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muscular arms. Then you notice his legs, stretching out on the bed toward me. They're thin,
frail, and useless.
“I do my best for my son,” Lyudmila says, almost apologetically. She points to the
wheelchair in the corner of the room. “He can't walk. The doorways in our flat are too nar-
row for the wheelchair. It doesn't fit in the bathroom, so I lift him up and put him on the
toilet. It's not easy.” She's smiling. “He's a big guy.”
We are sitting in awkward silence. “Alexei, may I hear your story?”
He's told it before and is happy to tell it again, grateful for as many people in the world
as possible to know what happened—because, he says, too many in Russia just look the
other way.
“I used to be a traffic cop. One night in 1998 I was off duty, driving home with a friend,
and two girls on the side of the road needed a ride.”
As we know, it's fairly common in this country for strangers to pick up people who want
a lift.
“One of the girls asked to be dropped off at one spot. Then I dropped my friend off.
Then I drove the other girl a bit farther and dropped her off. The next day I got a call from
a colleague who said there was a girl missing in the city. He asked if I would come in to the
office to give any information I could. Turns out it was one of the girls, and the other girl
remembered my car and told the police about the ride. I put on my uniform and went to the
office to help in any way I could.”
He could tell immediately something was wrong: “An officer said I was being charged
with a crime. He said that fact that I gave this girl a ride meant I must have kidnapped her.
They said the fact that I asked the girls to fasten their seat belts was evidence that I was
restricting their freedom.”
Alexei was detained, and then things only got worse: “Soon, they charged me with rape
and murder.”
Lyudmila is giving her son a look of proud determination, hoping his strength grows
each time he recounts this. Alexei uses his powerful forearms to lift himself higher up, so
his back is more upright and he can look more easily at me and Sergei. He is now sitting
up, in a gray T-shirt, the wall behind him covered by an oversize Afghan-style rug.
Alexei says his friend in the car with him, Ilya, was interrogated about the night: “We
were questioned separately. And they brought me a written statement from Ilya detailing
how I raped and murdered this girl. There were details about how I tied up her hands, and
where I dumped her body.”
Ilya was Alexei's best friend growing up, and as an adult.
“Why do you think he said these things about you?”
“I have no idea. He was probably scared about what the police would accuse him of.”
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