the yearning to fill another blank in my scheme.
"Her first name was Vera, and the last one - something like Kotova or Krotova".
"And after divorce she resumed her maiden name?"
"That is the point! She kept her maiden name when she married Nick".
"Rather unusual", agreed I and put down 'Vera Krotova/Kotova?' in the corresponding oval.
"Of course I asked Nick how he could have married such a scarecrow. The explanation was banal: he married because she got pregnant".
"Ah, there was a child!" exclaimed I ready to fill the oval with children.
"You don't hurry, Sherlock Holmes. I know it was a girl. I don't know her name and never saw her. As I and Nick got married his ex with the daughter moved to another city".
"Very well", muttered I and put down 'daughter' in the corresponding oval. Then I drew another oval and entitled it 'Colleagues'.
After their marriage Smirnov fixed his wife with an ephemeral part-time job of an assistant at his laboratory for which Olga got a symbolical salary of $50 per a month".
Olga, who watched my manipulations with interest, said: "Both his parents died long ago. If you think that I can provide you with information about Nick's colleagues you are badly mistaken".
"Yes, I understand that you never appear in the office but Smirnov could have told you something at home".
She became thoughtful for a moment and even extended her fine lips painted in cerise. Then she said: "Actually Smirnov was on bad terms with many of the staff members. I remember one conflict between him and one of his postgraduates who stated that Nick was a magician rather than a scientist. Smirnov had nearly beaten him".
"Is that all?"
"That is all, sweetheart. I hope you will manage to extricate us from this mess".
"We have much information to reflect upon", murmured I. "Thank you Ole...", said I and added mechanically: "Lukoje".
"What? What did you say?" - Olga's eyes rounded and darkened acquiring an unpleasant expression.
"What did I say?"
"Yes. What. Did. You. Say." snapped the woman carefully separating each word.
"I...just", began I mumbling. At that moment the room was filled with the rasp of Rammstein's music.
Du hast mich
Du hast mich gefragt
Du hast mich gefragt
Du hast mich gefragt und ich hab
bashed the German singers out.
Olga's Nokia phone that emitted this cacophony trembled as if in fever.
She opened the flip and snapped: "Smirnova speaking". While listening she bit her lip and began pulling at her gold necklace pendant.
"My flat was robbed", - she informed me somewhat embarrassingly. "The police asked me to come there as soon as possible". She rushed to the door.
For the first time I felt respect for Rammstein's music.
Left alone I cast a steady glance at my drawing. It resembled an underdeveloped model of a molecule that I studied in junior high school or a helicopter's rotor deformed after a catastrophic crash. With the completely inefficient judicial system in this country it was up to me to undertake the investigation so as to find the murderer and be cleared of all suspicions. As Russian classic writers stated: "The rescue a drowning person is the responsibility of the drowning person himself".
2. The Murdered Man
I was driving my Ford C-Max along a busy road populated with Toyotas, Nissans, Mazdas, Chevrolets, Hyundais; the unhappy owners of Russian Ladas, which only twenty years ago were sweet dreams of Soviet citizens, constituted a timid minority. The vehicles bustled about in Brownian motion violating all laws of nature to say nothing of traffic rules.
It was due to a car accident that I got to know Olga Smirnova about a year ago. She pulled an illegal U-turn and was deprived of her driving license. Somebody of her acquaintances recommended me as a lawyer and before I could bat an eye I found her between my sheets. In this way as she explained later she wanted to encourage me do my best at the trial. Her efforts were not in vain: I managed to prove that the road markings rubbed away and were not visible and after I oiled appropriate palms she got her license back.
The state machinery in this country was corrupted to backbone, sporadic attempts of government representatives to launch struggle against corruption were doomed to failure from the start. Just after the current President declared war on corruption the average cost of a bribe more than doubled and next year it doubled again reaching a lump figure of 40,000 rubles. Actually, bribe-taking and bribe-giving became a way of life of all decent people in Russia.
The corruptive schemes didn't boil down to primitive bribe taking and were as numerous as insect species. Several years ago I entered into such a scheme with Michail Rogov, an officer at the Police Headquarters. Rogov leaked me the results of police investigation of the persons whom I defended so that I could use this information at the trial, and I shared with him my fee.
Now I was making my way to Vacuum Restaurant where I had a meeting with Rogov.
The signboard above the door of the restaurant ran: VACUUM: TONNES OF ATTRACTION. The owner was a fan of the famous band whose harmonious music created a peculiarly relaxed atmosphere that I liked. Two years ago at this cozy place I had my tooth broken in a fight with a certain Ivan Voronin. At a trial I managed to prove innocence of my defendant and it occurred that clues of his innocence were at the same time evidence of guilt of Voronin who was then sentenced for two years of imprisonment. Later by coincidental misfortune we found ourselves at the same place and at the same time. The fight with Voronin cost me a broken tooth and him - another two years in jail.
On entering the restaurant I carefully looked about. At this time of day it fitted its name: only several tables were occupied and at one of them sat Rogov who was enthusiastically consuming a big roast beef.
As I sat at his table having ordered a cup of tea Rogov opened the conversation with a bromide: "Well, Alex, I have two news for you: one is a good and the other one is bad. What shall I tell first?"
I responded with a commonplace cliché: "The good one".
"I have always thought him to be an honest person but not to that degree", I raised my left eyebrow in surprise. "And what was the audience's response? A storm of applause?"
"Burst out laughing, of course".
"With pleasure, I guess. Everybody thought about the opportunity of legalizing a greater pat of his business".
"Between the cup and the lip a morsel may slip", went on Rogov taking a big cup of cappuccino. "In a few minutes Kudrin admitted he had made a mistake".
"You are disappointing me! I have just begun feeling myself a pillar of society. Is this your bad news?"
"You are jumping to conclusions. The bad news is that Voronin got a ticket of leave and turned up in this city. Thanks to you he twice went the slam and now, as I was informed, cherishes plans of revenge. Take it seriously: this time you won't get off with a broken tooth and I will regret losing such a reliable partner."
Rogov looked at me steadily to find out if the news had produced proper effect. He seemed satisfied with my white face and frightened look and poured a glass of white whine. I sipped my tea.
"And now about Smirnov's case", continued he having made a hearty gulp. "When you phoned you told you had some questions".
I took out of the pocket and handed him my drawing.
"Looks like a helicopter's rotor", grumbled he. "I will try to dig up all information about Smirnov's first wife and the daughter. As for the colleagues. The fellows from Homicide Department questioned them after the body had been found. It turns out all of them hold hostility towards the Professor and everybody would be happy to screw his neck. He was famous for his peevishness and haughtiness. At a meeting of University's Scientific Board he called the Vice President of the University 'a silly cow' because she suggested reducing financial support of his projects. Can you fancy that? And he beat one of his postgraduates with his own hands! The boy wanted to report to the police but the scandal was hushed up. These two persons are under suspicion but I have a feeling that they had nothing to do with the murder. They knew he would soon immigrate to the USA and they will get rid of him anyway".
"That is where the problem is", I cut in. "Do you know Smirnov held strong anti-American attitudes? He had a Web site where he published papers denouncing American politics, making fun of American political leaders".
"I heard about the Web site but haven't read it. If you summarize its contents I'll owe you a bottle of vodka. The more we know about the murdered man the easier is to find the murderer. This is an axiom of a criminal investigation", pontificated Mike.
"In a word, he had the whole conception about differences between American and Russian cultures and cultural values. Americans are crazy about their democracy, Russia has always been a totalitarian state; Americans are law-abiding, Russians are lawless; homosexuality is a norm in America and a universally despised perversion in Russia; bribe giving and taking are serious crimes there and are a way of life here; adultery is a bad sin there and a norm here".
Rogov produced a broad grin and looked at me meaningfully.
I pretended not to notice his mug and went on with my story.
"His conclusion was that American and Russian cultures are antagonistic in nature and the struggle between them governs the development of the whole contemporary world".
"Rather interesting but too far-fetched", remarked Rogov. "If there is such a struggle America is sure in the lead".
"So far. Smirnov was sure Russia will win in the end since it represents a less civilized culture. In the same way as, for example, the Huns defeated the Roman Empire".
I made a pause and Rogov fell into a reverie sipping wine from his glass.
"I understand what you are driving at", announced he two minutes later. "Smirnov despised America and nevertheless decided to immigrate there. He must have had serious reasons for the decision".
I nodded in appreciation of my friend's good brainwork.
"What reasons?" reflected Mike aloud. "Threat for his life?" He looked at me questioningly.
"Or threat for his scientific carrier", responded I. "Don't forget that his life was completely devoted to science. I think as soon as you find motives for his immigration to the USA you will find the murderer".
Rogov nodded with a wise air. "Thanks for the idea. But now as an uncivilized Russian I will go back to the adultery question". He looked expectantly at me.
"Does Olga have an alibi?"
"She doesn't. She says her husband left for office at half past eight. She stayed home till eleven when she went to my place. We were at my flat and learned about the murder from TV broadcast".
"So she had more than enough time to go to the University to waste the man", uttered Rogov with true satisfaction.
"And what motive did she have?" wondered I realizing that Rogov was mocking at me.
"Suppose the old man found out about her affair with you. He phoned her and asked to come to his laboratory where they had a quarrel and she stubbed him".
"If Smirnov's ideas are far-fetched your inventions are pure fantasy", said I gently smiling. "Firstly, Smirnov was aware of this affair, secondly, Olga could have fondled him with a frying pan in a fit of rage but she is not able to commit a cold-blooded murder".
"Do you mean Smirnov didn't love his wife? And what about all these expensive presents, jewelry, and a car?"
"You should understand the psychology of the man. He wanted to show he had money. He felt some affection to Olga but he used her to show how tough he was having the prettiest woman in the city".
"That is, he just decorated her", concluded Rogov upon a minutes reflection.
"That's quite right. You've got it. He decorated her. Like a New Year tree". I looked at him with respect.
"OK, you've convinced me". Rogov mockingly put his hands in the air.
At that instant my LG smartphone began to vibrate producing a melody from Vivaldi's "L'estate". I opened the slider.
"Is this Mr. Anderson?" heard I an unfamiliar hoarse voice.
"Wrong number, this is not Mr. Anderson".
"Excuse me; this is Captain Murkin from Police Station 11. We detained a woman who says her name is Ole Lukoje. She has no identification papers with her, and she gave us this telephone number because, as she states, you can certify her identity".
"I'll be at your station in fifteen minutes", snapped I.
3. Ole Lukoje
Captain Murkin turned out a small round-headed middle aged person with big moustaches. His appearance fitted his name1 and as he opened his mouth to greet me and Rogov I was ready to hear the purr. Instead I heard the familiar hoarse voice: "Good evening, Sir". He was addressing himself to Rogov. Mike decided to accompany me to prevent Olga 'from being put to tortures' as he loftily declared. As an officer from Central Headquarters he knew the heads of local police stations in person and could be very helpful.
"Hullo, Captain", responded Rogov condescendingly. He had a higher rank and a much higher position.
"And this must be Mr. Anderson", said the Captain scrutinizing my face and clothes.
"I am not Anderson".
Murkin, looking embarrassed, explained: "The woman gave your telephone number and told that your name was Anderson and you 'had begot' her. But you seem too young to be her father". He smiled evidently being sure he had paid me a complement.
"My name is Alexei Larin", informed I him and produced my lawyers ID card.
After the policeman carefully read it I added: "And the woman's name is Olga Smirnova".