The business of lighting the cigarettes draws them close. Russov seems
calmer now. Although his fingers fumble with the lighter's catch, they
'Good to get a breath of fresh air.'
'Yes,' Andrei agrees, 'but you'll have to excuse me in a minute. I have
a patient going into X-ray at two, and I need a word with the radiographer
first - '
'Of course. This won't take a moment.'
But still he won't come to the point. Just keeps on dragging at his
cigarette and blowing out jerky puffs, like a boy who is smoking for the
first time. Like Kolya.
'It's a new patient. A tricky case.'
Andrei nods. 'Would you like me to take a look?'
Russov's face twitches into a smile. 'It's not a question of diagnosis
precisely,' he says, with an attempt at his usual manner of lofty certainty,
'but of defining exactly what tests ought to be carried out at this stage.'
'So what are the symptoms?'
'In a case such as this... Well, in such a case one needs to be a hundred
per cent certain before one takes the next step.'
'I'm not sure I understand you. What are your initial findings?'
Russov gives a sudden harsh bark of laughter which transforms his
face completely. He looks almost savage. His short hair seems to bristle.
'My "initial findings" are that this patient is the son of - of an extremely
'Ah. And how old is the boy?'
'And so it's a joint problem, is it? Is that why you've come to me?' Why
doesn't Russov get to the point?
'He's Volkov's son,' says Russov abruptly.
'Volkov's?' My God. It's one of those names you only have to say once,
like Yezhov or Beria. Andrei's heart thuds, and he has to clear his throat
before speaking. 'The Volkov, you mean?'
Russov just nods, and then rushes on. 'A joint problem, yes, I'm pretty
sure that's what it is. There's swelling and redness and so on, pain on
articulation, heat to the touch. That's why I've come to you. All the
symptoms point to juvenile arthritis and you're the man for that. I haven't
ordered tests yet, it's pure guesswork,' he adds hastily.
'You'd like me to take a look.'
'If you would. If you would, my dear chap, I tell you, I'd be eternally
My dear chap? Eternally grateful? Sweat is still leaking from the pores of
dry, competent Russov. He never talks like this. What the hell is going on?
The breeze is warm and sweet, but ice touches Andrei. There's much
more here than he's being told. Russov fears that this child is seriously
ill. He wants Andrei to see the boy, take on the case, order the tests and
then give the verdict to the family. Russov will do anything not to be the
bearer of bad news to Volkov. It won't be Russov's face that Volkov will
remember with the cold, hard rage that such a man will feel for anything
he can't control.
Russov drops his cigarette butt, grinds it into the path and then
smoothes clean gravel over the spot with his heel. Andrei says nothing.
He finds himself staring at the lime leaves as if he's never seen them
before. They are so fresh and vigorous. Amazing how trees always look as
if they've been there for ever, even when you can remember the women
stamping down earth over their bare roots.
Russov clears his throat. 'It struck me as just possible that there might
be something I've overlooked. There's a risk of setting off in the wrong
direction - ordering the wrong tests, for instance. In a case of such significance
for... for the hospital, we can't afford any margin of error.'
And he actually has the nerve to look at Andrei self-righteously, as if
Andrei is the one who has neglected to think about the greater good
of the hospital community. Andrei stares back blankly. Russov's eyes
drop. 'For example...' he mumbles. 'For example, you'll recall the little
girl with the spleen.'
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