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The Third Component: Part II, Chapter 28

Alison Christy 3 May 2009

Photo Credit: Tim Christy

Editor's note: We are pleased to continue the weekly serialization of The Third Component, a novel by Alison Christy: a scientist at loose ends after earning her PhD sets off to Russia in search of a missing piece of her family's past.

Chapter 28

Targeted Localization of a Released Messenger: A Proposal

Background: The disappearance of Michael Perch, journalist and author, in late September, 1999, has been well-documented in the literature. Because of his highly recognizable face and reputation in the Moscow expatriate community, it can be said with relative certainty that he is no longer in Moscow.

Several theories have been advanced as to his potential whereabouts:

Accidental Death: As a young, healthy man, Perch is unlikely to have died of purely natural causes. Moscow being Moscow, however, he may have fallen into a river or gotten hit by a car or electrocuted himself on a live wire. The absence of witnesses or an identifiable body makes this theory relatively unlikely.

Murder: There are several potential murderers of Michael Perch:

  1. the Russian government, who may have disliked Perch’s accusations that they were behind the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings1;
  2. huge Russian businesses like Gazprom, who may have been upset by Perch’s allegations of corruption2;
  3. the Russian mafiya, who may have disliked Perch’s discussion of their organization3; or
  4. any combination thereof, since they all seem to be in cahoots anyway

An angry party may choose to murder a journalist for one of two reasons:

  1. to prevent him from spreading information that only he knows;
  2. as an example to other, potentially trouble-making journalists

The lack of an identifiable body makes the second proposition less likely, as a party who wanted to set an example would surely want to make their actions widely known. Therefore, if we determine that Perch has been killed, it follows that some sort of crucial information exists that we may uncover in our explorations. This may require some caution on our part.

Departure (leaving Moscow): It is possible that Michael Perch simply left Moscow, without informing his friends, leaving all his possessions in his small apartment.4 While it may seem unlikely that anyone would leave their place of residence so spontaneously and surreptitiously, Michael may have had reasons to do so: either

  1. because he anticipated the possibility of murder, or
  2. because he wished to suggest the possibility of murder, thus lending credence to his articles, or
  3. because of some drama related to women, who seem to be very fond of him

If Michael Perch did indeed leave Moscow, then he may have remained in Russia, or traveled to another place. As his passport was located in his Moscow apartment, he would be unable to cross international borders without some fraudulent form of identification; he might have difficulty traveling within Russia as well, but provided he has money for bribes, this should not be a problem.5 Thus it seems unlikely that he would attempt to cross any borders.

Were he to flee Moscow, then we theorize that Michael Perch would go somewhere familiar; somewhere distant, where no one would think to look for him; somewhere, perhaps, where he had friends who would give him a place to stay and who could protect him from the local authorities. Based on his affectionate description of Daria Petrovna,6 a young female curator at the Kolpashevo Ethnographic Museum, we hypothesize that he has fled to the town of Kolpashevo and is currently living there with her.

While we do not have any particular evidence that this, of all the possible theories, is the one that we should pursue, we feel that intuition, particularly woman’s intuition, should count for something.

Hypothesis: Michael Perch is living with Daria Petrovna in Kolpashevo, but when given the chance, will fall in love with the investigator who wrote this proposal.

Specific Aim 1: To determine whether Michael Perch is living in Kolpashevo, Russia

Specific Aim 2: To live happily ever after with Michael Perch


1. Perch, Michael. “Government-Contracted Killings: Are You Next?” The Moscow Voice, September 24, 1999.

2. Perch, Michael. We Will Be Sure to Express Your Concerns to Moscow. Houghton-Mifflin, 1999.

3. Ibid, pp. 200-203.

4. Ivashina, Olga. “American Journalist Disappears.” Moscow Voice, November 25, 1999

5. Forsch, A. Unpublished data.

6. Perch, Michael. The Lights Up North: Indigenous Siberia, pp. 86-89. Transit Press, 1996.


Kolpashevo, August 14, 2000: Already, there are obstacles that Anna had not considered in her proposal: for instance, she has no map of Kolpashevo, and no idea where the Ethnographic Museum might be, or even how to say “Ethnographic Museum” in Russian.

But the woman behind the desk downstairs at the hotel, who is pleasantly round with a full head of wavy bleached hair, smiles broadly at Anna when she sees her and says “Presidential Suite?” So Anna smiles back, and approaches the woman.

She says “Ethnographic Museum?” And then, guessing, she says, “Etnografischka Muzayum?”

The woman laughs, showing a line of blackened teeth, and then says, “Da, da.” She starts speaking very slowly and clearly, so that Anna could have understood her if Anna understood any Russian, and explaining exactly where Anna should go. She gestures straight ahead, then turns her hands to the left, then she points to the right, and draws a big house in the air with her hands; she shakes her finger no, and then she indicates going straight, and then turning again.

Anna doesn’t understand a single word, but she tries to follow the woman’s gestures: straight, then left, then straight, then left. It shouldn’t be that hard to find it: after all, it is a museum, and will probably be in a large museum building, clearly marked.

And so she starts down the road, her duffel bag thrown over her shoulder, her rolling suitcase weaving along behind her.


From a scientific paper you might suspect that scientists perform their experiments in a predetermined order, progressing logically, chapter by chapter, toward the answer to a question. This is a myth, generated after the experiments have been completed and scrawled one by one into the lab notebook. Usually, the scientist doesn’t even know what story he wants to tell until the next-to-last experiment is performed. Usually, it has to be that way. The scientist has to know the answer to the first question before he asks the second.

But the grant proposal forces the scientist to imagine how he would like the story to go, and to consider how he would do his experiments if he were interested in proving or disproving his hypothesis in a logical and rational manner. Thus it is an interesting intellectual exercise, if nothing else. And then, most funding for actual research comes from grants; thus, the grant proposal must impress an unknown scientist with the importance of the work to be done.

The proposal is a delicate work of literature, crafted in a strict form. The work begins with an exposition, first general and becoming more specific; continues with rising action, experiment after experiment; and finally ends with a short but comforting denouement. The writer of the proposal should build suspense by creating the illusion of a huge, gaping, terribly urgent hole in our knowledge of how we work, and then present his own experiments as the only creative but logical way to fill that gap with data. The reader should be on the edge of his seat, trembling, wondering what will happen next, what kind of data the experiments will provide. The reader should wonder, breathlessly, how the scientist will manage to find all the answers, even as he knows that the suave James Bond-like scientist has considered every option, purchased every available gadget, trained in various deadly martial arts, and kept everything completely under his control.

Of course few people become scientists because they like to write. And yet when you reached the top of the profession you were always writing: papers, reviews, and grant proposal after grant proposal to bring in more money for the lab. “The American Heart Association has a deadline in May,” John would say to Anna. “Have we ever looked at protein folding or epigenetics in cardiac myocytes?”

Generally John submitted proposals for experiments he’d already done; after all, then his preliminary data corresponded perfectly with his hypothesis, and it was easy to tell a story that proceeded in an orderly fashion. He usually managed to get funding that way.


Anna walks straight, and then left, and then straight, and then left. Then she backtracks: right, straight, right, and then straight for longer, then left, straight and left. She backtracks again.

She keeps ending up in the residential parts of town, eerily perched on the edge of nothing, where worn, gray wooden houses are surrounded by wooden fences and the people who live there – fat, head-scarfed old women, greasy-looking men in black leather jackets, barefoot children clinging to women with large breasts – stare at her as she turns around again and, trundling her suitcase behind her, makes her way back into the center of town.

She stops on a street corner, completely lost. The mud from the previous day’s rain coats her shoes and her suitcase is now wobbling on a single wheel. She is certain she will never find the Ethnographic Museum. And worse, she now has no idea how to find her hotel, or the Central Market, or Dima and her ride to Krolosk.

Her watch says it is eleven-thirty: she has thirty minutes to get to the Market.

She turns down a different street that she walked down earlier, a street that seemed somewhat busy and promising and like a place where she could find someone to ask, hoping that the words Central Market sound something the like Russian words and that the place is clearly marked. Focus on the Central Market, she tells herself, you can try to find the museum again on the way back.

He’ll be here when you get back, she tells herself. Just get to Krolosk. You can find Michael Perch later.

She stops again, staring back at a skinny short-haired child who is staring at her. “Izvinitye,” she says. Excuse me. The child turns and runs away.

She can feel the tears starting again, but she refuses to cry: even if she is trapped and lost in Kolpashevo for the rest of her life, she refuses to cry.

And that’s when she sees it: a small wooden sign over the almost hidden side door of a large house.

She has no idea what the Cyrillic lettering actually says, but there are two Ms right where you would expect them to be in MUSEUM, and Anna runs toward the door, pulling the broken suitcase along behind her.

{Continued next week}