was out of place in his office, though he didn't immediately see what. Volgin came to a halt, then turned back toward his desk.
Even though he'd been busy lately, Volgin had still made time to keep his office neat. Every file in its folder, every pen in its cup, every office accoutrement, be it stapler or hole-punch or stamp, sitting precisely where it belonged.
The orderliness was a holdover from his mother, bless her soul. While Volgin's father had taught him ambition and drive, she had taught him discipline. If one corner of his bed had not been tucked correctly, his mother had made him do the whole thing over again, several times if necessary, until it was to her standard. If he refused or protested, she beat him with one of Father's belts.
By the time he was four years old, little Yevgeny Borisovitch Volgin could make his bed perfectly.
Upon a second look, the oddity that had triggered in his subconscious soon became clear: a strange, pale object, perhaps a third of the size of his fist, sitting in the center of his desk blotter, like it had been left there purposefully for him to see.
He drew closer. It looked like a flower, made from unbaked dough.
That also reminded him of his mother. Occasionally, she would bake tea cakes, each ball precise and round and lovingly rolled in confectioner's sugar. The warm vanilla smell had made his mouth water. After they had cooled enough to be edible, she had held out the plate for him to smell, then thrown them all away.
"You have to learn to deny yourself the things you want most, Zhenechka," she had told him. Unlike Mother's other lessons, Volgin found that one lacking.
As a grown man, Volgin believed in indulging.
He got close enough to the flower to sniff, but it didn't smell like dough. Instead, it held a faintly plastic smell, like some kind of malleable explosive.
But who would leave such a thing on his desk? It was unlike Ivan to give such a dubious gift, and besides, Ivan liked to deliver all of his gifts personally. Was it a threat of some kind?
His scowl darkened. Yes, perhaps that was it. A flower like this symbolized love, didn't it? But who made a flower from plastic explosive?
Volgin's hand curled into a fist. He raised it to smash the offending gift -
Then paused, thinking better of it.
No. That would be a waste.
Emptying out a cigar box, Volgin placed it on his desk, then retrieved a piece of paper and slid it under the flower. He used the paper to safely transport the flower into the box without touching it, and carefully closed the lid.
No, he would need this. Evidence, in case something happened, or for when he found out who did it.
Normally, he would have Ocelot look into any unauthorized entries into his office, but the gift that had been left was so bizarre that Volgin could just picture Ocelot mocking it. Asking Ivan to find out would be a little awkward. Volgin couldn't go through normal channels with this one.
This was something Volgin had to handle...privately.