Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express - Stuart M. Kaminsky - ebook

Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express ebook

Stuart M. Kaminsky

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A century-old mystery takes Rostnikov halfway around the world. In the waning days of the Russian Empire, the Czar inked a secret treaty with Japan that was stolen en route by one of the workmen on the Trans-Siberian Railway. More than a one hundred years later, the Soviet Union has gone the way of the Czardom, and police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov is trying to find his way in the Russia of Vladimir Putin. A large amount of money is being sent from Odessa to Vladivostok to purchase a mysterious Czarist document, and Rostnikov's superior believes it may be this long-lost treaty. Eastbound ticket in hand, Rostnikov sets out to investigate. Meanwhile, his subordinates in Moscow tackle a female Jack the Ripper and an anti-Semitic punk rocker whose mob connections may have gotten him kidnapped. It's a brave new world in western Russia, but where Rostnikov is going, the landscape hasn't changed in centuries. About the Author. Stuart M. Kaminsky (1934-2009) was one of the most prolific crime fiction authors of the last four decades. Born in Chicago, he spent his youth immersed in pulp fiction and classic cinema - two forms of popular entertainment which he would make his life's work. After college and a stint in the army, Kaminsky wrote film criticism and biographies of the great actors and directors of Hollywood's Golden Age. In 1977, when a planned biography of Charlton Heston fell through, Kaminsky wrote Bullet for a Star, his first Toby Peters novel, beginning a fiction career that would last the rest of his life. Kaminsky penned twenty-four novels starring the detective, whom he described as "the anti-Philip Marlowe." In 1981's Death of a Dissident, Kaminsky debuted Moscow police detective Porfiry Rostnikov, whose stories were praised for their accurate depiction of Soviet life. His other two series starred Abe Lieberman, a hardened Chicago cop, and Lew Fonseca, a process server. In all, Kaminsky wrote more than sixty novels. He died in St. Louis in 2009. Review quote. "Kaminsky stands out as a subtle historian, unobtrusively but entertainingly weaving into the story itself what people were wearing, eating, driving, and listening to on the radio. A page-turning romp." - Booklist. "If you like your mysteries Sam Spade tough, with tongue-in-cheek and a touch of the theatrical, then the Toby Peters series is just your ticket." - Houston Chronicle. "For anyone with a taste for old Hollywood B-movie mysteries, Edgar winner Kaminsky offers plenty of nostalgic fun . . . The tone is light, the pace brisk, the tongue firmly in cheek." - Publishers Weekly. "Marvelously entertaining." - Newsday. "Makes the totally wacky possible . . . Peters [is] an unblemished delight." - Washington Post. "The Ed McBain of Mother Russia." - Kirkus Reviews.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Prologue

Part I—Day One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Part II—Tracks

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Epilogue

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

A century-old mystery takes Rostnikov halfway around the world.

In the waning days of the Russian Empire, the Czar inked a secret treaty with Japan that was stolen en route by one of the workmen on the Trans-Siberian Railway. More than a one hundred years later, the Soviet Union has gone the way of the Czardom, and police inspector Porfiry Rostnikov is trying to find his way in the Russia of Vladimir Putin. A large amount of money is being sent from Odessa to Vladivostok to purchase a mysterious Czarist document, and Rostnikov’s superior believes it may be this long-lost treaty. Eastbound ticket in hand, Rostnikov sets out to investigate.

Meanwhile, his subordinates in Moscow tackle a female Jack the Ripper and an anti-Semitic punk rocker whose mob connections may have gotten him kidnapped. It’s a brave new world in western Russia, but where Rostnikov is going, the landscape hasn’t changed in centuries.

About the Author

Stuart M. Kaminsky (1934-2009) was one of the most prolific crime fiction authors of the last four decades. Born in Chicago, he spent his youth immersed in pulp fiction and classic cinema - two forms of popular entertainment which he would make his life’s work. After college and a stint in the army, Kaminsky wrote film criticism and biographies of the great actors and directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In 1977, when a planned biography of Charlton Heston fell through, Kaminsky wrote Bullet for a Star, his first Toby Peters novel, beginning a fiction career that would last the rest of his life.

Kaminsky penned twenty-four novels starring the detective, whom he described as “the anti-Philip Marlowe.” In 1981’s Death of a Dissident, Kaminsky debuted Moscow police detective Porfiry Rostnikov, whose stories were praised for their accurate depiction of Soviet life. His other two series starred Abe Lieberman, a hardened Chicago cop, and Lew Fonseca, a process server. In all, Kaminsky wrote more than sixty novels. He died in St. Louis in 2009.

Murder On The Trans-Siberian Express

An Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov Mystery

Stuart M. Kaminsky

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2012 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 2001 by Stuart M. Kaminsky

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design: Taylor Cloonan

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-348-0

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This one is for Momus with thanks for his inspiration.

Prologue

Catch a train direct to death

Glide where wheels and rails caress

Hear the last taboos expressed

In language looted and compressed

Abandon this world for the next

Cross the great plain of forgetfulness

Trans-Siberian Express

Siberia: 1894

The six men trudged into a thick forest of birch and aspen trees so dense that this gray morning had the feel of oncoming night.

The permafrost had started its slow thaw and their ragged boots cracked through the glassy upper layer and sunk an inch or so into the earth. Had they not each been carrying a body they would probably not have broken the steamy surface.

Boris Antonovich Dermanski kept walking when he heard the blast of dynamite no more than three miles away. The blast was followed by the distant sound of raining rocks from the wounded mountain. It was a familiar sound. Boris had lost track of how many mountains they had ripped through, how much frozen ground had been torn up with dynamite, how many bridges they had built.

He walked on, shifting the nearly frozen naked body on his shoulder. Boris was the biggest of the group and the only one who was not a convict. Though it had not been specified by the section leader, it was assumed that Boris was the leader of this burial detail. It had also been assumed that he would carry the heaviest corpse.

He grunted softly and watched the men move slowly through morning mist in no particular formation.

Boris estimated that they had moved about two hundred yards from the temporary camp next to the end of the train tracks. Every foot of track had been laid by hand by men like and unlike Boris with picks, axes, and hammers; men in lines of six or more carrying lengths of steel and men in twos carrying wooden cross-ties which were laid quickly under the unnecessary guidance of a series of men introduced only as Engineer Kornokov, Engineer Sveldonovich, Engineer Prerskanski.

They were told that they had laid over two thousand miles of track. They were told that they had more than three thousand miles more to put down.

The best way to think about it, Boris had long ago decided, was not to see it as a project that had an end. He had quickly decided that this was his life’s work and that he would probably not live to see the last tracks laid down in the city of Moscow.

One of the men, a lean convict known as Stem, looked over his shoulder at Boris.

“Here?” Stem asked.

“Keep going,” said Boris, again shifting the body on his shoulder. Boris’s dead man had died the night before, gasping for air, eyes wide in horror, looking from face to face for help, for air. Boris did not know his dead man’s last name, but he did know his first, Yakov, and his approximate weight, heavy.

Stem stopped and turned. The others stopped too. One of them, a dark little bull named Hantov, rasped, “What’s wrong with here?”

Boris strode on, moving through the scattering of men. Here would have been fine. It really didn’t matter where they dropped the bodies, but Boris was in charge. He had to make the decision. There were thousands of miles to go, and his survival and reputation might well depend on how resolute he was.

Many had died, from the plague, disease, landslides, floods, anthrax, tigers, a wide variety of accidents and fights. The engineers and bosses who died were boxed and shipped to Vladivostok or back to Moscow to be buried as heroes of the czar’s grand plan to unite Moscow with all of Siberia, right to the coast, only a few hundred miles from Japan.

It was to be the longest railroad in history. It was to be the most expensive railroad in history. It was to be a tribute to the royal family, to the memory of Alexander, to the triumph of Nicholas.

Boris cared nothing for the royal family. He cared only for his own family in Irkutsk, for warm clothes and enough food to eat.

He had been among those in the crowd two years earlier on May 31, 1891, when the Vladivostok station had been declared open and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway had officially begun. Czarevitch Nicolya Alexandrovitch, the heir to Emperor Alexander III, laid a stone-and-silver plate to commemorate the undertaking. There had been applause. The white gloves that Nicholas had worn to lay the stone had been taken off ceremoniously and placed in a jeweled box, which was carried away by the mayor of the city to be displayed in a place of honor to be determined.

“What’s wrong with here?” asked Stem.

Boris kept walking. He did not turn around. They would either follow him or kill him, drop the bodies, and go back saying he had fallen in a hole or been attacked by a bear. No one would know. No one would check. There were more than eighty thousand men working on the railroad. Hundreds died every week.

“I said, What’s wrong with here?” Stem repeated.

Stem had been in a St. Petersburg prison for theft. He had also committed two murders but had not been caught for those crimes. The other convicts had come from all over Russia. None had been asked if they wanted to die building a railroad. None had been promised anything more than food and work and time, perhaps years, away from prison.

Boris walked on.

“These corpses are diseased,” another man called to Boris’s back. “We’re breathing in their death.”

Actually, only four of the dead bodies had been superficially diagnosed as diseased. Two had died in accidents.

A second blast, louder than the first, shattered the morning. Birds went silent to listen.

“There,” said Boris, continuing forward toward an opening before him.

He moved slowly to a trio of rocks, large, almost black, each the height of a man. He dropped the corpse he was carrying in a small clearing next to the rocks and looked around. Silence. Streaks of sunlight, not many, came down like narrow lantern beams through the tree branches. It was the right place, a natural cathedral. Boris had imagination and intelligence he kept hidden. There was nothing to be gained by the revelation of either, and much to be lost.

He was big Boris, good-natured, a loner, not to be crossed.

When he fought he was ruthless and violent. When he talked, which was seldom, he kept it brief.

Boris turned to face the five men, who moved toward him and followed his lead, dropping the bodies not far from the dark rocks. One man shivered with the loss of his burden. Another tried to rub death from his shoulder.

There was no talk of burial. The wolves and other animals would come quickly. There would be only bones before a week was out.

Stem looked at the jigsaw pile of bodies, made a V with the filthy fingers of his left hand, and spat between them in a gesture of peasant superstition which Boris ignored.

“A prayer,” said Boris.

Some of the convicts laughed. One turned into a paroxysm of coughing, a hacking cough which suggested to the others that he might be among those on the next pile of the dead.

“Go back, then,” Boris said.

“I have a message for the dead,” Stem said. “Save a warm place for me. May there be large women in hell. May there be a hell to welcome us.”

“Stem’s a poet,” called a man named David, who had a large lower lip and the look of an idiot.

“Go back,” Boris repeated softly, knowing that their show of false courage in the face of lonely death needed punctuation. “I’ll join you.”

The men started back through the forest. Boris remained behind. No one looked back at him. Let him say a prayer. He wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t going to run away, hide, try to find a village or a hunter to take him in. None of the five convicts even considered escape. They knew better.

Boris did not pray. He watched till the men were no longer slodging ghosts in the mist. Then he quickly removed the package from his pocket.

The package was narrow, small, animal-skin-bound with strips of leather covering a metal box. Boris moved quickly behind the three rocks, searching for some safe place, some protected niche. He spotted it quickly. Luck was with him, though he had been prepared to make his own luck.

There was a thin opening in the rock on his right, a little above eye level. Boris knew his package would fit. It would be tight, but it would fit. He had a good eye for such things. He wedged the package into the space as far as it would go and then found a handful of small stones to cover the opening. He cracked through the permafrost with the heel of his boot and scooped up cold mud, filling in the cracks. He worked quickly and stepped back to assess his work. It was close to perfect. He knew it would be. He had planned, practiced.

He stepped away from the three rocks and the white corpses without saying a prayer. The dead needed no prayers. If there was a God, he would take those he deemed worthy. No entreaties from the living would make a difference. If there was no God, then prayers were only for the living who believed or wanted to protect themselves in case they might someday believe.

He moved quickly, straight, his boots no longer cracking the icy surface now that he had relieved himself of Yakov’s corpse. Boris knew exactly, within feet, the number of miles they were from the next planned station. He knew the range of hills and low mountains and had chosen this spot and this moment because of the distinct shape of one of those nearby mountains. He had seen the mountain the day before when there had been some sun and the mist had drifted away.

He had missed one opportunity a week earlier. There had been another burial detail scheduled. Boris could not volunteer. No one volunteered for corpse carrying, but he had known the detail was coming and had stayed near the weary section boss who usually simply looked up and pointed to the nearest men, assigning them the duty. The section boss, through dull heavy eyes, had simply missed Boris in spite of his proximity and size. So Boris, his dangerous package tucked deeply and safely inside the lining of his jacket, had to wait.

And then this morning’s chance had come and the signs had been there, the mountain, the location. He committed distance and signs to memory. They were not complicated. Later, if he lived, he would return. If he did not, he would give directions to his wife or his brother or whoever remained of his family, though he doubted anyone but he could find the place again.

Boris moved back toward the train quickly. He caught up with the five convicts, whose pace had slowed once they had left the dead comfortably behind in the clearing.

“You said your prayers?” asked Stem.

Boris nodded and grunted.

“If you have to carry me someday,” Stem said, suddenly solemn and very softly, “say the same one for me.”

“I will,” Boris said. “You have my promise.”

When they got back to the camp, they smelled something cooking. It was familiar and not welcoming—a huge vat of soup or gruel made from whatever stock might be on hand and whatever animals, if any, the hunters had found.

Boris had once found a whole mouse in his bowl. Others had claimed to find even worse.

There was a stir of activity among the men both outside the railroad cars and within. People were shouting. Armed soldiers, rifles in hand, hurried in pairs and trios alongside the tracks. Through the frosted windows Boris could see men being stripped naked, uniformed soldiers watching over them. He saw one man bent over, spreading the cheeks of his behind so a teeth-clenched soldier could examine his opening.

“What’s going on?” one of the convicts who had been on the burial detail asked.

“Search,” said a cook’s assistant with a big belly. The assistant was smoking a cigarette and glancing back. “Something’s missing. They won’t say what. They’ve torn the camp apart, gone through the train, everything. They decided I haven’t hidden whatever it is up my ass. Now it’s your turn.”

“Shit,” said one of the convicts. “I’m going to hide till they’re finished.”

“You cannot hide. Better get it over,” the cook’s assistant said. “Can’t serve food till they’re done. And they give you a red card when they finish with you. When they’ve gone over everything, we all stand in line and return the red cards.”

“What the hell is missing,” asked Stem, “the crown jewels?”

“How would the crown jewels get on a track-laying train in Siberia?” answered the cook’s assistant.

“Then …”

“Who knows?” said the cook irritably. “Maybe some government official or a general just went crazy, lost his wallet or his pocket watch. Just get it over.”

Boris stepped ahead of the group and moved toward a trio of soldiers who stood before a shivering quartet of naked men. One of the soldiers went through the pile of clothing. The other two soldiers were giving careful examinations of the naked men.

Boris looked up at the frosted window of the train car a few feet away. Inside the car, a thin naked man was dangling from a bar by a rope tied around his wrists. At his side stood a very short man in a heavy black-wool sweater. The short man was whispering to the dangling man, who struggled to keep his head upright. Boris’s eyes met those of the dangling man and Boris gave a small nod.

By the time the short man had turned to look out the window, Boris was but one of a group of more than a dozen men.

“You,” called one of the soldiers, pointing at Boris. “You are next.”

Boris moved dutifully forward.

Part I Day One

Chapter 1

CHIEF INSPECTOR PORFIRY PETROVICH Rostnikov stood at the window of his office with a reasonably hot cup of strong Turkish coffee warming the palms of his hands. The sun glowed like a dying bulb through gray clouds that hinted at a first snow of the season.

He looked at the two pine trees in the courtyard of Petrovka, the central police headquarters in Moscow. Petrovka was named for Petrovka Street, which runs in front of the six-story U-shaped white building, just as Scotland Yard in London and One Police Plaza in New York were named for their addresses.

He had ten minutes before the morning meeting with Igor Yaklovev, director of the Office of Special Investigation. He took a sip of coffee. It was strong, and that was good, because the cold gray winter sky of early morning suggested not even a hint of warmth.

The biggest unit of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Division is the Investigative Directorate, which includes fourteen investigative divisions, including theft, plunder, and murder. The fifteenth unit, the Office of Special Investigation, exists for one thing only, to deal with those cases which no one else wants because they are politically sensitive, unlikely to be solved, or offer little promise and much potential grief.

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