Stuart M Kaminsky

A Fine Red Rain

Think carefully of the town we have seen in the play. Everybody agrees that there is no such town in Russia. But what if it were the town of our soul, lying within each of us?

Nikolai Gogol, The Denouement of the Inspector General


The man sitting on Gogol's shoulders was weeping and shouting, but Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov couldn't hear him. Rostnikov stood in Arbat Square across Gogol Boulevard, straining to hear the man's words over the gentle bump-thump of the light September rain. It was very early on a Monday morning. Buses and cars crept up Suvorov Boulevard. People on their way to work on Arbat Street and on the New Arbator Kalinin Prospekt, as it was officially knownclimbed off the buses or hurried out of the underground Arbatskaya Metro Station behind Rostnikov.

A few people, like Rostnikov, paused to watch the ranting man and wonder how he had climbed the statue, which stood tall and apparently unclimbable in the small park. People pressed their faces against the windows of the buses to catch a glimpse of the man on Gogol's shoulders. A Volga stopped and the bespectacled driver stepped out, cupped his right hand over his eyes, squinted at the man and Gogol, and got back in shaking his head.

'Gogol looks amused, like it's a game,' said an old man clutching a cloth bag. He had spoken to Rostnikov, who grunted in reply. Gogol did look amused. There was a small smile on the statue's face, and the man who clung to it had his arms wrapped around the statue's eyes so that it looked as if Gogol were trying to guess who the man might be.

'Gogol liked games,' the old man said.

Rostnikov grunted and looked around for a uniformed MVD police officer. Had he not made a routine stop to check on the possible sighting of a known pickpocket, Rostnikov would not now be standing in the rain. He looked again for a uniformed officer. Usually they were quite visible. Moscow is the center of the MVD, the national police responsible for minor law enforcement, initial crime inquiry, traffic, and drunks who climb public statues.

Rostnikov's left leg began to ache and he knew that he should get out of the rain. The leg had been injured when Rostnikov was a fifteen-year-old boy fighting the Germans outside Rostov. He had been labeled a hero then, had been made a policemanone of the youngest policemen in the Soviet Uniondespite his handicapped leg, had been honored with medals that made his father proud and his mother weep. Rostnikov had married, had fathered a son, had been promoted to inspector in the Procurator General's Office in Moscow. The Procurator General, appointed for seven-year terms, the longest term of any Soviet official, was responsible for sanctioning arrests, supervising investigations, execution of sentences, and supervision of trials. As an inspector in the office of the Procurator General, Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov had earned a reputation as a determined, intelligent investigator. But that was all in the past.

Rostnikov had recently been transferred 'on temporary but open-ended duty' to the MVDthe police, uniformed and ununiformed, who directed traffic, faced the public, and were the front line of defense against crime and for maintenance of order. It was clearly a demotion for Rostnikov's too-frequent clashes with the Komityet Gospudarstvennoy Besapasnosti, the State Security Agency, the KGB. It wasn't that Rostnikov was a troublemaker. Far from it. It was simply a matter of the KGB's being involved in so much that it was difficult to avoid them.

Rostnikov was now assigned to central MVD headquarters, serving directly under Colonel Snitkonoy, the Gray Wolfhound. Rostnikov's job was to handle assignments from the Wolfhound on less-than-important cases. After the investigations, if the doznaniye, or inquiry, indicated it, the cases might be turned over to the Procurator's Office for further investigation and prosecution, provided, of course, that the KGB did not label the cases political. Since the KGB could label as political everything from sabotage to driving over the thirty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit, every investigation had to be cleared with the KGB. Still, important cases of theft, robbery, and murder usually went to the Procurator's Office. Until August, Rostnikov had been a chief inspector in that office, pursuing the investigations of such important cases.

At the moment, however, Rostnikov was getting wet as he engaged in a literary debate with an old man.

'Jews and cossacks,' the old man next to Rostnikov said with a smile. The old man wore a soggy workman's cap and a faded gray jacket. A soppy cigarette that had long ago been stilled by the rain still sat in the corner of his mouth. 'Gogol was obsessed with Jews and cossacks,' the man explained.

'He was a Ukrainian,' said Rostnikov, straining to hear what the man who had now climbed onto Gogol's head was shouting. It was probably Rostnikov's responsibility to try to get the man down. It was a responsibility he preferred to deal with only if no other solution could be found. He had faced drunks and madmen throughout his career. It was always a disaster. Now, at fifty-five, Porfiry Petrovich wanted no more disasters. What he wanted was a young uniformed MVD officer or two who would gain valuable experience from dealing with this ranter and the traffic jam he was creating.

'Gogol was greater than Pushkin,' challenged the old man at Rostnikov's side. 'You know that.'

The crowd under Gogol's statue was growing and would soon spill into the street, tying up traffic.

'Pushkin praised Gogol's depth of feeling and poetry. Tolstoy called Gogol a genius,' said Rostnikov.

'I'm not questioning his genius,' insisted the old man. 'Who's questioning the genius of Gogol? Did I question his genius?' the old man asked. 'What I said was'

'Who is a genius?' interrupted a portly, well-dressed woman with a little mesh bag full of vegetables. 'That one's a genius?' She nodded at the ranting man perched on the statue.

'We're not talking about him,' corrected the old man. 'We're talking about Gogol.'

'Of course he was a genius,' said the woman. 'Who said he wasn't?'

The old man pointed at Rostnikov. 'He did.'

Rostnikov made up his mind and sighed. 'I'm a policeman,' he said.

'Then that's different,' said the old man, walking in one direction while the well-dressed woman with the vegetables headed toward the metro station.

The word fly came wailing from the man on the statue through the sound of gentle morning rain, heavy traffic, and the gathering curious. Rostnikov watched a young uniformed MVD officer push his way through the small, but growing, crowd. If the rain were to stop, the crowd would become a circus. The young policeman called out something official sounding to the man on Gogol's head, but the man laughed. The police officer looked confused, and someone called advice from the crowd. Rostnikov sighed and trudged across the square and Gogol Boulevard, holding out his hand to stop an advancing Moscova sedan that seemed determined to roll over him. At the fringe of the crowd, in spite of the rain, an enterprising man with a sad face badly needing a shave had set up a makeshift fold-out stand and was selling, or trying to sell, vegetable seeds.

'Five for a kopeck,' he shouted. 'All from Africa. They'll grow as big as your fist.'

Business was bad, but not terrible. A familyman, woman, and two young boysthat seemed to be from the country began to talk to the seed salesman without taking their eyes off the man on the statue. Rostnikov lumbered past them and made his way through the crowd.

'Don't shove,' said a young man with long hair. He was wearing American jeans and holding the hand of an equally young girl with practically no breasts who was also wearing jeansand a white T-shirt that had 'The Police' written on it in English. Rostnikov momentarily pondered the meaning of the message. Was it in support of the police? A subtle challenge? Why was it in English?

The rain had slowed, but not stopped, as Rostnikov pushed through the front row of the crowd and beard the police officer shout up at the man blasphemously atop Gogol, 'You are disrupting traffic and failing to display proper

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