The subzero temperature dipped further as dusk darkened the quiet downtown street, but the long line of mourners kept coming, filing into the House of Unions to pay last respects to the late marshal Dmitri Ustinov.
It may be cold, but there is no temperature low enough to change the elaborate ritual of laying a Soviet leader to rest.
Monday, they say, will be as cold as today. And as the arctic air grips Red Square, the nation's leaders -- some of them in their seventies -- will preside over Ustinov's funeral, standing for more than an hour atop the Lenin Mausoleum, where at this time of year, any wind is felt keenly.
This will be the fourth full-dress state funeral in as many winters: party ideologist Mikhail Suslov died in January 1982, president Leonid Brezhnev in November 1983, his successor Yuri Andropov in February 1984. It is as if frost has become part of the carefully codified tradition.
For two days now, mourners have bundled up against the cold and silently trudged past the lines of soldiers to view Ustinov's body, lying on the flower-bedecked bier in the Hall of Columns.
Most came on buses, in groups, gathering at the collection point in Pushkin Square. The Soviet news agency Tass said they were "workers and employes of Moscow industrial plants, office workers, workers of the Moscow region, servicemen of the Soviet Army; party, government, trade union and Komsomol (youth league) officials, workers in science and culture, representatives of public organizations, students and schoolchildren."
They had come, one said in an interview, to honor "a great man" but also because it was their duty.
"There have been many and there will be more," said one of the scores of militiamen guarding the entrances to the cordoned-off area. To get to their apartments in the neighborhood, local residents had to be escorted to their doors.
With stolid, emotionless faces, the mourners shuffled into the green-and-white House of Unions, up a marble staircase guarded by yet more soldiers standing at stiff alert, through elegant 18th century hallways, tracking winter mud on the rough carpeting put down to protect the parquet floors.
In the Hall of Columns, where a full orchestra was assembled on stage playing classical music, they walked up to the bier and with hardly a pause in the flow, made a sharp right and headed out of the building, back into the cold.
Only a few days ago, the Hall of Columns was filled with chess fans, watching as Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov grimly continued their three-month-long battle for the world championship.
On Friday, the building was shut to chess fans and writers -- one of the first clues that Ustinov had died. In 24 hours, the light, airy, white-and-gold room was transformed into a cavern of funereal black and red.
The crystal chandeliers were draped in black gauze, looking like giant balloons dangling from the ceilings. The walls, doorways and windows were covered in red-and-black bunting, and hundred of wreaths and bouquets packed around the bier and lining the hallways filled the air with the sweet fragrance of flowers.
To the left of the bier stood the honor guard, which changed every three minutes as different Soviet officials took turns standing at attention, starting yesterday with members of the Politburo.
The city, too, went into mourning. Some restaurants and theaters closed, and in one hotel where a group of foreigners had organized a holiday party, the manager asked that they keep the music down.
But for many Muscovites, this weekend was little different than any other. People had their weekend shopping to do, especially with the New Year holiday coming up. The change at the upper reaches of the leadership seemed far removed from their daily life.
If anything, the cold was probably the main topic of conversation, not because temperatures of 5 below zero are so unusual -- they can be much worse -- but because it is more immediate.
Cars were stalled in the streets, and their drivers desperately tried to flag down rides. People hurried to get into the shops where the warm air fogged up the windows. And at the back of the House of Unions, a young soldier between shifts jumped up and down, clapping his hands to keep warm.