“This book is a masterpiece.” (Literaturen)
“High-level, captivating entertainment.” (Blick)
“Russia’s star-author Polina Dashkova shines with a political thriller.” (Vogue)
“Psychological nuances …, descriptions of the backdrop against which the novel takes place that you can empathize with, and a satirical power.” (FAZ)
“A book that leaves echoes in your mind: for a disturbingly long time one imagines hearing the light tread of madness approaching from behind.” (Financial Times Deutschland)
“What’s special about Polina Dashkova’s crime novel is a detailed description of everyday life in Moscow … Incredibly tight and exciting!” (Brigitte)
“Dashkova’s German debut is a gripping thriller. In Russia, she is considered a literary star of the crime novels, whose work can also be read as social commentary, because it comes very close to replicating the glamour and the tragedy of her country, examining them through a magnifying glass, but with a sense of sympathy. (Leipziger Volkszeitung)
“The best crime stories are written by life itself, in this case life in Russia. There the author is considered one of the bestsellers: 10 million copies. A real sensation and not an exaggeration, as is demonstrated by this novel.’ (RTV)
“Madness Treads Lightly is plain, unvarnished realism. For more than four hundred fifty pages Polina Dashkova presents an almost unbelievable, but accurate diagnosis of Russian society, both before and after the fall of the Soviet Union.” (NDR)
“Dashkova’s novel is immensely gripping. Merciless, almost to the end.” (Sonntagsblick, Switzerland)
A songwriter named Mitya is found dead in his apartment, pumped full of drugs. An old acquaintance of his, the journalist Lena Polanskaya (a character also to be found in another Dashkova novel), does not believe it is suicide. Mitya hated drugs. His wife Katya had been hooked on the needle for a year and a half, and he had done everything he could to get her off it. And why are there scratches from an injection on the back of Mitya’s right hand, when Mitya was right-handed?
In the meantime, Lena’s husband, police colonel Sergej Krotov is engaged in the investigation of a shooting in a restaurant called “Vitya’s,” during the course of which Drosd, the infamous gangster was killed. Asarov the pop star was also present during the shooting, and while he could not provide any information about the shooting, he also turns up dead a couple of days later.
Lena has a two-year-old daughter named Lisa. A house call by an unknown pediatrician who wants to examine Lisa before she gets her flu shot is no call for alarm. Still the doctor takes her time, invites herself to coffee, and goes on and on about the psychology of suicide. After the nice lady has left, Lena gets a terrible headache. The next day, by accident, she learns that the current policy of the doctors at the clinic she uses is not to give physicals prior to giving the shots.
Two days after Mitya’s funeral, Katya finds a strange note in his jacket pocket: “Find out what happened to the commissioner (at Polyanskya’s). Newspapers (regional). Psychiatry. You’ve gone mad, you’ll be taken care of quietly. You can’t go to the prosecutor’s office. 14 years.” Katya reads Lena the unusual text over the telephone, but their conversation is interrupted by the door bell. Lena can hear Katya greeting someone called Ina or Galina. The next morning, Lena learns that Katya died in an apartment fire. She apparently had been smoking in bed while under the influence of drugs.
Lena listens to the cassette that Mitya had brought with him on his last visit. The lyrical songs accompanied by a guitar are suddenly interrupted by Mitya’s excited voice. He’s talking about a horrible crime and that the fifteen-year statute of limitations for it runs out in one year. Lena recalls that, during this visit, they had been talking about a trip to Tymen and Tobolsk that had taken place fourteen years ago. The magazine, where Lena and Mitya’s sister Olga had been working as interns, was running a publicity campaign in Siberia at that time. Mitya had gone with them. Lena tries to remember what happened that summer, and digs through her old papers. The three of them had once done a performance of morally uplifting songs and poems in a prison. One of the prisoners, Vassilij Slepak had also read some poetry. Later, Lena was able to place one of his poems in her magazine, and they had exchanged letters a couple of times. In his last letter, he informed her that his father, an alcoholic, had been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of six girls, unjustly, according to Slepak. And indeed, a brutal murderer was spreading terror in Siberia. A murder took place on the night before their departure. And there was also a promising writer, a policeman, who gave Lena a story to read. Later, she got a letter from his mother. She told Lena that he had died, and enclosed his most recent story with the letter. It was about a miscarriage of justice, and about the police commissioner who had discovered the real perpetrator. And then an unpleasant memory comes back to Lena. It’s about the Comsomol Secretary Venya Volkov, who had fallen hopelessly in love with Lena. He had implored her to save him.
The investigation of the Asarov case is progressing. When she is interrogated, Asarov’s girlfriend, a model named Veronika, cannot recall who else could have had a key to his apartment. She says that this is because her memory is so poor that she’s even being treated for it by a doctor, none other than Regina Gradskaya, the psychiatrist, as police commissioner Michail Sitchkin discovers. Regina is the wife of a famous music producer, whose company “Venjamin Productions” has every third Russian pop star under contract: Venya Volkov. After she graduated, Regina worked in an institute for the criminally insane, specializing in the treatment of murderers, rapists and sadists. Later she learned hypnosis and treated famous actors and members of the Party Elite. As the reader comes to learn, that is where she got to know a functionary named Volkov. He came to depend on Regina more and more, because it was only with her help that he could keep his outbursts of anger more or less under control. That was how the powerful music company that was generating fairy-tale profits got its start in the 1990s. It seemed like all the water had passed under the bridge, when one day, Mitya showed up at a casting call for rising recording stars, and confronted Volkov with the long-held belief that Volkov was the mad murderer who had been terrorizing Siberia fourteen years ago. Asarov was a chance witness to this scene. Not long after that, both of them are dead, and so is Katya. Asarov had managed to get together with Mitya before his death. Another woman had visited Katya before the apartment fire. Everything seems to point to Regina. Did she want to protect her husband? In that case, Lena would be next, because she was doubly dangerous. She knew about Volkov’s past and she was a potential rival, because, in a hypnosis session, Regina had learned that Volkov still loved Lena, and feels that she is his only hope for rescue from his severe psychiatric condition.
Lena’s husband, police commissioner Krotov has to go to England for ten days. An attempt on Lena’s life while she is out walking with her daughter in a stroller misses by inches. A witness recalls seeing a suspicious middle-aged woman. Then someone tries to break into Lena’s apartment. One of the neighbors also reports having seen a middle-aged woman. Lena decides to leave town, and to go to Siberia. She has to conduct her own investigation. She’s accompanied by her old friend, and American historian named Michael, who has always wanted to get to know the Taiga. Lena’s investigation first leads to a dead end. The diary of the policeman who died fourteen years ago had been confiscated by a member of the prosecutor general’s staff. Then she learns what the decisive piece of evidence was that was used to convict Slepak as the mass murderer. It was a blood-stained sweater. A day before it was found, an unknown woman was supposedly in his apartment. Lena remembers the sweater. Volkov was wearing it the night before her departure and had explained away the fresh blood stains as a nosebleed. A Moscow expert in serial murders was called in for the investigation fourteen years ago: Regina Gradskaya.
Lena and Michael are being followed. It’s not only the clandestine service of the FSB that is on their tail, but also the legendary “Godfather of the Taiga” Kudryash, who is buying American firms through front men big time. After talking with Regina on the telephone, he’s convinced that the American professor is from the CIA, and has been sent to get him. Michael goes back to Moscow on the advice of the FSB. Kudryash’s people kidnap Lena. They show her videos of her little daughter Lisa, taken in the sanatorium where she is staying for ten days. Lena understands that Kudryash has been led off on a false trail, and decides to put all her cards on the table. She tells him the whole story, and the Godfather sees a chance to use this information to expand his Empire to include Volkov’s “Venjamin Productions.”
Regina Gradskaya takes out a contract on Lena with the most dangerous killer in Moscow, who is known as “the blind man.” What she does not know is that “the blind man” is Wassilij Slepak, the poet from the Siberian prison. Lena, however, manages to tell him that Regina is the one who has his father on her conscience, and that Venja Volkov was the murderer. But there is insufficient proof and the police have closed the investigation.
The new boss of “Venjamin Productions” makes a TV appearance. The moderator expresses his condolences on the sudden death of her husband. “A black Lincoln takes Regina Gradskaya home. She’s followed at a distance by a dirty Lada. The hired killer Vassilij Slepak is getting ready for another job, but not on contract, not for money. This time it’s very personal.”
MADNESS TREADS LIGHTLY
Moscow, March 1996
Lena Polianskaya wrestled the buggy along through the deep March slush, feeling every inch a Volga boatman. The wheels sank deep into the lumpy half-melted snow, the pavement along the narrow side street was piled high with brittle, congealed snowdrifts and the cars dashing along the roadway sprayed passing pedestrians with filthy brown sludge.
Every now and then two year-old Liza tried to stand up on the seat of the buggy: she wanted to go walkies, she thought she was too big now for the buggy, and anyway there were so many interesting things going on all around -- the sparrows and crows fighting noisily over a wet crust of bread, the shaggy ginger puppy chasing crazily after his own tail, the big boy walking towards them munching on a huge bright-red apple.
“Mama, Liza wants an apple too,” the little girl announced solemnly as she stood up yet again.
The large shopping-bag with all the groceries was hanging on the handle of the buggy, and just as soon as Lena picked Liza up to sit her back down properly, the unbalanced buggy tipped over on its side.
“All fallen down,” Lisa commented with a sigh.
“Yes, Liza, love, it’s all fallen down. Now we’ll pick it all up.” Lena gingerly set her daughter down on the pavement and began picking the plastic bags of groceries out of the slush and brushing them off with her glove, when suddenly she realised someone was observing her closely from the window of a dark-blue “Volvo” parked just across the street. The car had tinted windows that reflected the snowdrifts, so Lena couldn’t see who was watching her, but she could sense their gaze.
There were two of them, a woman sitting behind the wheel and a man beside her in the front passenger seat.
“Are you sure?” the woman asked in a low voice, when Lena had closed the entrance door of her apartment block behind her.
“Absolutely.” The man nodded as he spoke. “She’s hardly changed in all these years.”
“She’d be thirty-six by now,” the woman observed, “but that young mother can’t be a day over twenty-five. Are you quite sure she’s the one? After all, it was years ago..”
“Yes, I’m sure,” the man answered firmly. “She’s the one.”
* * *
The phone rang, breaking the silence in the empty flat.
“Can you talk right now?”
Lena scarcely recognised the voice of Olga Sinitskaya, a close friend from her old student days .The voice in the ear-piece sounded strange somehow.
“Hello, Olga, what’s wrong?” Lena squeezed the receiver between her ear and her shoulder and began untying the ribbons on Liza’s bonnet.
“Mitya’s dead,” Olga said in a very quiet voice.
“Sorry, what’s that you said?” Lena asked as she pulled off Liza’s boots.
“Mama, Liza wants poo-poo,” her daughter declared solemnly.
“Olga, are you at home at the moment? I’ll call you back in fifteen minutes.”
“Can’t I come round straight away?” Olga asked quickly.
“Of course you can!”
Before Olga arrived Lena had managed to give Liza her lunch and put her down to sleep, wash the dishes, make cabbage soup, load the washing machine and switch it on. Today she’d been planning to translate at least five pages from “The Cruelty of the Victim”, a huge article in The New Yorker on the latest research into the psychology of serial killers by the latest fashionable American psychologist, David Crowell.
Although Liza was barely two years old, Lena was still working long hours as head of the literature and art department in Smart magazine, bringing the vast bulk of her work home with her and sitting up at night with her computer. On the two days each week when she went into the office she left her daughter with her old neighbour, Vera Fyodorovna, who lived alone. Neither Lena nor her husband, Sergei Krotov, had any parents still living, so Liza had no grandmothers or grandfathers of her own, and for a cultured pensioner like Vera Fyodorovna it was a real joy to take in the quiet, affectionate child for the day, and of course, with her miserable pension the money that Lena and Sergei paid her came in very handy.
Vera Fyodorovna from the flat across the landing was a real godsend for Lena. It wasn’t just that what Sergei earned as the deputy head of the crime squad of the internal counter-espionage department in the Ministry of the Interior (with the rank of colonel), was barely enough to provide for them. More important than that, Lena herself simply couldn’t live without working. And she knew that the moment she eased up just a little bit someone else would be taken on in her place.
Lena’s time was planned out down to the last minute, she wore herself to a frazzle, pushing herself to the limits of fatigue, never sleeping more than five hours a day at the most. Now there was only one hour left of Liza’s precious two-hour afternoon nap, just enough for two full pages of the translation. But after Olga’s phone call all she could think about was Mitya and what his parents and eighty year-old grandmother Zinaida must be going through.
What could have happened to Mitya? An accident? Could he have been run over? Lena switched on the electric kettle and tipped the coffee beans into the grinder, then the doorbell rang.
Olga stood there in the doorway wearing a black headscarf that must have been her grandmother’s. It was clear at a glance that she hadn’t done her hair or washed, and she’d just pulled on the first things that came to hand.
“He hanged himself,” Olga said in a flat voice as she took off her coat. “He hanged himself just last night, in his flat. He tied his belt to the gas pipe that runs above the kitchen door.”
“But where was his wife when it happened?” Lena asked quickly.
“Asleep. Sound asleep in the next room, she didn’t hear a thing.”
“Who was it that found him?” Lena almost said “the body”, but she couldn’t get the word out, it was hard for her to use that word about Mitya when he’d called round to see her so recently and sat here on her kitchen bench, bubbling over with vitality and health, full of rainbow-bright plans for the future.
“His wife found him. She woke up and went into the kitchen and saw him.”
Lena suddenly noticed that recently Olga had stopped calling her brother’s wife by name. She always used to call her Katya, even Katyenka.
“No one saw what really happened.” Olga gave a nervous shrug and took a deep drag on her cigarette. “All we have to go on is what she can tell us, and she can’t remember anything. Anyway, she got him down out of the noose... She couldn’t leave him like that, she said she hoped he might still be alive. Don’t think I’m crazy, please, my head’s clear enough now, and I know all sorts of things can happen... But just like that, straight out of the blue, not even so much as a note... And especially since Mitya always believed suicide was a terrible sin, he really did. It doesn’t prove anything to the police, of course, but Mitya was baptized in the Orthodox church, he went to confession and took communion. Not very often, I know, but even so... And now I can’t even have a funeral mass said for him, they don’t say mass for suicides. Any other sin can be atoned for by prayer, but not that one.”
Olga had dark circles under her eyes, the hand holding the dead cigarette was trembling slightly.
“He dropped in to see me about a month ago,” Lena said quietly. “He had so many plans, he told me he’d written five new songs and met up with some famous producer or other, and now he’d be turning out video clips by the dozen... I don’t remember exactly what it was we talked about, but I got the feeling Mitya was doing just fine. He was a bit agitated, but in a happy sort of way. Perhaps some of the hopes he built on that producer collapsed?”
“He built up his hopes and watched them collapse a dozen times every month,” Olga said with a sad laugh, “he was used to it, it didn’t bother him. And his life was always full of any number of producers, big ones and little ones. If you want to know what really did bother him, it was his own songs, not whether they would make him famous or rich, but whether he could write or he couldn’t. This last month he was writing like never before, and for him that was more important than anything else.”
“So you think Mitya might not have done it himself?..” Lena asked cautiously.
‘The police tell me they’re sure he did.” Olga lit another cigarette.
“Have you had anything at all to eat today? You’re smoking away like a chimney on an empty stomach. Why don’t I make some coffee?”
“Okay.” Olga nodded indifferently. “And if it’s all right with you I’ll take a shower. I haven’t had a wash today and I’ve already been down to the morgue... I’m really sorry for turning up here and dragging you into this nightmare, but things are really difficult at home right now, I’ve got to get my head together so I can help his parents and grandmother cope.”
“Save the bowing and scraping for your Japanese bosses. Come on, I’ll give you a clean towel.”
“Lena, I don’t believe he did it,” Olga said in a quiet voice as she stood in the doorway of the bathroom, “everything about it’s so very odd. Their telephone was out of order all day long. I checked with the exchange, and there was nothing wrong with the line. Something happened to their phone, but it only took the neighbour a moment to fix it this morning. It was the wife of the couple next door who called the ambulance and the police at five in the morning, and it was the same neighbours who called me. And when I got there they’d already taken Mitya away. Last night you see... his wife was in such a bad state... you know, she’d pumped herself full of drugs. They told me Mitya had too. They said it was a clear case of suicide due to drug-induced psychosis. They found ampoules and syringes in the flat and there were needle-marks on his hand... So the police didn’t really make much of an effort: we’re sorry, Ms.Sinitskaya, your brother was a junkie! And his wife’s a junkie too. It’s all quite obvious!”
“Mitya wasn’t an addict,” Lena said slowly, “he didn’t even drink. And Katya...”
“She’d been injecting for a year and a half. But not Mitya. Never.”
“Did you see him in the morgue?”
“No. I couldn’t, I was scared I might not be able to handle it, I might even faint and keel over. He was already in the cold-store. There’s a queue for post-mortems, they told me, they have an awful lot of bodies to deal with. If I make application for an investigation to the procurator’s office he’ll go on lying there, waiting his turn.”
“So what have you decided?”
“I don’t know. They told me the application won’t do much good anyway. They’ll just give the case to some young girl who’s working in the district procurator’s office so she can earn the right to get registered in Moscow -- they haven’t got enough coroners to go round -- and she won’t bother digging too deep, it’s a clear case of suicide. They have so many murders lying around unsolved for years, and this is just some junkie...”
Olga waved her hand hopelessly and closed the bathroom door.
While she was taking a shower and tidying herself up, Lena stood by the window with the electric coffee-mill buzzing in her hands and thought about Mitya Sinitsin. What was it they talked about that last time? He sat there for two whole hours, after all. He told her he’d written five new songs -- and didn’t he leave her a cassette? She’d have to find it and listen to it. She just hadn’t got around to it yet...
Yes, some new super-producer had put in an appearance.. But Mitya didn’t mention his name, he just said: “He’s incredibly famous, you wouldn’t believe it! But I’m not going to tempt fate!”
Then he’d eaten a hearty lunch and they’d had a long talk about something else. As far as she recalled, they’d just been reminiscing about their young days as students.
Mitya had graduated from a “College of Culture” where he studied to be a director in a “people’s theatre”. A strange kind of qualification, especially nowadays. In any case, he’d never worked as a director. He wrote his own songs and sang them to his own limited audience,: in the late eighties he even gave a few performances in clubs, and he was forever involved in negotiations about an LP, and then about a CD and a video clip for TV. The negotiations never came to anything, but Mitya didn’t let it get him down.
Recently he’d been working as a guitar teacher in a childrens’ theatre studio. The money was a pittance, but the children loved him. That was important for Mitya -- he and Katya loved children, but they couldn’t have any of their own.
If she assumed that Mitya really had been murdered in such a sophisticated fashion, the first question to ask was: who had wanted him dead? How could a man who taught children classical guitar and wrote songs have got in anyone’s way?
Outside the window wet snow was falling. Glancing into the yard, Lena noted mechanically that Olga hadn’t parked her small grey “Volkswagen” very well, it would be hard for her to get out without getting stuck in a snowdrift. Lena’s gaze slid just as mechanically across the dark-blue “Volvo” already covered with a light sprinkling of snow, standing just a few metres away from Olga’s car.
* * *
“You see,” the woman at the wheel of the “Volvo” told her companion in a low voice, “I never doubted they were still in touch, even close friends. So close, in fact that after what happened she came running round here, not anywhere else.”
“I’m afraid,” the man whispered through dry lips.
“Don’t you worry,” said the woman, stroking his cheek with her short, well-manicured fingers. “You’re my brave boy. I know how afraid you are just now. The fear comes from deep down, it rises up from your belly to your chest. But you won’t let it rise any higher, you won’t let it into your head, into your subconscious. You’ve managed to stop this thick, hot, smothering fear so many times before. I’m with you, we can beat it.”
The short, firm fingers slid slowly and gently over his clean-shaven cheek. The long nails were covered with matt scarlet varnish, and the colour seemed unpleasantly bright against the pallor of his cheek. As she continued with her calming, soothing speech, the woman thought she must not forget to remove the varnish that evening and paint her nails in some more more muted and elegant tone.
The man closed his eyes, his nostrils flared slowly and rhythmically. He was breathing deeply and calmly. When the woman felt his facial muscles relax completely, she started the engine and the dark-blue “Volvo” glided gently out of the yard into the side-street and from there on to the busy main road, where it merged into the multi-coloured throng of cars hurtling along through the wet snow.
* * *
In the faculty of journalism at university Olga Sinitsina had been Lena Polianskaya’s best friend right through from first year to fifth year. Then they had lost touch with each other for a time and only met again entirely by chance eight years after they left university, in an aeroplane.
Lena was flying to New York. The University of Columbus had invited her to read a series of lectures on modern Russian literature and journalism. The seat beside her in the smoking section had been taken by an elegant, well-groomed businesswoman in an expensive, man-tailored suit.
It was 1990, and businesswomen like that were still rare in Russia. Lena took a quick glance at her and wondered in surprise why a rich American woman was flying with “Aeroflot” instead of “PanAm” or “Delta”. Then suddenly the smart lady had shaken her head of bright-blonde hair and spoken in Russian:
“You’re really something, Polianskaya! Here I am just sitting and waiting to see if you’ll recognise me or not.”
“O, my God, Olga! Little Olga Sinitsina!” Lena exclaimed in delight.
Olga Sinitsina, famous throughout the faculty of journalism for her absent-mindedness, her impracticality and her ill-fated, hopeless romances, and this cool, superior lady with her gleaming, polite American smile, so sure of herself and her own prosperity -- they seemed like beings from different planets.
“I ended up on my own,” Olga told her, “with two little boys scarcely a year apart. I married Givi Kiladze. Remember him?”
Givi Kiladze was one of their fellow-students in the faculty of journalism who suffered from unrequited love for Olga throughout the whole five-year course. A second-generation Moscow Georgian, he only recalled his mother tongue when he felt the urge to slit someone’s throat, and the throat concerned usually belonged to Olga or some man who had dared to come within ten feet of her.
“You know how it is, the passion didn’t last long, and then the stale, humdrum, hungry existence began. Givi couldn’t get a job, he started drinking and bringing home crowds of down-and-outs off the street and when they left the towels and teaspoons would disappear... I had to feed them all and make up beds for them. He has such a generous nature, and there I was with my big belly and my toxicosis.. When Gleb was born, he got his grandmother’s sister from the mountains to come and stay, supposedly to help me with the baby. Then she was followed by his grandmother’s brother, then his uncle and his aunt. In the end I took Gleb and ran off to my parents. And then the histrionics began, real amateur drama: ‘I’ll kill myself, I’ll kill you!..’ Anyway, we made it up. At the time I firmly believed that a child needs his father, even if he is crazy.
“Gleb has black hair and black eyes, but my youngest, Gosha, was born with blonde hair and blue eyes... So the idiot put two and two together to make five and started howling that Gosha wasn’t his son. You know what I did to avoid going completely crazy? I started studying Japanese! Just imagine the scene: a feeding mother with a child at her breast reading out hieroglyphs in a loud voice, daddy dashing around with his eyes popping out of his head, clutching the family dagger and yelling: “I’ll cut your throat!” and Gleb only two and a half years old sitting on the potty and saying in Georgian: “Daddy, don’t kill mummy, she’s nice!” -- his grandmothers and grandfathers from the mountains had managed to teach him a few words. Anyway, I went back to my parents again, just took the children and left. For good.”
‘You could at least have called me,” Lena sighed. “Why did you just disappear like that?”
“What about you?” Olga asked with a laugh. “Why did you just disappear?”
“It just sort of happened,” Lena said with a shrug. “I’ve got my own skeleton in the cupboard... So after all that did you manage to learn Japanese?”
“I did, and how! You know, I actually feel grateful to Givi for that. If he hadn’t driven me to studying those hieroglyphics, I wouldn’t be a manager in the Russian branch of that marvellous company ‘Kokusai Koeki’. I started outwith them as a translator and interpreter, I didn’t have the slightest notion about the computers and office equipment they sell. But I had to feed the children, and my mother and father, and grandmother, and Mitya. That brother of mine is just as hopeless as ever, he writes his songs and sings to his guitar and that’s all he’s interested in doing while he waits to become world-famous. But even he likes to eat.
“So I was the one who had to earn our living, and I turned out to be quite good at it. I gave it all I’d got, and soon I was earning an awful lot. Mum and granny sat with the children and I made a career. You know, everything’s just great now, I earn heaps of money, but sometimes I look in the mirror and I see a stranger. Do you remember the poems I used to write? Remember my course dissertation on Kafka? I used to work with my brain in those days, but now... Sometimes it feels like I have a computer in my head instead of a brain.”
“Come off it, Sinitsina,” Lena said with a laugh. “You’re doing just fine. Kafka and the poems and all the rest are still there, they haven’t gone anywhere, it’s just that we’re not young any more. There’s a time for everything.”
“But you’re still young,” Olga remarked, gazing at Lena’s big smoky-grey eyes and slender face without a trace of make-up. “You, Polianskaya, look just the same as you did in first year.”
“Nothng of the sort!” Lena shook her head with the dark-brown hair. “I’m just thin, so I look younger. And then in my job there’s no need for business suits and formal make-up. I still work in journalism, so I can carry on wearing the same old jeans and sweater.”
Six years had gone by since that meeting in the aeroplane, in which time Olga had become deputy commercial director of the Russian branch of “Kokusai-Koeki”. Lena worked as head of the literature and art section in the joint Russian-American magazine Smart, and just two years ago she got married and had a daughter, Liza. Olga Sinitsina hadn’t married again, her first experience of family life had been quite enough to satisfy her curiosity for good.
During those six years Lena and Olga had kept in touch by phone and got together fairly often. They both realised that the older you get, the harder it is to make new friends. There had to be someone you could call at any hour of the day or night...