The summer after school ended, he started hanging around with a new set of friends, and he started to drink. His other friends recall seeing him lazing around neighborhood doorways, drinking vodka in the middle of the afternoon.
His appearance changed. By the end of his senior year, he'd ditched the clean-cut jock look and gone over to the Russian street-hood aesthetic: shaved head, walking cap, tight white t-shirt.
One night in the fall of 2001 he and four of his friends were drinking on the street in the neighborhood. When they ran out of vodka, two of them went out to buy more. They got their bottle and on the way back they noticed a drunk asleep in his car, with the keys in the ignition. They opened the car, beat up the drunk, tossed him in the back seat and drove the car off to meet the others. When they got there, everybody, including Kostya, hopped in the car. They drove it off to a secluded area, took out the drunk, and beat the hell out of him.
The drunk turned out to be an off-duty detective. All five kids were picked up the next day, and Kostya's been in jail ever since, awaiting trial.
A few months before his arrest, Kostya met his first girlfriend. It happened over the summer. His friend Kira, one of the old gang from 666, had predicted one day in July that he would meet his first true love within three days. Two days later a quiet Caucasian girl named Carina came up to him in a club called Portal and handed him a telephone number. Though he'd never been very slick with girls, he called her up, and soon afterward they were talking about moving in together and getting married.
Carina was with Sergei, Kira and me at Matrosskaya Tishina. Everyone else was complaining about the cold -- Sergei and I turned red, while Kira spent a whole hour jumping up and down -- but Carina didn't complain and quietly went about the business of trying to secure a place in line. When the cold got too intense, the four of us ducked into the podyezd of an apartment building across the street. About twenty other people had had the same idea and the stairwell of the building was packed with prison visitors. From time to time a resident would open a door and scream at all of us to get the hell out.
On one of our trips outside, Carina turned to me and mentioned that although Kostya's trial had been put off five times over the course of the last fifteen months or so, she was "pretty sure" that he was really going to go to court on March 19.
"His lawyer thinks he has a good chance of getting out," she said, smiling.
We went back inside. A middle-aged woman in a fake fur coat came out of her apartment on the second floor and snapped at us as she made her way down the stairs.
"Aren't you all gorgeous," she hissed. "The cream of society."
The story I ended up doing two years ago was about four ordinary kids from p.s. 666, all friends and all very close. Aside from Kostya there was Sasha Bolovnyev, the undisputed leader of the group and something of a big man on campus type, who was a year older and planning on entering a naval academy in St. Petersburg. Sasha at the time was dating Kira on and off; she was a strong-willed and easily flustered girl who was plainly head over heels in love with Sasha and alternately embarrassed by and proud of her reputation as the best fistfighter, male or female, in the school. The fourth member of the group was Kira's best friend, Ella Soroka, a bashful redhead whose typical role was as a confidante for the more extroverted Kira, and who kept to herself about the problems she was having at home with her mother and her alcoholic stepfather.
They were all good kids, very accessible and likeable, and what was most heartening about spending time with them was that despite the dreadful condition of the school, and the war-zone-like atmosphere in their Varshavka neighborhood, they all still managed to be kids, wrapped up in kid problems. They gossiped about who liked who and told funny stories about the love lives of their teachers (indeed, one of the 666 teachers ended up marrying the principal's secretary, just like they predicted). Kostya was completely focused on sports, while Sasha spent most of every day breezily making the rounds in the school, pruning his wisecracking cool-guy rep. 666 was like a little oasis, a little island of normalcy where the kids did not even know to be as screwed up as the self-conscious Americans of the Columbine generation.