CHAPTER 4 MURDER
The murder of journalist and owner of the Ocean Star, Pravdin Konstantin Viktorovich, was a terrible crime in Morskoy that impacted all of its citizens. Pravdin lived in a single-family house on Dachnaya Street. His wife and his two little children were visiting her parents in another city the week of his murder. A colleague found the journalist the day after his murder. They were supposed to meet at noon that day in the editor’s office; however, Pravdin had not shown up at the agreed upon time. His colleague tried to reach him over the phone, but Pravdin did not pick up. This behavior was out of character for Pravdin; he was very reliable. As any reporter, Pravdin loved to party, but even after heavily drinking he still remembered his job responsibilities.
So his colleague decided to drive to Pravdin’s house to find out what happened. He was concerned that Pravdin had had a heart attack or something else health-related had happened to him. His colleague walked into the yard through the gate and loudly called for Pravdin, who did not respond. This added to colleague’s concern. He tried to open the front door, and it happened to be unlocked. Then he walked into to the living room through the dark foyer. There he saw Pravdin lying face down on the floor next to the table. There were empty glasses and bottles of vodka on the table and some unfinished appetizers.
“He probably had too much to drink last night with somebody, passed out after that, and is still recovering,” rationalized the colleague. He walked closer and bent down to wake Pravdin up when he noticed a large puddle of blood on the floor next to his body. Realizing that something was seriously wrong, he immediately called the ambulance and the police.
After surveying the homicide scene, the police determined that Pravdin was shot twice from a semiautomatic weapon similar to Makarov’s model. The neighbors had not heard the shots or seen anything suspicious. Who Pravdin had drunk with that night was unknown as well.
The room looked like it was searched, but what was missing was hard to determine until his wife returned home. The only detail that the colleague was able to point out was that Pravdin was missing a wristwatch from his left hand, which he wore all the time. The watch had been a present from his previous job in recognition of his professional contributions as a staff reporter in the central newspaper. The watch had a personalized engraving on the back. This was already an important detail for the investigation. The police did not note anything else of interest at that time.
Unfortunately, all the available experienced detectives were overutilized at that time. Several of them happened to be out on vacation, one of them had a case of acute appendicitis and had to be urgently operated on, and the remaining detectives were so swamped with the ongoing cases that the city district attorney had to assign the case to a young detective, two years out of college and still fairly “green.”
“This journalist was a well-known public figure,” said the city district attorney to the detective. “That is why your responsibility is to solve this crime fast. Use the local police forces to apprehend the murderer. Considering the results of the preliminary investigation, I suspect that it is a simple burglary case. The reporter lived in a single-family house. He decided to party that night. He probably got into an argument with the person he was drinking with and got killed and robbed. That is why focus on finding out who he was drinking with that night.”
The words of the city district attorney made the young detective’s heart beat happily. Finally he had a chance to stand out and show himself. He had never been involved in any serious cases before. If he managed to solve this crime fast, he could potentially receive a promotion or be transferred to the regional office, which had been his dream since college. He came out of the city district attorney’s office happy and headed toward his office with the sign on the door “Uvarov, Petr Stepanovich, detective, city district attorney’s office.”
Detective Uvarov sat down at his table, laid out in from of him the case materials, and dialed the local head of the police.
“Nikolay Mihailovich, this is Detective Uvarov Petr Stepanovich from the city district attorney’s office. I was asked to lead the investigation on the death of the journalist Pravdin by the city district attorney himself. I need an experienced policeman to assist me in this investigation. Who can you send me?”
Unfortunately, the head of the police did not share the enthusiasm of the young detective. “Petr Stepanovich, you do know that I am short on manpower. A few of my staff members are on vacation, a few are out sick, and two of them are soon to be retired after necessary paperwork is finalized. I am at a loss on who to assign to this case. I have to think about it.”
This response angered Detective Uvarov. It was obvious that the head of the police did not think much of him. He was going to say something to put him to his place. After all, he was the detective in the city district attorney’s office, which was, in his opinion, superior to city police. Just the name alone of the city district attorney’s office put fear into the citizens’ hearts. Suddenly he remembered that his colleagues mentioned that the head of the police was a personal friend of the city district attorney and decided to swallow the insult for now and repay him at a later time.
“I really need somebody soon,” he pleaded to the head of the police.
“Ok, I will send you somebody in an hour,” the head of the police promised.
Exactly one hour later, somebody knocked on Detective Uvarov’s office door.
“Please come in,” he said.
An older gentleman with gray hair entered the office and introduced himself, “Kalashnikov Ivan Ivanovich, the major of police.”
Detective Uvarov looked at the man with distaste.
“The head of the police must be mocking me by sending me this retiree. How am I going to solve this crime with his help? He will probably fall asleep on the job when I need somebody energetic to chase after the murderer,” he thought.
“How long have you served in the police?” he asked to be polite.
“Since my first day out of law school,” replied Major Kalashnikov.
“Ok, you are going to help me with solving the murder case of the journalist Pravdin. You will report directly to me. This is a very sensitive case, and the city district attorney is personally interested in it. I think that the motive was robbery.” He repeated the city district attorney’s version. “Your assignment is to determine who the deceased drank with that evening. This could be our killer, I think. You would also need to interview the wife of the deceased, who will be back in the city tomorrow to find out what else is missing from the house apart from the deceased’s wristwatch. I will expect a status report from you every evening at seven p.m. Is everything clear?”
“Yes, very clear, sir!” replied Major Kalashnikov.
Major Kalashnikov left Detective Uvarov’s office, came out of the building, and walked to the little park next to it. He sat down on a bench and fell into a deep thought. Major Kalashnikov had given law enforcement more than thirty years of his life. What had he achieved by the age of fifty-five? He was only the major of police. The majority of his former classmates were already lieutenant colonels, colonels, and other occupied high positions, while he was perceived as a loser among his coworkers. This was all because he refused to be a brown-noser, he never took shortcuts, and he never made deals with his conscience. Instead, everything he did, he did right and with honor in accordance with the law. As a result, he did not advance in his career. That is why once he turned fifty-five years old, he was asked to start the retirement process. It would be very difficult to part with law enforcement. He had given this job all his conscious life. He had been through a lot: chased the criminals, got caught in the shootouts, was stabbed with a knife and still survived.
This was his last case. Very soon his retirement package would come through, and one morning he would be given a memorable present for his loyal service and sent to retirement with the best wishes from his colleagues.
Major Kalashnikov had known the deceased journalist Pravdin personally. He liked that honest man. They had a lot in common: both were on the quest for the truth and only the truth.
The detective, for some reason, thought that the murder motive was robbery.
“I don’t believe so,” thought Major Kalashnikov. “He was not rich, but he was unwanted and hated by many people. That is a fact.”
The head of the police informed Major Kalashnikov before heading to Detective Uvarov’s office that he was going to work on the murder case of the journalist Pravdin. Hence Major Kalashnikov ahead of time had carefully reviewed the materials of this case and the observations of the emergency response unit that worked the crime scene. He immediately, as the experienced policeman, had a lot of questions that did not fit the version of a murder due to a simple robbery case.
First, it was obvious that the murderer was looking for something specific in the house. Since everybody around knew that Pravdin did not have money or valuables in the house, then the question remained: what was the murderer looking for? The missing engraved wristwatch could be a decoy to imitate a robbery and to send the investigation on the wrong path. This was a very frequently used technique by criminals.
Second, it was a cold-blooded murder. One shot was made to the body and one control shot—to the head. This could only mean a professional killer committed that crime. A preliminary expert conclusion showed that Pravdin was killed from a Makarov pistol, which was only issued to police and some special-purpose units. How did the killer get a hold of this weapon?
Third, why didn’t the neighbors hear the party or the gun shots?
“Indeed, there are too many mysteries in this crime,” he continued to think. “Since it is my last case before retirement, I should do my best to find the killer to avenge this honest and noble truth fighter,” Major Kalashnikov decided.
With that thought, he got up from the bench and slowly headed to the police department. He stopped by the investigation department and got the report that the fingerprints lifted from the crime scene (on the vodka bottles, silverware, and glasses) belonged to the owner of the house and to one more unknown individual. The results of the fingerprints were forwarded to the central database to check for matches against anybody previously arrested. It would take some time to get the results back.
The next day, Pravdin’s wife returned home. She was distraught due to severe grief, and a doctor was attending to her. Major Kalashnikov barely got out of her that apart from the missing wristwatch she was also missing a pair of golden earrings with small rubies, her mom’s present for her birthday, and a heart pendant on a golden chain. These jewelry pieces were always on top of the wooden chest next to the television. She never put them away, and all guests knew about it. Everything else was on its place, including a golden-plated boat, a present from the Japanese consulate for the articles in his newspaper on the strengthening of the cultural ties between Japan and the Far Eastern region. All visitors admired this boat, and it was always in the same place as the earrings and the pendant—in the living room for everyone to see.
According to Pravdin’s wife, many people hated her husband’s articles, but nobody threatened him openly. She did not know whom he was drinking with that night since she was not home.
Major Kalashnikov found interesting the fact that the valuable boat souvenir was not taken by the robber. “This is odd,” he thought. “This fact about the boat supports my initial thoughts that the robbery was staged and all the missing items, like the wristwatch and jewelry, were just a decoy. The murderer was looking for something else. What was it though?”
Major Kalashnikov decided to walk around the neighborhood himself to see if he could gain additional information on the visitor that night. He walked around a dozen houses, but he learned nothing new. In the yard of one of the fenced houses he saw a man who looked somewhat familiar.
“Where did I meet him before?” he tried to recall.
“Ivan Ivanovich, don’t you remember me?” the man inquired. “I, on the other hand, will remember you all my life. I spent four years in prison because of you. You arrested me with my buddy Peter.”
Now he remembered: some time ago Major Kalashnikov was assigned to a robbery case from the supermarket. He was able to identify the robbers quickly and got them before they were able to dispose of the stolen goods.
“Of course, I remember you now. How is everything going for you?” Major Kalashnikov smiled.
“I am not angry with you anymore,” the man responded. “This is your job. In fact, I learned my lesson and stopped following the criminal path. I am married now. I work as a stevedore at the port. You are probably here due to the death of the journalist Pravdin.”
“Yes, indeed,” responded Major Kalashnikov. “Pravdin was drinking with somebody that night, and I am trying to find out who it was. Maybe you know or heard something?”
The man looked at Major Kalashnikov and said, “If anybody else asked me about it, I would have probably kept silent, but I respect you, and hence I will tell you what I know. That evening after work, I stopped at the local supermarket by the bus station to pick up a six-pack of beer. There I ran into the guy known by the nickname Sledgehammer. I don’t know his last name. We used to hang out together when I was younger, but eventually we went separate ways. I heard that he became a small-business owner. He now owns a small furniture-assembly factory. He lives somewhere in the central part of the city—that is why I was very surprised to see him here. I asked him what he was doing here in the suburbs. He responded that he was heading to Pravdin’s house. I saw him buying vodka and some appetizers, so I surmised that Pravdin was drinking with him that night, however I don’t think he killed the journalist.”
Major Kalashnikov thanked him from the bottom of his heart since it was very valuable information and returned to the police department. There he found out that person nicknamed “Sledgehammer” was Kuvardin Nikolay Ilyich. He also got the correct address of the furniture-assembly business located on the territory of the bankrupt furniture plant. In his youth, Kuvardin had been a regional champion in boxing. One evening he had come to the defense of a young woman against a group of hooligans at the bus station, and in the process of defending her, he seriously hurt one of the attackers. The court ruled that he had exceeded the boundaries of self-defense, and as such, he was sentenced to a three-year probation. He got his nickname “Sledgehammer” due to his strong punch. Since then he had married and had three kids. He had been actively involved in business and did not have any other criminal information on file.
When Major Kalashnikov drove to the territory of the furniture plant, he found Kuvardin working on assembling a dresser. His nickname suited his overall appearance. This was a medium-height, stocky man with short, thick neck and military haircut. His fists were huge and reminded one of a sledgehammer. Kuvardin mistook Major Kalashnikov for a customer.
He wiped his hands on a towel and inquired, “How can I help you?”
Major Kalashnikov pulled out his identification and introduced himself. He saw that Kuvardin’s eyes filled with concern.
Major Kalashnikov decided not to give him time to regain control and said directly, “The day before yesterday, you were drinking with Pravdin at his house. Please tell me honestly, what happened and how did you kill him?”
Realizing that there was no point to deny anything, Kuvardin sighed heavily and started telling the story, “Yes, I did drink with him that night. I own a small business that requires money to run. Konstantin and I go way back. We grew up together and went to the same school. We were friends since childhood, and even though we ended up with different careers, we still kept in touch. I mentioned to him once that I needed some money to purchase this territory from the city. Konstantin promised to help me. He told me that after the death of his mom he was able to sell her house. Hence, he had some spare cash that he did not need at that moment, which he would be able to lend me interest-free for a term of three months. I, of course, got very excited and offered to give him a notarized IOU. However, he said that he did not need it. After all, we were friends and needed to trust each other.
“I did purchase this territory from the city, but while trying to grow the business, I was not able to generate the necessary cash to pay back by the agreed-upon date. That is why I went to his house that night to ask for a one-month extension. We agreed on this meeting over the phone. On my way to his house, I stopped by the supermarket next to the bus station and bought two bottles of vodka and some appetizers. Pravdin’s wife was gone to visit her mom in another town and took children with her. So we both sat down and drank and talked about life. Without any questions, Konstantin agreed to let me to return the money a month later. He even said that he would not need this money for at least two months; then he would use it to launch a new periodical publication that was still in the infant stage.
“I left around midnight. Konstantin wanted me to stay the night there, but I could not because I was expecting a large delivery of construction supplies early in the morning for my furniture-assembly business. We parted. I swear that I did not kill him. He was my best friend, and I can’t think of anybody who could have done it. Of course, Konstantin had numerous enemies, but to kill him…I don’t think so. There must be more to it. When he got very drunk, and he grabbed his briefcase and said that he would stir up some turmoil soon that would cause a lot of people to lose their high-power jobs. However, I did not know what he meant by that. In the morning I learned that Konstantin was murdered that night. I got scared since I was the last person to see him alive. I thought that if I were to go to the police, they would not listen to me and would book me instead. I have children and a wife. I kept thinking about what to do next all these days. I am telling you the truth. I did not kill Konstantin. I would kill his murderer with my bare hands if I knew who it was. So do what you must with me.”
“All right. Can you tell me, Nikolay Ilyich, if Pravdin had his wristwatch on him when you were drinking that night?” Major Kalashnikov asked him.
“Yes, he had it on,” answered Kuvardin with assurance. “I remember it well. When I was planning to head out, he looked at his watch and said that it was close to midnight and asked me to spend the night in his house.”
Major Kalashnikov asked Kuvardin not to leave the city while the investigation was going on, as he was the only witness in a murder case, and headed out to the city district attorney’s office.
The detective was waiting for him impatiently. “here you able to find out anything?” he asked Major Kalashnikov the minute he stepped into his office.
“Yes, I found out who Pravdin was drinking with that night. I was a small-business owner, Kuvardin Nikolay Ilyich. I just met with him, and he explained to me that he had borrowed a large sum of money from Pravdin to purchase his business from the city a few months before, but since he was not able to gather the full amount to pay back by the agreed deadline, he visited Pravdin to discuss the extension for debt repayment. They agreed on the new terms, and he left Pravdin’s house around midnight. I don’t believe that Kuvardin killed his school friend. I think that somebody else is involved here, who managed to get into the house after Kuvardin left and killed Pravdin,” spoke Major Kalashnikov.
At these words Detective Uvarov almost jumped of the chair.
“Are you serious, or are you joking?” he asked Major Kalashnikov, peering right at him. “You just told me that Kuvardin owed Pravdin a large sum of money. Here is your main motive. He decided not to pay back the money, got his friend drunk, and shot him. Secondly, if he were innocent, he would have come to the police or city district attorney’s office to divert suspicions away from him once the murder was discovered. Instead, he kept silent. We should arrest him right away before he destroys evidence or tries to run. I am appalled by your negligence,” blurred Detective Uvarov.
No matter how Major Kalashnikov tried to explain to Detective Uvarov that there was no rush and Kuvardin would not run, the detective refused to hear anything else. The detective called the local head of the police and asked them to arrest the dangerous criminal Kuvardin. Then he got a search warrant for the furniture-assembly business address and the suspect’s residence. He got everything signed and headed toward the business location with the police unit. It was late at night, and Kuvardin was still in his office. He was caught off guard and looked at the arrived police in surprise.
Detective Uvarov showed Kuvardin the search warrant, read him his rights, and asked him to come forward and return the police the gun and the stolen items: the wristwatch and the missing jewelry. Kuvardin was white as chalk but kept insisting that he did not kill Pravdin, he did not own a gun, and he did not take the missing items. In the presence of two civil witnesses, Detective Uvarov started the search. About an hour into it, one of the policemen noticed the corner of a clear zip bag sticking out from the underneath the fridge. The clear bag contained a Tissot wristwatch with a personalized engraving “To Pravdin for his excellent job,” the pair of ruby earrings, and the heart-shaped pendant on the golden chain. These were the items mentioned as missing by the widow.
Kuvardin looked like he had lost his ability to speak. He gazed at the clear zip bag in terror and kept mumbling, :It cannot be; it cannot be…”
Major Kalashnikov was at a loss: about an hour prior he was trying to convince Detective Uvarov that Kuvardin could not have committed this crime and here was the evidence that supported the detective’s point.
“This old police dog lost its sense of smell. It is time for me to retire!” he thought.
Detective Uvarov was beside himself from happiness. He cataloged all the evidence. The gun, however, in spite of the thorough search, was not found. This fact did not seem to bother the detective, since the recovered evidence was sufficient enough to put Kuvardin away for a very long time and to prove that he was guilty of murdering the journalist. The detective was anticipating how he would report the arrest of the murderer to the city district attorney in the morning and how his colleagues would envy him tomorrow.
The search at Kuvardin’s residence did not yield anything new. He lived in the central part of the city. The apartment was clean but simple: it was obvious that here everybody knew the value of money. Kuvardin’s wife could not believe that her husband was being arrested for murder. She kept crying and trying to calm down her children, who could not understand why their daddy was held in handcuffs and why that young man was searching their apartment and their schoolbooks and kids’ toys.
After the search was over, the police walked Kuvardin out from the apartment heavily guarded. On his way out, Kuvardin gave his wife a kiss and said to her with confidence, “Please calm down, honey, and take care of the kids. I am not guilty. This is a mistake. They will figure it out and let me out.”
After Major Kalashnikov placed Kuvardin in a temporary cell at the local police office, he was finally ready to go home. It was very late. He could not sleep all night. Somehow he could not believe that Kuvardin had killed his school friend. Something did not fit, but what was it? Suddenly he realized: what about the briefcase? Kuvardin mentioned that, during their conversation, Pravdin several times grabbed the briefcase and threatened that he would create some serious noise that would cause people to lose their jobs soon. He must have come into possession of some documents or publication that could create such an effect. Major Kalashnikov remembered well that there was no briefcase found at the crime scene.
“I need to connect with the wife of the deceased urgently to find out if she knows anything about the documents in that briefcase,” decided Major Kalashnikov.
The next morning Major Kalashnikov stopped by the city district attorney’s office. Detective Uvarov was beaming with happiness, shining like a polished samovar. The city district attorney publicly congratulated the detective for his quick, professional, and correct actions during Pravdin’s murder case. The city district attorney presented him as a role model for all of his colleagues.
“So, Ivan Ivanovich, we are in luck,” proclaimed Detective Uvarov happily. “The experts just informed me that all the fingerprints from the liquor bottles, glasses, and silverware matched Kuvardin’s. Considering the discovered evidence, he has no way out. The only thing he can do now is to confess, and the court will take it into account. In fact, we need to wrap up all the administrative details, and I think in about two to three months the case can go to court. For now you will remain under my command until we officially close the case.”
“Fine,” responded Major Kalashnikov. “I still have my doubts that Kuvardin committed this crime. First, he did not deny the fact that he was drinking with Pravdin that night. Hence all his fingerprints on silverware and bottles are explainable. This was even obvious without the expert conclusion. Second, we do not have results from the lab yet that confirm Kuvardin’s fingerprints on the stolen items. Just because we found these items at his place does not prove anything yet. Maybe somebody framed him. And third, we did not locate the actual firearm that was used in the murder. It is the single most important factor in solving this crime. Fourth, you are saying that the motive of the crime was the fact that Kuvardin did not want to return the money borrowed from his friend. However, this theory is plausible only if nobody else knew about Kuvardin’s debt. Then he could have killed Pravdin and all of it would have made sense. In this case, Kuvardin informed us about borrowing the money honestly, and Pravdin’s wife knew about it as well. Thus, this motive does not fit the crime. There must be something else,” Major Kalashnikov shared his doubts.
As expected, Detective Uvarov took Major Kalashnikov’s words personally. “Your job is to follow my orders and not to give me advice. I know myself what I should do. Kuvardin committed a crime, and you are trying to clear his name. If you continue on this path, I will have to report you to your superior,” he warned the major.
Major Kalashnikov left the city district attorney’s office extremely frustrated. He realized that Detective Uvarov would not listen to logic and was already sold on the idea that Kuvardin was the killer due to the uncovered evidence.
“What should I do? Should I just accept it, or should I stay true to my principles and find the real killer?” He thought for a moment. “I must fulfill my professional duty regardless of the cost,” he resolved within himself.
First, Major Kalashnikov decided to pay a visit to Pravdin’s widow to find out about the documents in the briefcase Kuvardin had mentioned. When he arrived, Pravdin’s wife was grieving. She was sitting at the table, going through old photographs. Major Kalashnikov expressed his condolences and said that he knew Pravdin personally and liked him a lot for his honesty, diligence, and lifelong quest for truth. It turned out that she already knew that Kuvardin was held on the suspicion of killing her husband.
Ekaterina Arkadievna sobbed a little bit and then said, “I don’t believe that Nikolay killed Konstantin. They were childhood friends and often as adults helped each other.” She pulled out a few photographs where both Pravdin and Kuvardin were standing hugging and smiling. She continued, “There were times when Konstantin borrowed money from Nikolay, and a few months ago Konstantin lent Nikolay a significant amount of money to buy a territory from the city for his furniture-assembly business. We happened to have this amount, and hence we offered it to him.”
“Ekaterina Arkadievna,” said Major Kalashnikov, “do you recall if somebody openly threatened your husband for his piercing words?”
“No,” she responded, “many people were angry at him, even hated him, but nobody threatened him openly. At least I never heard it, and my husband never mentioned it.”
“Then can you tell me,” continued Major Kalashnikov, “if your husband talked to you about some important documents that he got ahold of recently? And where did they come from?”
“Wait a minute,” responded Ekaterina Arkadievna, thinking. “Indeed, about two or three weeks before his death, he received a large envelope from one of his colleagues somewhere in Siberia. I remember it because he got very excited after that and kept saying, “Wow, this will go off like a bomb. This will cause a major explosion in the upper echelons of power. They will all lose their jobs!” What type of documents they were, I don’t know. He would not tell me any more about it.”
Major Kalashnikov asked her to show him the briefcase where her husband kept all the documents. She got up and went into the other room from which she brought back a worn leather briefcase. It did not have any special locks, just a regular metal clasp.
“Maybe there are documents in this briefcase that will shed some light on this murder,” Major Kalashnikov though nervously.
He carefully opened the briefcase as if he were opening a jewelry box. It was full of papers. With Ekaterina Arkadievna’s permission, he spread all the documents on the table and started studying them thoroughly. He was done in about an hour. Unfortunately, he did not find anything that touched the interests of individuals in power and could have caused a sensation. These were just the materials for the regular daily newspaper publication.
“If such documents truly existed, where did they disappear to?” thought Major Kalashnikov. “Could it be that the murderer found them and took them with him? Then how can I find out what the documents were and what they said?”
“Ekaterina Arkadievna, do you, by any chance, remember if your husband got that envelope from Siberia directly, or did he have to go down to the post office to pick it up?” he inquired, trying to find everything he could about the cursed documents.
“I am not one hundred percent positive, but as far as I can recall, the envelope was very large. He used to usually pick up this size envelope directly from the post office,” she responded.
Major Kalashnikov thanked Ekaterina Arkadievna and returned to the city police. There he found out that the bullet sleeves and the bullets themselves collected from the crime scene had been sent to the regional office to cross-check with the regional database: it was possible that this weapon had been used before in another crime. Based on his experience, Major Kalashnikov knew that these requests could take a long time, sometimes half a month or even longer. However, he did not expect a positive result.
“It is possible that this weapon was never logged in any database; hence I should not waste my time waiting for an answer but focus on locating the documents that Pravdin received from Siberia before his sudden death,” he thought.
Unfortunately, he could not get to it in the next couple of days. Detective Uvarov drowned him in administrative duties and errands. The detective was trying to close this case as soon as possible and reap the rewards. He did not doubt that he would get a promotion for it. The city district attorney had mentioned his good work a few times already at the morning briefings. However, according to the Russian criminal code, Detective Uvarov was required to conduct a number of administrative actions and analysis, which was time-consuming, before he could close the case. Besides, in spite of the uncovered evidence, Kuvardin continued to insist on his innocence. Detective Uvarov had lost his hope to use the uncovered evidence from Kuvardin’s office as the primary one in the case, since the fingerprints found on Pravdin’s wristwatch, the earrings, and the golden pendant were matched to the deceased journalist himself and his wife, not Kuvardin. This irritated Detective Uvarov, and he kept pushing for additional evidence to make the weak case against Kuvardin stronger.
At the same time, all of this further confirmed Major Kalashnikov’s initial opinion about the innocence of Kuvardin and that Kuvardin himself had become a random victim of circumstances. As they say, he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Major Kalashnikov decided to continue to work on his version of the crime, independent of Detective Uvarov.
About a week after his meeting with Ekaterina Arkadievna, Major Kalashnikov freed up some time from the requests of the annoying detective and stopped by the post office in the district where Pravdin lived.
The head of the local post office told Major Kalashnikov that the receiver of the large envelope had to sign for it and all the signature notifications were stored in one place at the post office for a period of one year. Since all of the notifications were kept in small boxes, it could take her about an hour to locate the right one, since each one had to be looked at individually. Major Kalashnikov was fine with that. When he came back at the agreed upon time, the head of the post office handed him the notification that read, “Receiver: Pravdin Konstantin Viktorovich; address: 12 Dachnaya Street; Sender: the editor’s office of the newspaper the Lights of Siberia, Krasnoyarsk.”
Major Kalashnikov’s heart started to beat faster, and he thought, “That means that Ekaterina did not make a mistake. These documents from Siberia indeed exists! Now I need to find out what was in that document that prompted somebody to kill Pravdin.”
He returned to the local police in a hurry and made a few phone calls to police department of Krasnoyarsk. He quickly located the main phone number for the Lights of Siberia. A few minutes later, he was talking to one of the staff members of this newspaper, who informed him that reporter Obraztsov Viktor Nikolaevich had mailed this envelope about a month ago. He happened to be on a business trip at the moment covering the newly discovered oil sites and was expected back in a week. The reporter asked Major Kalashnikov to call back then. He thanked the staff member, hung up the phone, wrote down the newspaper phone number and fell into a deep thought.
“How unfortunate that this journalist is not around. I could have known today if these documents from far-away Siberia have any connection to Pravdin’s murder. Oh well, I would have to wait another week to find out.”
The week went by in anticipation and doing various errands for Detective Uvarov. After talking to multiple acquaintances and friends of Kuvardin, it became obvious that he never owned a gun and never was interested in any kind of weapon. Everybody said that his weapon was his fist. By that time, Major Kalashnikov had received the official criminalistics lab report from the regional office for the origin of the bullets found at the crime scene and extracted from the victim’s body. The report showed that the murder weapon was a weapon of foreign origin. Its barrel was shaved to fit the bullets normally used in a Makarov pistol. The weapon had a silencer attached to the barrel; thus the neighbors did not hear the shots. This type of weapon was not registered in the central database or attached to any crime. Hence, Detective Uvarov could not get extra proof through this weapon.
When the long, drawn-out, and full-of-anticipation week was over, Major Kalashnikov called the editor’s office at the Lights of Siberia in Krasnoyarsk. He asked if Obraztsov Viktor Nikolaevich was back. Major Kalashnikov waited for a while on the line when he finally heard, “Obraztsov speaking.”
“This is Major Ivan Ivanovich Kalashnikov from the criminal investigation department of Morskoy,” he introduced himself.
“Why are the police looking for me, especially from the Far East? What can I do for you?” inquired Obraztsov, surprised.
“Did you know the reporter Pravdin Konstantin Viktorovich?’
“Why are you asking me in the past tense? I have known him for a very long time. We graduated from the Far Eastern State University together, majoring in journalism. Why are you asking? Did anything happen to him?” he said with concern.
“Yes,” responded Major Kalashnikov. “A terrible thing has happened. He was murdered.”
“Ah, how many times my colleagues and I told him to be careful! He never listened to anybody; he only followed his conscience all his life, even when we were in school. Always fighting for truth! ‘There will be a time when people will serve their country honestly and nobly, but it is not that time yet,’ he used to say often. Oh, what a tragedy that we keep losing such honest people. He was such a talented journalist. And how can I help you?”
“About a month ago you mailed him a large envelope with some materials. I am working on solving that crime and would like to find out the contents of that envelope,” said Major Kalashnikov.
“I can help you with that. Pravdin asked me to look through publications of the past five years or so to see if I could find any articles related to one of the BAM-railroad-project construction workers. I can’t remember his name. Let me look through my notebook, maybe I can find it…I got it!” he continued in a minute. “His name was Sibirtsev Vladislav Grigorievich. Pravdin instructed me to locate the article specifically with the picture of this worker. Finally I found it with some difficulty going through our old archives and forwarded it to him. I was going to call and ask him later why he needed that newspaper but was too busy to make a call.”
“Viktor Nikolaevich, can you locate another copy of this article?” inquired Major Kalashnikov.
“Unfortunately not,” responded Obraztsov. “There was only one copy of this article in the archives of this editor’s office, and I have mailed it to Pravdin. I can’t help you any more.”
Major Kalashnikov sincerely thanked Obraztsov for the information. Then he sat down at his desk and started thinking, “Sibirtsev Vladislav Grigorievich…this is quite a known figure in this city, the son-in-law of the mayor himself, a high-power administrative figure, the deputy of Duma, and a personal friend of the city district attorney and the head of the police. Why did Pravdin request his colleague to send him an article with his photograph and description of his former job? Maybe he just wanted to write about Sibirtsev’s prior and current success since he was so prominent in the city? But that does not sound right. Pravdin would not promote a person through the press who was considered city elite. Instead, he would criticize the elite for its attitude toward the needs of a regular man, corruption and bribery within its bureaucratic mechanism. And as far as I can recall, during the election campaign in Duma, Pravdin negatively brushed over this individual in one of his articles. Well, maybe I should just stop by the Ocean Star’s editor’s office and see if I can find out anything from his colleagues about this newspaper, or maybe it is just there waiting for me!”
Acting on his thoughts, Major Kalashnikov walked into the editor’s office at the Ocean Star and met with two of Pravdin’s colleagues, who were discussing what to do next. The whole newspaper had been carried on Pravdin’s shoulders, and after his death it would probably have to be closed. Major Kalashnikov asked the journalists if Pravdin had showed them the newspaper with the photo of Sibirtsev sent to him by his colleague from Krasnoyarsk. The journalists shook their heads and claimed that he had never mentioned to them the existence of this newspaper, and that it was not among his documents in his office. They had just yesterday finished reviewing of all his documents and work correspondence so that they could pass on everything to Ekaterina Arkadievna, together with the ownership transfer of the newspaper.
“Pravdin never spoke of Sibirtsev positively. In fact, he considered him a leech and a career politician,” they said. As proof, they showed Major Kalashnikov the article in which Pravdin negatively mentioned Sibirtsev during the election campaign.
Major Kalashnikov had seen this article before but never thought much about it: the election campaign was happening, and hence all the candidates were trying to discredit their competitors using the press and other means. Now he decided to look at it deeper and work another angle. Indeed! A peculiar thing caught his attention toward the end of the article: Pravdin was saying that the citizens knew nothing about that Duma candidate, including his former work on the BAM railroad project. If fact, he mentioned that it would be good to find out more about Sibirtsev’s past and posed a question toward the end: “Who are you, Mr. X?”
When Major Kalashnikov was ready to head out, one of the journalists unexpectedly said, “Hold on a minute. I just remembered that about a week and a half before this tragedy, Pravdin mentioned that he was going to interview Sibirtsev. When I asked him about the purpose of the interview, he only smiled and said that he would explain soon. Whether he did interview him or not, I don’t know. He never told us.”
“Now it all makes sense why Pravdin needed the newspaper with the article on the old achievements of Sibirtsev,” thought Major Kalashnikov, coming out of the editor’s office. “He was probably trying to confirm that the BAM experience was real and not some made-up fact to increase the prestige of Sibirtsev. But where did this newspaper go? It is not in the editor’s office and not in the house of the deceased. He would not throw it away, would he? Maybe he went to interview Sibirtsev and presented him with that newspaper as a pleasant surprise? That seems plausible. But the strangest thing is that Pravdin was murdered a week and a half after that potential interview with Sibirtsev. It could be just a coincidence…or not,” Major Kalashnikov kept thinking in an effort to find some type of a logical link among all these events and facts.
He decided to stop by Duma and see if there was a record of that meeting between Sibirtsev and Pravdin. Major Kalashnikov got lucky. According to city regulations, all citizens coming to see the deputies of Duma had to sign in at the security desk. The young lady at the security office did not want to give him the information for a long time, referring to the internal protocol. She requested an official inquiry from the police office so that she could release the information to him. Finally he was able to convince her to do so by emphasizing the urgency of his request but had to write an official inquiry, where he indicated his name, rank, and the service identification number.
This was against Major Kalashnikov’s plans since he did not want anybody, especially Sibirtsev, to find out that he was snooping around. However, he had no choice but to take the risk, cursing in his mind this bureaucratic system to obtain a simple confirmation. The confirmation read that Pravdin Konstantin Viktorovich, the journalist of the Ocean Star, met with the deputy of Duma Sibirtsev Vladislav Grigorievich on June 26 at 2:00 p.m. with the purpose to conduct an interview for his newspaper.
“So he did meet with Sibirtsev. Why then there were no notes found at either the editor’s office or Pravdin’s home office on the results of this meeting? It is very strange that I keep hearing about this newspaper from Krasnoyarsk,” thought Major Kalashnikov. “Maybe Pravdin found some dirt on Sibirtsev during his work on the BAM railroad project and was planning to publish it. Ekaterina mentioned to me that, after Pravdin received the envelope from Siberia, he excitedly told her that he would publish some explosive material that would cause people to lose their jobs. He told the same thing to Kuvardin as well. Pravdin was a professional, and if he talked about explosive material, he meant a sensation that would affect multiple people. Then he indeed was in possession of that material, and it was closely connected with that newspaper from Siberia. That was just logical. Maybe Sibirtsev was not that honest if Pravdin was so interested in him? Since the journalist is dead, I should take a closer look at this Sibirtsev—everything points out toward him,” Major Kalashnikov finally decided.
He got back to his office and prepared a secret inquiry to the regional office on Sibirtsev, using known biographical information, to check if Sibirtsev had prior criminal records. Not to waste time, the next day he went to the Construction Trust and carefully, not to raise suspicions, inquired about Sibirtsev while posing as a federal revenue office agent. He was able to find out that Sibirtsev was on a business trip for a month in Shtikovo starting with the fifth of July as the head of one of the projects there. Most of his colleagues spoke of him very negatively as a person. They said that he was an ambitious career man, who had successfully married the mayor’s daughter, and that he would not work long at the trust since his father-in-law would find him a better position.
“Sibirtsev was on a business trip at the time when Pravdin was killed. He seems to have a strong alibi,” thought Major Kalashnikov. “Could I be wrong in my suspicions that this murder is directly connected to that newspaper from Siberia?” He thought a moment longer. “No, my intuition tells me that there should be a connection between both events. I will have to wait on the background check to see if anything develops from there,” reasoned Major Kalashnikov.
A week later he got the response on his inquiry. To Major Kalashnikov’s biggest frustration, Sibirtsev did not have any criminal past. At the same time, Major Kalashnikov could not shake off the thought, why did Pravdin mention that he would publish scandalous material that would shake up the men of power in connection with his receipt of that newspaper from Siberia? How did Sibirtsev’s past in the different region of Russia relate to the current events in the city and impact not only his own future but also the lives of the men-in-power? What would help to understand it all and to find out more about it?
“Maybe I should just fly to Krasnoyarsk myself and do some digging on Sibirtsev there? I doubt that my superiors would agree on that since I am so close to retirement. What basis do I have for this trip? How can I argue that this trip is necessary? I can’t openly share my suspicions regarding Sibirtsev with the head of the police and Detective Uvarov. They would never believe or support me. So unfortunate! I would love to solve this crime once and for all.”
The days flew one after another. Major Kalashnikov felt tormented. He continued to work on Detective Uvarov’s tasks and a few times attempted to convince the detective that the current evidence was not enough to charge Kuvardin with murder. Detective Uvarov did not want to listen to him and his reasons. In fact, the detective complained to the city district attorney, who reprimanded the head of the police and who, in turn, reprimanded Major Kalashnikov and finally removed him from Pravdin’s murder case. Kalashnikov was very upset that he could not finish the case. After that, nobody gave Major Kalashnikov any serious cases, and he occupied himself with small stuff, waiting for the arrival of the retirement package from the regional ministry of affairs.
It was fall already. Detective Uvarov successfully wrapped up the criminal murder case of Pravdin by Kuvardin and forwarded it to the court. As expected, the city district attorney noted Detective Uvarov’s contribution and promoted him to Senior Detective in the Major Case Squad.
Major Kalashnikov had almost accepted the current outcome when, one day during the morning briefing, the head of the criminal department said, “Ivan Ivanovich, you have some extra capacity. Until you get your retirement package and before you get absolutely bored, I want to send you to Krasnoyarsk for about ten days. Our colleagues there have detained a citizen by the last name of Surkov for murder committed on their territory. During his search they found documents and jewelry listed in one of our local unsolved burglary cases, the one that happened last year with the general director of the oil exchange. I need you to question the detainee in connection with our case. How is your health? Will you be able to fly on this business trip?”
Major Kalashnikov was speechless initially. “Here is my lucky chance! I will have an opportunity to check my suspicions on Sibirtsev myself,” he thought. Afraid that the head of the criminal department might change his mind, he responded promptly, “My health is excellent, and I am ready to fly even today.”
“Perfect, please start on the administrative paperwork for the business trip right after the briefing. I will get you all necessary approvals before noon today. There is no need to rush. Since today is Thursday, I will talk to our colleagues from Krasnoyarsk and tell them to expect you there on Monday. In the meantime you will book the trip, including the plane tickets, and will work with the detective who was assigned to the original burglary case through the list of questions that you would need to ask the detainee,” responded the head of the department.
By the end of the day, Major Kalashnikov already had all the travel documents. Even though he was eager to fly out to Krasnoyarsk immediately, he had to follow the directions of the head of the department and thus bought the plane tickets for the first flight on Sunday morning. All Friday he spent talking to the detective on that case, looking through the case materials and going over the list of questions, and he decided he would drive to his cottage in the suburbs on Saturday to take care of a few things before the winter season and at the same time spend some time in the fresh air.
Saturday turned out to be a gorgeous day. It was sunny and not windy. It got below freezing at night, and it was slightly frosty in the morning. It was November, and the roads were usually icy that time of year—the tragedy of all drivers in the Far East. So, that morning, Major Kalashnikov together with his son, changed the tires on his car to the winter ones. His wife and son tried to talk him out of going, but Major Kalashnikov calmed them down by saying that the tires were brand new and the car would be able to manage any icy conditions on the road. Besides it was not the first time for him to drive these roads in the similar conditions.
He got to the cottage fast. He was in an excellent mood. The next he was flying to Krasnoyarsk and possibly would resolve once and for all the question that had been bothering him about the content of that local newspaper with the article about the BAM railroad project, which had cost Pravdin his life.
He worked on the cottage for about three hours and then decided that it was time to head back. The road took him through the thick forest and then wound around small hills like a snake going sharply up and down. Major Kalashnikov knew this road like the back of his hand after having driven on it for many years, and if needed, he could drive on it with his eyes closed. Regardless, due to the frosty road conditions, Major Kalashnikov tried not to take any risks and was carefully watching his speed and breaking very softly as he knew that any careless move could send the car out of control, making an accident inevitable.
He had already driven half the way to the house and slowed down to a minimum speed since he was coming up on a very steep slope. Everything was going well. Suddenly his car sharply cut to the right and turned 360 degrees. He tried to straighten the car, but all his efforts were useless. He lost control, and the car plunged downhill at a high speed, occasionally going side to side. The last thing that Major Kalashnikov saw was the wheel from his car that was, for some reason, rolling fast downhill – the wheel came off – and then he felt a hit and lost consciousness.
He regained consciousness on the fourth day after the accident. The doctors did not have much hope for his recovery due to large loss of blood and multiple fractures of the legs and ribs. However, his heart was strong, and by some miracle Major Kalashnikov slowly started to recover. So far only his wife and his son were allowed to see him since he was kept in the intensive-care unit, and his condition was still critical. They said that he got extremely lucky. Drivers typically avoid this road late in the fall, but that day, to his luck, a neighbor was on a tractor, taking construction materials to his cottage in that area. He was the one who discovered Major Kalashnikov bleeding out on the road. If he stayed there longer without being discovered, he would have frozen to death as the temperature was dropping rapidly. So it was a true miracle that he made it. The car was totally flattened.
The police concluded that the cause of the accident was the fact that, when they were changing the tires, they did not properly tighten all the bolts on the right wheel. In the process of movement, the bolts became loose, the wheel fell off on the steep slope, and the car was sent downhill with accelerating speed.
“How is it possible, Dad?” asked his son in distraught. “We did a good job with those bolts. They should have not gotten loose.”
“You are right, son. We did do a good job. I remember it well. Besides, you know me. I am extremely anal about this. After we finished the job, I myself double-checked the bolts. This is out of the question. There must be another reason. Somebody did not want me to fly to Krasnoyarsk and decided to take me out of the game. Luckily I am alive. Once I recover, I can figure out the next steps. Maybe someday I will find out the truth about who did it. Maybe I will finally solve this puzzle.”
About two months through his recovery, his retirement documents came in, and his colleagues and former boss stopped by the hospital to give him his retirement presents and wish him a speedy recovery. A few months later, he was finally able to leave the hospital on crutches, accompanied by his wife and son. He was home again.
All these months on the hospital bed and then at home he continued to think, “Who managed to loosen the bolts on my right wheel? Who wanted me out of the game?”
The question remained unanswered for him…for now.