Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels) (10 page)

BOOK: Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels)
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The general succeeded in loading only one bullet. Five hit the floor. Nevertheless, he pulled the trigger. The chamber was empty but the cylinder advanced and he squeezed the trigger three more times hard with no result. Arkady’s calls for help were smothered by the heavy drapes while the general held the drape across his face and clicked on another empty cylinder.

Arkady slipped free and cried, “It’s me!”

As they stood face-to-face, the general raised his gun to Arkady’s forehead.

For a moment they were locked. Then the general blinked in the manner of someone coming awake and a deep groan escaped his chest. He turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger.

The world came to a stop. The general’s eyes screwed shut and his face turned chalk white as he squeezed the trigger again and again, until, exhausted, he let the gun hang.

Arkady took the revolver away and swung the cylinder open.

“It’s jammed.”

The bullet was stuck between chambers, which sometimes happened to revolvers when the trigger was pulled in too much of a rush.

•  •  •

Mick the bartender was serving other customers when Arkady returned to the pub. He watched the traffic pass. This was what much of life was all about, doing nothing but counting cars as they went by. Boomer, Boomer, Merc, Lada, Volvo, Lada, Boomer. Russian cars were as scarce as natives struck by a plague.

“You forgot something.” The bartender brought Arkady a beer and pointed to his head for its keenness. “As I remember, the subject was bikes.”

“One bike in particular.”

“Which one?”

“I don’t know because I don’t know what I’m looking at. You tell me.” This time Arkady had brought the notebook. He turned to the rear inside cover with the list of numbers, silhouettes of a cat drawn over and over and a double triangle. “It’s a bicycle frame?”

“Sure.”

“And cats.”

“Those aren’t cats. They’re panthers.”

“How can you tell?”

“It’s the logo of an Ercolo Pantera, except it should be red. It’s like the Ferrari of bicycles.”

“Is it expensive?”

The bartender smiled at such ignorance. “A Pantera costs thirty thousand dollars and up. Every bike is custom-made in
Milan like an Italian suit and there’s a waiting list as long as your arm.”

•  •  •

On the way back to his apartment, Arkady passed the still-warm scene of a traffic accident: police cars and paramedics shoving their way through stalled traffic, broken glass and a bike leaning on a car like a mere observer.

10

The website for Bicicletta Ercolo was a single screen in gothic red on black, with its name, phone number, fax and e-mail address. Its severity suggested that it did not welcome casual visitors.

“Excuse me, do you speak Russian?”

Click.

“English?”

Click.

“German?”

Click.

“Is Mr. Ercolo there? I’ll only keep calling.”

“Mr. Ercolo is not here. Ercolo is Hercules, sometimes Heracles. He is a mythical character. Good-bye.”

A good start. The man spoke English. In the background Arkady heard the clanging of a workshop.

He called again. “That was stupid of me. I should have known about Ercolo.”

“That was stupid.”

“But I have your bike.”

“What do you mean, you have my bike? Who are you?”

“I am Senior Investigator Renko calling from Moscow. I think one of your bikes was stolen.”

“From Moscow? You’re crazy.”

“We think it may have been involved in a homicide.”

“Sei pazzo.”

“I have just faxed you a copy of my identification card and phone number.”

“I’m hanging up.”

•  •  •

Arkady thought microwave ovens were the greatest boon to the single man. Men were meant to warm things up. To take blocks of ice and change them into peas or enchiladas and have time to stand in the kitchen and ponder the digital seconds as they ticked by. The bicycle makers at Ercolo had not called or faxed. They were probably sitting down to a platter of spaghetti.

One angle he had not pursued was the shooting of Grisha Grigorenko. There was a bumper crop of suspects for that deed, and the prospect of more to come as long as Alexi Grigorenko stayed in Moscow. It mystified Arkady why Anya wanted to be so close to a likely target. Maybe it was for the sake of the article, for a proper climax. He remembered what she said was the secret of better photographs: “Get closer.”

The phone rang. Arkady picked up and caught the whine of a saw. It was Milan.

“Senior Investigator Renko, in Italy a senior investigator is a man with a broom.”

“The same here. May I ask who I’m talking to?”

“Lorenzo, chief designer.”

Arkady got the impression of a Vulcan smeared with charcoal and sweat.

“What about the bicycle?” Lorenzo asked.

“We have a dead man here with no identification other than his connection to an Ercolo Pantera.”

“So?”

“I’m hoping you can help us.”

“Why? If someone is shot in an American car, do you question Mr. Ford? Let me warn you, many of the Panteras out there are imitations. Each authentic Ercolo is unique. That’s why the high and mighty come to Milan to be measured and fitted. We don’t sell to just anyone. Bicycle and buyer must be a match.”

“Absolutely.”

“So each Pantera is numbered on the underside of the top tube. Can you read the number to me?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“You don’t have the bicycle.”

“No.”

“And you don’t have the rider.”

“No.”

“You don’t have anything.”

“That is, more or less, correct.”

“This must be difficult work.”

“It takes perseverance. You say that each Pantera is unique.”

“Yes.”

Arkady read from the notebook’s back cover. “Who was this? ‘Sixty centimeters, fifty-six point five centimeters, nineteen-ninety grams’?”

Lorenzo took over. “Sixty-centimeter frame, fifty-six-point-five-centimeter top tube, nineteen-ninety-gram weight, for someone with long legs and a short torso. We call it high hipped. It’s a funny thing; I remember bikes better than the people who buy them. I’ll find you the order form or the receipt. Signor Bonnafos, I remember. I told him he didn’t need ten gears, eight would do, but he thinks he’s in the Tour de France.”

“A steel frame, not carbon?”

Lorenzo made a noise as if sharing a joke. “Carbon is fine unless it breaks. We have built with steel for over a hundred years.”

“Your help is vital. Would you call me if you find the number of the bike? Do you happen to remember his first name?”

•  •  •

Joseph Bonnafos, thirty-eight, was a Swiss national, interpreter and translator, single, income two hundred thousand euros. No arrests. Received Russian tourist visa, entered Russia at Moscow Domededovo Airport, continued to Kaliningrad the same day, information gathered from data programs at the Ministry of the Interior that watched and cataloged people the way astronomers ceaselessly scanned the night sky.

There was a footnote. Before the Kaliningrad flight, the ground staff had refused to load his bicycle in its hard case on the grounds that it was too large and too heavy. Bonnafos called somebody, who must have called
somebody,
because in a minute the crew loaded the bike with special care.

Arkady wasn’t superstitious but he did believe that momentum only existed if used. He called the same Kaliningrad hotels he had before, this time asking for a guest named Bonnafos. All
but one hotel receptionist took a moment to search the guest list before saying no. The exception was Hydro Park, which said no at once. Arkady wondered whether she was just as quick at alerting Lieutenant Stasov. Just a thought.

Arkady tried calling Tatiana’s sister. Ludmila Petrovna was not home but a neighbor who happened to be in the apartment said she would be back in an hour.

And he tried calling Victor in his car.

“Any luck with Svetlana?”

“She’s on the night train to Kaliningrad, arriving in the morning at oh nine-fifty.”

“Amazing. Who told you?”

“Conan. He may have been headed to Central Asia, but he only got as far as the drunk tank. They know me there. He had my card and I got him out.”

“Nicely done.”

“So now you can fly to Kaliningrad and bring her back. That way we keep the investigation contained. Just us, just Moscow, right?”

“Actually, it’s getting a little complicated. The scope of the investigation has broadened.”

Victor said, “I don’t like
broadened
and I hate
complicated
.”

“Two days before she was killed, Tatiana went to Kaliningrad and came back with a notebook. So far, nobody can read it because the notes are written by a professional interpreter in a kind of personal code. He could help us but he’s dead, shot on the same beach where the notebook was found. We have his name: Joseph Bonnafos, Swiss, an interpreter. Who knows, the notebook may tell us everything we need to know.”

“Where is it now?”

“It’s locked in a drawer of my desk.”

“You don’t know what the notes are for?”

“Some sort of international event, I assume, since they needed the services of an interpreter.”

“Can’t the local police take care of business there?”

“The case is being torpedoed by a Lieutenant Stasov, who seems to regard the hotels in Kaliningrad as his slice of the pie. There hasn’t been any real investigation into Bonnafos’s death.”

Victor said, “Wait, all we signed on for was to find Tatiana’s body. Just find her, not who killed her, if she was killed. Now you’re phoning people in Kaliningrad? She wasn’t killed in Kaliningrad and her body isn’t in Kaliningrad. I’m saying this as a sober man: we should stay with what we know.”

“There’s also a missing Italian custom bicycle,” Arkady said.

By then, Victor had hung up.

•  •  •

How does a man know when he becomes obsessive? Who can tell him except a friend? More specifically, how could two men cover one city, let alone two cities, hundreds of miles apart? He would need a dozen detectives and police dogs, none of which the prosecutor would authorize. All Zurin would support was a game of musical chairs in the morgue. At this point, if Tatiana had been moved from drawer to drawer, her body would be light blue with a film of crystals. Perhaps the person hiding her was waiting for the first mantle of snow to lay her down properly, when outrage was spent and she was just one saint out of many. The strange thing was Arkady looked forward to listening to the other tapes, not because Tatiana’s voice was especially mellifluous, but because it was clear, and not because the events she described were dramatic but because she underplayed her part. And because, listening to the tapes, he thought he knew her and that they had met before. Was that obsessive?

11

“The moon will float up in the sky, / Dropping the oars into the water. / As ever, Russia will get by, / And dance and weep in every quarter.”

“So nothing changes,” Tatiana said. “The poet Yesenin knew it a hundred years ago. Russia is a drunken bear, sometimes an entertainment, sometimes a threat, often a genius, but as night falls, always a drunken bear curled up in the corner. Sometimes, in another corner lies a journalist whose arms and hands have systematically been broken. The thugs who do such work are meticulous. We don’t have to go to Chechnya to find such men. We recruit them and train them and call them patriots. And when they find an honest journalist, they let the bear loose.

“Is it worth it? The problem with martyrdom is the waiting. Sooner or later, I will be poisoned or nudged off a cliff or shot by
a stranger, but first I will put a torpedo under their waterline, so to speak.

“Also, why does heaven seem so dull? There’s love in heaven but is there passion? Do we really have to go barefoot and wear those robes? Are we allowed high heels? I have always envied women in high heels. I would like to spend my first thousand years in heaven learning to tango. In the meantime, I’ll stay ahead of the bear as long as I can.”

It wasn’t so much that he was listening to her, it was more a sense of being alone with her, and if they were alone, he would have been so bold as to offer her a cigarette.

When Arkady heard a key in the door, his first impulse was to gather the tapes and recorder and put them in a kitchen cabinet. He didn’t. Then wished he had.

Anya came in and Alexi Grigorenko piled in after. They were flushed with pre-party hysteria and the first bottle of Champagne. If it was bad taste for him to celebrate so soon after a father’s death, there also was a message to men of his father’s generation that old manners, even between thieves, were out of date. He seemed to think he was a prince. In fact, he was a sitting duck. They made a handsome pair of boutique darlings, Arkady had to admit. In comparison, he looked as if he had dressed from a stranger’s clothesline.

Anya said, “Alexi said he wanted to see my apartment, then I thought I heard Tatiana in yours.”

“She’s an interesting woman,” Arkady said.

“She’s seductive even dead, apparently.” Anya walked back and forth, almost sniffing the air.

“I hope we’re not disturbing you,” Alexi said.

Anya said, “Arkady is always up, like a monk at his prayers.”

“Is that how you solve your cases?” Alexi asked. “Prayer?”

“A good deal of the time.”

Alexi’s eyes were slightly hooded. Hands quick and delicate as a croupier’s. Under his jacket the hitch of a gun.

“Can I offer you a drink? Something to eat?” Arkady asked, as if there were any food in the refrigerator.

“No thanks,” Anya said. “He’s going to show me his new apartment. It’s a penthouse.”

“Penthouse?” That was a word Arkady never expected to hear on Russian lips. “You’re moving to Moscow?”

“Why not?” Alexi said. “Grisha left a number of properties and investments here and in Kaliningrad.”

“He left the makings of a war. Things were quiet until your father was killed. Quiet like a jungle, but quiet. Why don’t you cash out and live peacefully on some tropical island?”

“Perhaps I have more faith and less negativity than you do.” Alexi’s gaze lit on Tatiana’s cassette tapes, still on the table. “For instance, how can you stand to listen to this garbage?”

BOOK: Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels)
8.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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