I put my hat and gloves back on and went down the stairs. I walked up my street towards the Bulvar and turned into Kalininskaya. It was dark, and the only living things I saw outside were a gang of fat black crows convened around a rubbish bin. The ice that had formed underneath the drainpipes on the outsides of the buildings glistened blackly under the street lights.

When I reached the door of Konstantin Andreyevich’s building I did what homeless people do in Moscow on fatal winter nights: I rang the buzzers of all the apartments, which the homeless try in the hope that someone will carelessly or compassionately or drunkenly let them in to sleep in the stairwells. Someone answered, told me to get lost, but buzzed me in anyway, maybe by accident, and I climbed the stairs that curled around the caged elevator shaft to the third floor. I found Konstantin Andreyevich’s front door.

I could hear him breathing. I rang the bell, and heard a man’s voice mutter something and the squeak of his shoes on the inevitable parquet. I heard him stop maybe twenty centimetres from the door, and the creak of a leather coat as he leaned forward to look at me through the peephole. I could tell from his wheeze that he was a heavy smoker. He was close enough to shake my hand, or to slit my throat.

We stood like that, facing each other invisibly through the door, for what felt like a hundred years but was probably more like thirty seconds. Then he retched and spat. It was as though whoever it was felt obliged to go through the motions of pretending not to be there, but at the same time wanted to make it clear that he didn’t much care if somebody like me knew that he was. I turned and headed down the stairs, slowly at first, then fast, two and three stairs at a time, the way you might run away from a bear, hoping it doesn’t realize how scared you are.

On the ground floor I found an old woman collecting her post from one of the vandalized mail boxes.

“Excuse me,” I said in Russian, “do you know who is living in apartment thirty-two—Konstantin Andreyevich’s apartment?”

“The less you know,” she said without looking at me, “the longer you live.”