Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels) (7 page)

BOOK: Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels)
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The first man to notice Arkady was startled.

Zhenya pulled his earphones off. “It’s okay. He’s with me.” To Arkady he said, “What are you doing here?”

“Here? You called and left a message.” Arkady always felt
on the defensive with Zhenya. “Besides, I wanted to thank you for the chocolate chess piece you brought when I was laid up. I should have thanked you before.”

“I didn’t have a card.”

“That’s okay. Since it was a chess piece, I took a wild guess.”

“Yeah.” Zhenya cleared his throat. “Speaking of chess, I made some decisions. I don’t think hustling chess is going to do it for me. There’s no money, not real money.”

“What about computers?”

“Hacking?”

“Try something legal.”

“Not a desk job. I’ve been sitting all my life. I’ve been playing chess since I was five years old. I mean, I’ve got to find a different route. Not this place.”

“So?” This was hopeful, a real conversation.

“I need your help.”

Arkady was way ahead. He was already figuring which university or technical institute Zhenya should apply to. How to use what influence he had. “Whatever you need, just tell me.”

“Great.” Zhenya dug into his backpack and presented Arkady with a folded letter.

“What is this?”

“Read it.”

Arkady skimmed the letter. He knew what it was.

“Parental permission,” Zhenya said. “I’m underage and you’re the closest thing to a father I have. I’m enlisting in the army.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I can wait seven months and do it by myself, but I’m ready now.”

“No.”

“You don’t think I would make a good soldier?”

Arkady thought Zhenya would make a good punching bag for soldiers.

“It’s not that.”

“You were in the army. Your father was a general. I read about him. He was a killer.”

“It’s a different army now.”

“You don’t think I can take the hazing?”

It was more than hazing, Arkady thought. It was a system of brutalization at the hands of drunken noncoms and officers. It was daily beatings with fists and chairs, standing naked in freezing weather and the least sign of intelligence stamped out. It was a system that produced soldiers who went AWOL, strung themselves up by their belts or traded their weapons for vodka.

“In seven months—”

“I wish your father was here,” Zhenya said. “He’d let me sign up.”

“Well he’s not here. He’s shoveling coals in hell. I’m not going to sign anything.”

Arkady tried to be calm and reasonable but he didn’t sound that way, even to himself. He sounded angry and frustrated. To hear his father invoked as a model was the last straw.

Zhenya said, “I’ve never asked you for anything. You always claim you want to help, but the first time I actually ask you to, you say no.”

Arkady looked for something to hit even though any dramatics would make him look ridiculous. He wasn’t Zhenya’s father, and that was the point, wasn’t it, to play him a fool for caring. For what, Arkady thought? If you put a snake in a jar, nine years later he will still be a snake. Zhenya deserved to be in the army.
All the same, Arkady balled up the letter and dropped it in the basket.

“You can do better for yourself.”

Zhenya said, “Like you’re an example. At least the general was somebody.”

•  •  •

Memory was a loop of film that played over and over, each time a little different until frames overlapped. Furious at Zhenya, Arkady remembered a story about his own father sitting at a chessboard, joking, pretending that a glass of vodka was a piece in play. The general’s opponent was a captured German SS officer, not a bad player, but unfamiliar with the effects of vodka. He was incoherent by the time he lost and the general left him hanging from the gallows until his neck stretched like taffy.

7

Taking Victor to Tatiana’s apartment, Arkady drove by blocks of empty, toothless housing projects.

“Maybe you need backup?”

Victor said, “Nonsense. I’m looking for my pussy cat, Snowflake, last seen in the company of a woman about twenty years old, with short hair dyed yellow, possibly carrying a red suitcase.”

“That’s very sentimental.”

“It’s human nature,” Victor said. “People who wouldn’t give up Jack the Ripper are still suckers for pets. Cat people, especially.”

“Don’t you have cats?”

“Three, but they’re outdoor cats.”

“Feral?”

“Free range.”

Arkady looked around as they approached Tatiana’s building.
This was the first time he’d seen the cul-de-sac in daylight, and he realized that once it must have been a pleasant neighborhood with benches for the elderly, monkey bars for kids, families instead of ghosts.

“On the other side of the back fence is a construction site where skinheads like to camp.”

“Good to know,” Victor said.

“Svetlana is the closest thing we have to a witness.”

“I know, I know. I’ll meet you at the Den.” The Den was a restaurant in back of police headquarters.

“Are you going to be okay?”

“I’m set,” Victor said, and shook his raincoat so that Arkady could hear the soda he carried in his pockets to cope with his thirst.

•  •  •

The clouds were spiked with lightning, much like Arkady’s personal life. He kept busy rather than think about Anya or Zhenya. He tried to reach Tatiana’s sister by phone. Her number had a 4012 area code. Kaliningrad. There was no answer and no message machine.

He cruised by “drops”—the underpasses, bus shelters and truck stops where prostitutes congregated. These were not the exotic models that crossed their legs in the plush lobbies of fine hotels and made assignations by cell phone. These were girls who were underage and underfed, wrapped in flimsy coats against the cold. At every drop he visited, they approached his car, inquiring as to his needs while a pimp hovered anxiously by. Little wonder that capitalism took so long to come to Russia. No one remembered a skinny girl and a white cat.

On the chance that Tatiana’s body had been moved, Arkady searched different morgues, rolling out the deceased, checking
their toe tag and appearance, which was generally not good. There were fourteen morgues in Moscow, some as clean as model kitchens, others abattoirs with carts of bloody saws and chisels. Arkady fell into a kind of fugue state, seeing with a cold professional eye, being there and not there.

At the end, he found himself in a mourning room with a few folding chairs and a vase of artificial lilies. One body was on view, a man in the uniform of an army general. His uniform had stayed the same size, but the general had shrunk. His face, sallow and peaked, was nearly hidden between his cap and a chest full of honors: Order of Lenin, campaigns at Stalingrad and Bessarabia, a ribbon for the fall of Berlin. His only mourner was a teenage girl listening to her iPod, oblivious to death, which was probably the way it should be, Arkady thought.

Crossing the river by the Kremlin Pier, Arkady saw Grisha Grigorenko’s superyacht, the
Natalya Goncharova,
anchored in the middle of the water. The
Natalya
was white as a swan, a vessel that inspired envy and ambition, with three decks, wraparound windows, sunning deck, dance floor and Jet Skis docked on the stern. Figures moved around doing whatever the crew on a superyacht did, polishing the brass, fine-tuning the radar, shuttling passengers back and forth. Still there was, Arkady thought, an air of indecision. The king was dead and the new king had yet to be anointed.

•  •  •

Sometimes it was hard to say where crime ended and punishment began. Police headquarters was a town house on Petrovka Street with a bust of Dzerzhinsky, the vulpine founder of revolutionary terror, watching over beds of petunias. In the heady days of democracy this symbol of terror had been pulled down from
his pedestal. After years in exile he had been returned to his perch.

Behind headquarters spread a complex of holding cells, laboratories and ballistics. Blue and white police cars, mainly Skodas and Fords, were parked haphazardly. Next to the district prosecutor’s office, witnesses gathered for a smoke. In a basement directly across the street was the Den, a restaurant favored by both sides of the law as they drifted back and forth from the courtroom door for a drink, a cigarette, a word with a lawyer or a confederate. From time to time, patrons noticed thunderheads piling up and moved inside the restaurant, where the atmosphere was blue with smoke. Autographed photos of hockey and soccer stars, snapshots of catered affairs and postcards of belly dancers decorated the walls. Grilled kebabs and Middle Eastern music played in an absentminded way. Victor had yet to arrive but through the haze Arkady saw Anya at a corner table drinking Champagne with Alexi Grigorenko. He would have taken odds that Grisha’s son would not survive a week in Moscow and here he was practically a celebrity hobnobbing with the press. Arkady knew he should wait outside for Victor, just avoid the whole scene, but he was drawn irresistibly to Alexi’s table, and when a bodyguard moved to intercept Arkady, Alexi waved the man back.

“It’s all right,” Alexi said. “I know Investigator Renko. He even attended my father’s funeral.”

“What’s the happy occasion today?” Arkady asked.

“Two of Alexi’s friends were found innocent of murder,” Anya said.

“Innocent as a baby or innocent as a bought judge?”

“The judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to hold them,” Alexi said.

“Judges can be expensive,” Arkady told Anya. “They should put an ATM in the courtroom and eliminate the middleman.”

Alexi allowed Arkady a smile. “That, of course, would be the lawyer.”

Alexi was not a typical gangster. He had a healthy tan, sculpted hair, a tailored suit casually worn. The kind of man, Arkady thought, who belonged to an athletic club and could swim more than fifty meters without sinking. He leaned forward confidentially.

“What are you after, Renko? I heard you’re looking for missing bodies now. Do you expect one to pop up here?”

“You never know. Last month a man was gunned down at this very table. Was he a friend of yours?”

“I knew him.”

“Was he also from Kaliningrad?”

“I think so.”

“All these people from Kaliningrad. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. I read a story once about a man who fell in love with a one-legged redhead, and from then on he saw one-legged redheads everywhere.”

Anya said, “We would ask you to join us but we know how busy you are chasing ghosts.”

Arkady pulled up a chair. “No, no, I’ve all the time in the world; that’s the thing about ghosts. They’ll always be there.”

At a nod from Alexi, a waiter brought another glass. Such service! Arkady thought it was good to be a Mafia chief, until you were shot.

He was interested in how Anya would play this encounter. He noticed a necklace of amber the color of honey that hung around her neck.

“Very nice.”

“A gift from Alexi.”

“Take a closer look,” Alexi said. “In the centerpiece, you’ll see a mosquito trapped sixty thousand years ago.”

“Even longer than you’ve been an investigator.” Anya blew smoke Arkady’s way.

The serious journalist Anya seemed to have been replaced by Anya the gun moll. What Arkady did not understand was why Anya was wasting time with a would-be Mafia chief like Alexi when she was supposed to be writing an earthshaking article about Tatiana.

“You and Anya are old friends,” Alexi said.

“Our paths have crossed.”

“So Anya told me.” Alexi’s smile was like a hook in the mouth. “Is it true that you don’t carry a firearm? For what reason?”

“I’m lazy.”

“No, really.”

“Well, when I did carry one I hardly ever used it. And it makes you stupid. You stop thinking of options. The gun doesn’t want options.”

“But you’ve been shot.”

“There’s the downside.”

“Cheers!” Anya said.

They drank, listened to thunder and poured some more, as if they were old friends gathering before a storm. A waiter coasted by with menus.

“You know, I’ve never actually eaten here. Recommendations?” Alexi asked Arkady.

“Wait for my partner Detective Orlov. He’s an epicure. So, Alexi, who do you think killed your father?”

“You’re very rude for a man without a gun.”

“I’m simply wondering how you expect to take over your father’s varied business interests.”

“I will put things on a genuine business setting. This country is run like an Arab bazaar. There have to be rules and norms. How can there be investment when there is no future, and how can there be a future when there is no honesty?”

“Alexi has plans,” Anya said.

“My father was a great man, make no mistake, but he lacked a business strategy, an overall plan. I’ll correct that.”

“But first a little revenge?”

Alexi softly drummed his fingers on the table.

“Your friend is joking,” he told Anya.

“I’m joking,” Arkady said.

“Because you’re jealous,” Alexi said. “You see your beautiful woman with me and you’re jealous. Cherchez la femme, right?”

“He’s after a different femme. Someone he lost,” Anya said.

“Anyone I know?”

“Tatiana Petrovna.”

“The journalist? I heard she jumped out a window.”

“Arkady has dark suspicions,” Anya said. “Did you ever meet Tatiana?”

“All I know is that she wrote a good deal of lies about my father. She probably got what she deserved.”

“Then you don’t think it was suicide, either,” Arkady said.

“I didn’t say that.”

“Of course not.”

“Don’t put words in my mouth.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Arkady got to his feet. He decided he didn’t want to be a spoilsport any longer. Anya had her own game
to play. Perhaps it had something to do with marrying a millionaire.

Besides, Victor had arrived with a recommendation.

“Try the soup. I think they stir it with a mop.”

•  •  •

Victor’s car was parked half over the curb outside the courtroom door. In the backseat was a cardboard box that rocked and howled.

“Don’t open it,” Victor said, and showed Arkady the bloody scratches on his hands.

BOOK: Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels)
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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