THE NEW WATCH
This is a dubious text for the Cause of Light.
This is a dubious text for the Cause of Darkness.
SENIOR SERGEANT DMITRY Pastukhov was a good
Of course, for the purpose of enlightening drunks who got a bit above themselves he sometimes employed measures not actually prescribed by the regulations – a few good smacks in the teeth or well-aimed kicks, for instance. But only in cases where the dipso concerned was getting a bit too pushy about his rights, or refusing to proceed to the drunk tank. And Dima wouldn’t actually spurn a five-hundred note shaken out of some lunk from the Ukraine or Central Asia who didn’t have a residence permit – after all, what with police pay being so low, the offenders might just as well pay him their fines directly. Nor did he raise any objections when he was poured a shot of cognac instead of a glass of water in eating joints on the territory under his purview.
After all, it was a demanding job. It was dangerous and difficult. And at first glance people hardly even seemed to notice it. There had to be some material incentives.
But, on the other hand, Dima had never beaten money out of prostitutes and pimps. On principle. Something in the way he’d been raised wouldn’t let him do it. Dima didn’t waste time dragging slightly tipsy citizens off to the sobering-up station while they still retained a glimmer of reason. And when he uncovered a real crime he launched himself into pursuit of the perpetrators like a shot. He always searched conscientiously for clues and submitted reports on instances of petty theft (that was if the victims insisted on it, of course) and he made an effort to remember the faces of persons on the ‘wanted’ list. He had several significant arrests under his belt, including a genuine murderer – a man who had first stabbed his wife’s lover (which was forgivable) and then his wife (which was understandable) and then, still brandishing the knife, had gone after the neighbour who had informed him about his wife’s infidelity. Outraged at such black ingratitude, the neighbour had locked himself in his apartment and called the police on 02. Arriving in response to the summons, Dima Pastukhov had first detained the murderer, who was pounding impotently on the iron door with his blood-smeared, puny little intellectual’s fists, and then struggled for a long time with his own desire to drag the whistle-blowing neighbour out onto the stairs and rearrange his face.
So Dima regarded himself as a good policeman – which wasn’t really all that far from the truth. Compared with the example set by some of his colleagues, he stood out, seeming every bit as diligent as the militiaman Svistulkin in that old Soviet children’s favourite
The only blot on Dima’s service record dated back to January 1998: still young and green then, he had been on patrol in the Exhibition of Economic Achievements district with Sergeant Kaminsky, who was by way of being the young militiaman’s mentor. (They were still called ‘militiamen’, or simply ‘cops’, back then: the fashionable word ‘policeman’ and the slightly offensive term ‘
And then everything went pear-shaped. It was some kind of black-magic voodoo. The tipsy suspect fixed the two partners with a surprisingly sober stare (that stare was sober all right, but there was something savage and chilling about it, like the look in the eyes of a stray dog that had lost all faith in people a very long time ago) and advised the militiamen to get drunk themselves.
And they did as he said. They walked over to the trading kiosks (Yeltsin’s chaotic reign was already in its final years, but vodka was still sold openly in the street) and, giggling like lunatics, they each bought a bottle exactly like the one carried by the drunk who had given them such sound advice. Then they bought another two. And another two.
Three hours later Pastukhov and Kaminsky, feeling very witty and merry at this stage, were picked up by one of their own patrols – and that was what saved them. They caught it in the neck, all right, but they weren’t flung out of the militia. After that Kaminsky gave up drinking altogether and swore blind that the drunk they’d met must have been a hypnotist or even some kind of psychic. Pastukhov himself didn’t slander the man pointlessly or indulge in idle speculation. But he clung on very tightly to the memory of him … with the sole intention of making sure he never crossed his path again.
Perhaps it was the powerful memory of that shameful binge, or perhaps Pastukhov had simply developed some unusual abilities, but after a while he started noticing other people with strange eyes. To himself Pastukhov called these people ‘wolves’ and ‘dogs’.
The first group had the calm indifference of the predator in their gaze: not malicious, no, the wolf harries the sheep without malice – more likely, in fact, with love. Pastukhov simply steered clear of their kind, trying hard not to attract any attention in the process.
The second group, who were more like that first young drunk, had a dog-like look in their eyes. Sometimes guilty, sometimes patient and concerned, sometimes sad. There was just one thing that bothered Pastukhov: that wasn’t the way dogs looked at their masters, at best it was the way they looked at their master’s whelp. And so Pastukhov tried to steer clear of them too.
And for quite a long time he managed it.
If children are life’s flowers, then this child was a blooming cactus.
He started yelling the moment the doors of the Sheremetyevo-D terminal slid open and he came in. His mother, red-faced with anger and shame (the shouting was obviously a repeat performance), was dragging him along by the hand, but the boy was leaning backwards, bracing himself with both feet, and howling: ‘I won’t! I won’t! I won’t fly! Mummy, don’t! The plane’s going to crash!’
His mother let go of his hand and the boy slumped to the floor and stayed sitting there: a fat, hysterical, tear-stained, unattractive child, dressed a little bit too lightly for the Moscow weather in June – there was obviously a flight to warmer climes in prospect.
A man sitting at a cafe table about twenty metres away from them got up, almost knocking over his unfinished mug of beer. He looked for a few moments at the boy and the mother who was trying to din something into her son’s head. Then he sat down and said in a quiet voice: ‘That’s appalling. What a nightmare!’
‘I think so, too,’ agreed the young woman sitting opposite him. She put down her cup of coffee and gave the boy a hostile look. ‘I’d call it sordid.’
‘Well, I don’t see anything sordid about it,’ the man said gently. ‘But it’s certainly appalling … no doubt about that …’
‘I personally—’ the young woman began, but stopped when she saw the man wasn’t listening.
He took out a phone. Dialled a number. Spoke in a quiet voice: ‘I need a level-one clearance. One or two. No, I’m not joking. Try to find one …’
He broke off the call, looked at the young woman and nodded. ‘I’m sorry, an urgent call … What were you saying?’
‘I personally am child-free,’ the young woman declared defiantly.
‘Free of children? Are you infertile, then?’
The young woman shook her head. ‘A common misapprehension. We child-free women are opposed to children because they enslave us. We have to choose – between being a proud, free individual or a social appendage to the population’s reproductive mechanism!’
‘Ah,’ the man said, with a nod. ‘And I thought … you had health problems. I was going to recommend a good doctor … But you do accept sex, though?’
The young woman smiled. ‘Naturally! We’re not asexual, are we? Sex and marriage – that’s all very good and normal. It’s just … tying yourself to those creatures that are always yelling and running around and—’
‘And pooping,’ the man suggested. ‘They’re always pooping as well, aren’t they? And they can’t even wipe their own backsides at first.’
‘Pooping!’ the young woman agreed. ‘That’s it precisely! Spending the best years of your life serving the needs of undeveloped human juveniles … I hope you’re not going to lecture me on morals and try to persuade me to change my mind and have a huge brood of kiddies.’
‘No, I’m not. I believe you. I’m quite certain you’ll remain childless to the end of your life.’
The boy and his mother walked past: the child was slightly calmer now or, more likely, he had simply resigned himself to the fact that the flight was going to happen. The mother was speaking to her son in a low v ...