seller, buyer and sales assistant - understood that the real price would be three times higher.
Chechens cheated in the most devious way. Once a Chechen had the title in his hand, he paid only the official price, and there was as much chance of a seller getting the rest of his money as taking a bone from the jaws of a wolf. Of course the Chechen turned around and sold the car for full price. The tribe amassed fortunes at the South Port market. Not off every sale - that would destroy the incentive that brought fresh cars - but off an intelligent percentage. Chechens culled the market as if it were a flock of sheep that was all their own.
Jaak and Arkady dropped halfway down the queue and the detective nodded towards a car parked by itself at the end of the lane. It was an old, black, once-official Chaika sedan with a scalloped chrome grille rubbed to a mirror finish. Curtains were drawn across the side windows of the back seat.
'Fucking Arabs,' Jaak said.
'They're no more Arab than you are,' Arkady said. 'I thought you were free of prejudice. Makhmud is an old man.'
'I hope he's got the strength to show you his collection of skulls.'
Arkady went on alone. The last car for sale was a Lada so dented that it looked as if it had been rolled to the market end over end. Two young Chechens with tennis bags stopped to ask where he was headed. When Arkady mentioned Makhmud's name, they escorted him to the Lada, pushed him into the back, felt his arms, legs and torso for a gun or a wire and told him to wait. One went to the Chaika; the other got in front, opened his bag and turned to slide a gun between the two front seats so that the muzzle nestled in Arkady's lap.
The gun was a new single-barrel 'Bear' carbine cut to half-length and retooled for shot. The visors of the car were fringed with beads, the dash decorated with snapshots of grape vines, mosques, and decals of AC/DC and Pink Floyd. An older Chechen got in behind the wheel, ignored Arkady and opened the Koran, droning aloud as he read. He had a heavy gold ring on the little finger of each hand. Another got in beside Arkady with a skewer of shashlik wrapped in paper and handed pieces of meat to everyone, including Arkady, not in a friendly fashion, more as if he were a despised guest. All they needed were mustachios and bandoliers, Arkady thought. The Lada pointed away from the market, but in the rear-view mirror he occasionally caught sight of Jaak examining different cars.
Chechens had nothing to do with Arabs. Chechens were Tartars, a western tide of the Golden Horde that had settled in the fastness of the Caucasus Mountains. Arkady studied the postcards on the dash. The city with the mosque was their mountain capital of Grozny, as in 'Ivan Grozny' - 'Ivan the Terrible'. Did that twist the Chechen psyche a little-bit, growing up with a name like that?
Finally the first Chechen returned, accompanied by a boy not much bigger than a jockey. He had a heart-shaped face with raddled skin and eyes full of ambition. He reached into Arkady's jacket for his ID, studied it and slipped it back. To the man with the shotgun he said, 'He killed a prosecutor.' So by the time Arkady got out of the car, he was accorded some respect.
Arkady followed the boy up to the Chaika, where the rear door opened for him. A hand reached out and pulled him in by the collar.
Vintage Chaikas had a stately Soviet style: upholstered ceiling, elaborate ashtrays, banquette seats with corded piping, air conditioning, plenty of room for the boy and driver up front and Makhmud and Arkady in the back. Also bulletproof windows, he was sure.
Arkady had seen pictures of mummified figures dug from the ashes of Pompeii. They looked like Makhmud, bent and gaunt, no lashes or eyebrows, skin a parchment grey. Even his voice sounded burned. He turned stiffly, as if hinged, to hold his visitor at arm's length and stare with eyes as