Polina Dashkova: Madness Treads Lightly

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Polina Dashkova Madness Treads Lightly
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    Madness Treads Lightly
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Madness Treads Lightly: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Only three people can connect a present-day murderer to a serial killer who, fourteen years ago, terrorized a small Siberian town. And one of them is already dead. As a working mother, Lena Polyanskaya has her hands full. She’s busy caring for her two-year-old daughter, editing a successful magazine, and supporting her husband, a high-ranking colonel in counterintelligence. She doesn’t have time to play amateur detective. But when a close friend’s suspicious death is labeled a suicide, she’s determined to prove he wouldn’t have taken his own life. As Lena digs in to her investigation, all clues point to murder—and its connection to a string of grisly cold-case homicides that stretches back to the Soviet era. When another person in her circle falls victim, Lena fears she and her family may be next. She’s determined to do whatever it takes to protect them. But will learning the truth unmask a killer… or put her and her family in even more danger?

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Polina Dashkova



Moscow, March 1996

Lena Polyanskaya wrestled the stroller through the deep March slush and lumpy melting snow like a Volga boatman. The narrow street was lined with tall, hardened snowdrifts, and any speeding cars splashed the pedestrians with thick brown muck.

Two-year-old Liza kept trying to stand up in the stroller so she could walk on her own little feet. She thought she was too big for a stroller, and anyway, there were so many interesting things to look at: sparrows and ravens making a racket as they fought over wet bread crusts, a shaggy ginger pup chasing its own tail, and a bigger little boy walking toward them, gnawing on a bright red apple.

“Mama, Liza wants an apple, too,” the little girl informed her mother seriously, standing up yet again.

A big bag of groceries was hanging off the stroller handle, so the second Lena lifted Liza to seat her properly, the stroller tipped all the way back and the bag split open.

“All fall down,” Liza summed things up with a sigh, gazing from her mama’s arms to the groceries strewn through the muck.

“Yes, my love, all fall down. Now we’ll pick it all up.” Lena had carefully set her daughter on the sidewalk and was picking the groceries out of the slush and brushing them off with her glove when she noticed someone in a dark blue Volvo parked across the street, watching her intently. The tinted windows reflected the snowdrifts and pedestrians, so Lena couldn’t see exactly who was watching her, but she could feel that person’s gaze.

“We do make an entertaining spectacle.” She grinned as she managed to reattach the bag to the stroller handle, get Liza seated, and shake the dirt off her leather gloves.

When she turned into her own courtyard, she spotted the Volvo again. It drove by very closely, at minimum speed, as if the people in it wanted to remember exactly which door the young mother with the stroller entered.

There were two of them—a woman behind the wheel and a man in the passenger seat. Lena didn’t get a good look at them, but they got an excellent one of her.

“Are you certain?” the woman asked quietly after the door shut behind Lena.

“Absolutely. She’s barely changed in all these years.”

“She has to be thirty-six now,” the woman observed. “And that young mama couldn’t be over twenty-five. And the child’s so young. You haven’t mixed something up? It’s been a few years, after all.”

“No,” the man answered firmly. “I haven’t mixed anything up.”

The telephone trilled in the empty apartment.

“Can you talk now?” Lena barely recognized the voice of her dear friend and former classmate Olga Sinitsyna. The voice in the receiver was so strange, hoarse and very soft.

“Hi, Olga, what’s happened?” Lena pressed the receiver between her ear and shoulder and started untying the ribbons on Liza’s cap.

“Mitya’s dead,” Olga said very softly.

Lena thought she’d misheard.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?” she asked, pulling off Liza’s boots.

“Mama, Liza has to go,” her daughter solemnly informed her.

“Olga, are you home right now? I’ll call you back in fifteen minutes. I just walked in. I’ll get Liza undressed, put her on the potty, and call you right back.”

“Can I come over right now?” Olga asked quickly.

“Of course!”

Olga and Lena were the same age—thirty-six. Mitya Sinitsyn, Olga’s brother, was two years younger. How could a perfectly healthy thirty-four-year-old man full of strength and plans for the future who didn’t drink, use drugs, or have any connections to crime, drop dead?

Before Olga arrived, Lena managed to feed Liza lunch and put her to bed, wash the dishes, make a pot of cabbage soup, and start the laundry. Today she planned to translate at least five pages of a massive article about the latest psychological research on serial killers, “Cruelty and the Victim,” by the trendy American psychologist David Crowell.

Even though Liza was scarcely two, Lena worked a lot and still ran the same literature and art department at Smart magazine as she had before her daughter’s birth. The editor in chief had done his best to accommodate her and let her come in just two days a week. The lion’s share of her work she took home to finish at her computer at night. On her two in-house days, she left her daughter with a lonely old neighbor, since neither Lena nor her husband Sergei Krotov had living parents. Liza was growing up without grandmothers or grandfathers, and for Vera Fyodorovna, a well-educated pensioner, spending the day with a calm, loving child was sheer joy. And the money Lena and Sergei paid her came in handy, given her miserable pension.

“Don’t you think of sending my little Liza to day care!” Vera Fyodorovna would say. “As long as I’m on my feet and of sound mind, I’ll stay with her as much as you need.”

For Lena, having Vera Fyodorovna in the apartment across the way was a godsend. It wasn’t only that Sergei’s salary as a colonel in the Interior Ministry—he was deputy chief of the Criminal Division in the Domestic Counterintelligence Administration—barely supported them, but also that Lena herself couldn’t live without work. She realized she’d be replaced the instant she eased up even a little.

Lena’s time was scheduled down to the minute, and she was beyond exhausted, sleeping five hours a day at most. Now she only had one of her two precious hours of Liza’s afternoon nap left, that is, a good two pages of translation. But Lena didn’t even bother to sit down to her computer.

Ever since Olga’s call, all she could think about was Mitya. She imagined what must be going on now with his parents and his eighty-year-old grandmother, Zinaida Lukinichna, who, despite her advanced age, still had her wits and a keen perception of life… and death.

What could have happened to Mitya? An accident? Did a car run over him? Did a brick fall on his head? But everyone knows a brick doesn’t just fall on anybody’s head.

Lena had just turned on the electric kettle and poured coffee beans into the grinder when the doorbell rang.

Olga was standing in the doorway wearing a black kerchief, her grandmother’s, probably. Tousled, bright gold locks poked out helter-skelter. It was obvious at first glance that she hadn’t combed her hair or washed and had thrown on whatever was at hand. The news of Mitya’s death had caught her unawares. So it was an accident?

“He hanged himself,” Olga said in a dulled voice as she took off her coat. “He hanged himself last night, in his apartment. He looped his belt around the gas pipe above the kitchen door.”

“Where was his wife?” Lena asked quickly.

“Sleeping. Sleeping peacefully in the next room. She didn’t hear a thing.”

“Who found him?” Lena wanted to say “his body” but faltered. It was hard to refer that way to Mitya, who recently had dropped by for a visit and sat right here, on the kitchen sofa, sparking energy, health, and plans for the future.

“His wife. She woke up, went into the kitchen, and saw him.”

All of a sudden Lena noticed that Olga had stopped calling her brother’s wife by her name. Before she’d had nothing but praise for her.

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