José, there is nothing in this stupid place!”
Vasily Putskya sits on the edge of the rumpled double bed. The tiny apartment is a mess, but that’s not entirely his
fault. The old woman who lives in it is an even bigger slob than he is. Dirty clothes litter the floor, old newspapers are
stacked high, and every tabletop is cluttered with crap, none of it possessing any street value. The bed with a gigantic maple
headboard looks like something shipped from Russia when the czar was still on the throne.
Putskya adjusts his Bluetooth headset. “José, I
said there is nothing in this stupid apartment. No jewelry. No money. No toys. There is nothing in this place to steal. Nothing!”
“Did you check the freezer?” the voice
in his ear asks. “Check the freezer.”
Putskya rolls his eyes. He removes his Yankees baseball cap to run his hand over his head in frustration but stops because
of the latex gloves on both hands. “Yes, of course I check. Everything. Freezer. Bathroom cabinet. Suitcase under bed.
Closet. Shoeboxes. There is nothing. Unless you want something called Crock Pot.”
“Ya … govno!”
thought that old woman would have a ton of money hiding somewhere,” the voice groans.
“Well you make mistake. There is nothing here. She is poor like Russian peasant
poor, which is the poor of all the poor. It is poor as they come.” He picks up a book on the bedside table. It is Crime
and Punishment by Dostoyevsky—in Russian. “Ah, in fact she may really
be Russian peasant.”
“What?” the voice asks. “Listen, Vasily, there’s a lot of traffic out here, you have to speak up for
me to hear you, man.”
“Never mind! There is nothing here worth stealing. You idiot. You send me into apartment of poor old Russian woman with
nothing to steal.”
Suddenly the voice in Putskya’s ear becomes excited. “Oh, mierda.
Ella entra el edificio. Mierda!”
“What? Speak English!”
“Ella viene. Ahora mismo.”
Putskya knows something is wrong but he has no idea what. He runs to the door to look through the peephole
viewer. The stairwell is dark and quiet. Ready to bolt from the apartment, he rips off the latex gloves and stuffs them into
his pocket. He whispers hard and clear into his headset.
“Listen, José, I don’t speak Spanish. So unless you learn Russian really fast, you have to
“Vasily, she is coming.
She just entered the building. Walk up the staircase so she doesn’t see you. Wait for her to go into the apartment,
then come back down.”
Okay.” Putskya runs to the telephone concealed under a pile of Verizon and Con Edison bills. Gripping the phone
cord, he rips hard, making certain the plastic tab breaks from the jack so the phone will not function. He quietly opens the
apartment door, steps out, closes the door, then races up the steps to the small landing, where he stands in silence, waiting
for the woman’s slow-moving footsteps to reach apartment 7.
“Eh …” she mutters, finding that the door pushes open when she tries to insert her key. “Oh govno!”
she exclaims, noticing the ripped doorframe. After she enters her apartment, Putskya quickly darts down the steps, tiptoeing
past her broken door as she shouts wildly in Russian.
Wow, Putskya thinks, that old woman curses better than I do. He pauses in front of apartment 4, directly below
hers. It too has an ancient wooden door. He could easily pop it open. If nobody is home, he could be in and out in twenty
seconds. It’ll take the old woman upstairs longer than that to call the police, even if she has a cell phone, which
she probably doesn’t. It’s a little risky, but it’s better than going back to José’s
car empty-handed. Above him, he hears the old woman cursing about shoeboxes turned upside down and her rifled clothes
closet. What’s it to her? She’s such a slob, what difference does it make? Besides, he didn’t even steal
“Hey, Vasily. You okay?”
“Yeah. Hold on. I’m going to try
apartment number 4 directly below.”
okay. Be fast man.”
Vasily knocks on the
door. Nothing. He knocks again. Still nothing.
“Okay, José. Here goes.”
He pulls a crowbar from his right pants leg, inserts the end into the doorjamb just below the deadbolt, and pulls firmly.
The wood is so old it barely makes a sound when the lock pops free.
“I’m in,” he whispers to his partner.