Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels) (9 page)

BOOK: Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels)
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“I’ll put you on hold.”

“Tell the lieutenant that Senior Investigator Renko is on his cell phone from Moscow and wants to talk to him.”

“You’re first in line.”

Arkady was first in line for twenty minutes, time enough to return to his apartment and heat a cup of stale coffee.

Finally, a voice as deep as a barrel answered.

“Lieutenant Stasov.”

“Lieutenant, I need just a minute of your time.”

“If you’re calling from Moscow, it must be important,” Stasov said. Arkady could picture him winking to his pals in the squad room, taking the piss out of the big shot from Moscow. “What can I do for you?”

“I understand that you are the lead detective in the case of a dead body found ten days ago on one of your beaches.”

“A male homicide, about forty. That’s correct, at the spit.”

“The spit?”

“Where the land narrows. Beautiful beach.”

“Is the victim still unidentified?”

“No ID and no address, I’m afraid. If he had a wallet, it’s gone. I’m just glad it didn’t happen in the summertime when the beach is full of families. Anyway, we dug a bullet out of his head. Low caliber, but sometimes that’s what professional killers use.”

“A contract killer?”

“In my opinion. We will conduct a thorough investigation. Just keep in mind, we don’t have the technical gear that you have in Moscow. Or money, after Moscow drains the coffers. Moscow is the center and we are the stepchild. I’m not complaining, only putting you in the picture. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“What did he look like?”

“We had some photos. I’ll find them.”

“Besides photographs, what was your general impression of the victim?”

“Skinny. Short and skinny.”

“His clothes?”

“Tight and shiny.”

The lieutenant was going to drag it out, Arkady thought.

“Tight and shiny as in biking gear?”

“Could be.”

“Shoes? There’s no mention of them in your report.”

“Is that so? I guess he took them off to walk in the sand. Or one of the local boys stole them.”

“That makes sense. Did you find anything else?”

“Such as?”

“Well, if he were an artist he might have brushes and an easel. Or if he collected butterflies, he’d have a net. If he was a biker, he had a bike. He was found on the beach. There was no bike?”

“Who bikes in the sand?” Stasov asked.

“That’s what I’m asking you.”

“I’m really sorry I can’t help you out. The guy was a fruit.”

Now, what could make the lieutenant say that about a dead man he had never met? Arkady wondered.

“Did he shave his legs?”

“Weird, huh?”

“What kind of public transportation is there from the city of Kaliningrad to this place you call the spit?”

“During the off-season, none.”

“A person would have to drive or walk?”

“I suppose so.” The lieutenant was wary now.

“Were any cars reported stolen or abandoned near the beach?”

“No.”

“Bicycles?”

“No.”

“Helmets?”

“Shit, Renko, relax. I’ll let you know when we find something.”

“Tell me again exactly where the body was discovered?”

Lieutenant Stasov hung up, leaving Arkady staring out the kitchen window. The coffee was vile. It had been made the night before and warmed up at least twice. He had heard that in Japan restaurants were rated according to how many times the same cooking oil was used. Naturally, the first time was the best. The oil was then used by one restaurant after another, steadily degrading into brown sludge. He contemplated his cup and wondered what the record was. Always a thrill for the heart. He drank it in one go.

Professional cyclists shaved their legs for an infinitesimal edge in aerodynamics. An amateur might too if he was serious enough—serious enough to have a custom bike built just for him. What sort of personality would that demand? Athletic. Competitive. Older than twenty-five, younger than forty-five. Willing to invest much of his life in cycling. Well ordered, not Russian. Obsessive. Swiss? German? Comfortable traveling alone and on business; no one went to Kaliningrad for pleasure. For that matter, no one had reported him missing. An invisible man.

Arkady was startled to find Zhenya behind him.

“In a trance?” Zhenya asked.

“Just thinking.”

“Well, it looks strange.”

“No doubt,” Arkady said.

“I came to pick up some clothes. That’s all.”

It was clear now that Zhenya would never kick a winning goal at Dynamo Stadium or inspire supermodels to sigh in his direction. A camouflage jacket overwhelmed his shoulders; his hair was twisted and his features pinched, redeemed only by the vibrancy in his gray eyes.

What to Arkady was really odd was how Zhenya managed to enter the apartment and get to the kitchen without being heard. The parquet floor squeaked under anyone else.

“How are you?”

Zhenya reacted as if Arkady had uttered the stupidest question ever formed by the mouth of man. “What’s this?”

“A notebook of interpretation.”

“Whatever that is.” Zhenya flipped the cover back and forth.

“Code. A personal code written by a dead man.”

“Oh. What’s it about?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is this what got him killed?”

“Maybe. Are you hungry?”

“There’s nothing in the refrigerator. I checked it out. Hey, you never told me how famous your father was. The army guys were real excited.”

“They can stay excited until you’re eighteen.”

“This is such bullshit. Who gave you the authority to boss me around?”

“The court did, so you could register for school.”

“I quit school.”

“I noticed.”

“No, I mean I really quit school. I went to the registrar’s office and told them, so there’s nothing for me to do but enlist early.”

“Not without my signature. Seven months. You’ll just have to wait to be crazy.”

“You’re just putting it off.”

“That’s right.”

“Do you know how old Alexander the Great was when he conquered the world? Nineteen.”

“A precocious lad.”

“Do you know who his teacher was?”

“Who?”

“Aristotle. Aristotle told him to go conquer the world.”

“Maybe he just meant travel.”

“You’re impossible.” This was the point when Zhenya usually turned around and went out the door. This time he slumped into a chair and let his backpack fall. He always carried a folded chessboard, pieces and a game clock, but he was becoming too well-known as a hustler. He no longer looked innocent. Maybe he never looked innocent, Arkady thought. Perhaps that was his fantasy.

“What do you know about bikes?”

“Bikes?” As if Arkady had asked him about Shetland ponies. “I know you’d have to be an idiot to ride one in Moscow traffic. Why, were you thinking of getting one?”

“Finding one.”

Zhenya reached out for the notebook and idly turned the pages. “So what’s the story on this code?”

“It’s a code, hieroglyphics, anagram, riddle and worse because it’s not meant to be solved. There’s no Rosetta stone, no context. It might be about the price of bananas but if we don’t know his symbol for ‘banana,’ we’re lost. In this case, the only context, maybe, is bicycles.”

“It doesn’t sound like you got very far.”

“You never know.”

“Profound. Is there any milk?” Zhenya launched himself in the direction of the refrigerator.

“See for yourself.” A psychologist had once told Arkady that Zhenya was finding it difficult to separate. Arkady was finding that harder and harder to buy. “So, what do you know about expensive, custom-made bikes?”

“About as much as you do.”

“That’s too bad, because I know nothing.”

“Then you’re fucked, aren’t you? Well . . . I only came to pick up some clothes.”

That served Zhenya as hello and good-bye.

9

Whenever Arkady opened the laptop on his desk, he felt like a pianist who, as he sat at the keyboard, realized he had no idea which keys to hit. He felt the audience stir, caught the panicky eye of the conductor, heard whispers from the string section. Fraud!

Arkady searched for “Kaliningrad interpreter.” It turned out that Kaliningrad interpreters doubled as romantic escorts, which was a bit too general. He tried “Kaliningrad conference interpreter” and learned that various conferences would soon be held: “Immanuel Kant Today,” “Endangered Mollusks of the Baltic Sea,” “Friendship with North Korea,” “Amity with Poland,” “Welcome to BMW,” etc., all of which demanded interpreters but gave not a hint of who they were. “Kaliningrad hotels” prompted a list that offered a fitness center, indoor pools and views of Old Town and Victory Square. More specifically, “Kaliningrad conference hotels” offered Wi-Fi, business centers, meeting rooms and
authentic Russian banyas. Arkady pictured foreign businessmen, red as boiled lobsters, whipping each other with birch twigs.

Arkady felt reasonably sure that an international interpreter was well paid and well traveled. He discounted the possibility that the dead man had been staying with friends. Why sleep on a couch when he could enjoy the attentions of a luxury hotel where his employers presumably paid the bills? They wouldn’t want their interpreter out of reach, not when he was vital to any business they carried on. Anyway, there was something solitary about the interpreter. Arkady could not imagine two people with less in common than himself and Tatiana Petrovna.

How long could they keep the interpreter’s body if he went unclaimed? That depended on shelf space at the morgue and the medical school’s demand for cadavers, in which case he would be whittled away, slice after slice, like a Spanish ham.

Arkady called Kaliningrad’s small clutch of four- and five-star hotels; the replies were humiliating.

“You want to know if we have lost a guest. You don’t know his name or nationality. When he checked in or checked out. Whether he was at a conference or alone. You think he rode a bike. That’s all?”

“Yes.”

“Is this a joke?”

“So far.”

One hotel advised Arkady that “all inquiries concerning criminal or suspicious activity should be reported immediately to Lieutenant Stasov.” A plum assignment, Arkady thought, to have passports, credit cards and luggage pass through his hands.

Arkady moved on to “bicycle rentals.” He doubted that anyone would risk bringing his own custom bike to a city that was
famous for the theft of anything on wheels. The problem was that thieves did not advertise and few shops could afford a website.

Noon. After four hours at the computer, he couldn’t stand one more cup of bitter coffee and went to an Irish pub around the corner. The bartender was a genuine Irishman surrounded by faux atmosphere: crossed hurley sticks, a ladder of Irish football teams, a song wailed by the Chieftains. A flat-screen monitor showed of all things a bicycle race in progress. Arkady watched the wheels hypnotically go round and round and round. The chalkboard offered ten beers on tap. A food board offered, among other items, soda bread, barmbrack, goody and crubeens.

Arkady was intrigued. “What is barmbrack?”

“Fooked if I know.”

“What is a goody?”

“Beats me.”

“Crubeens?”

“Pig trotters. A man could starve to death from the fookin’ ambiance here. Come back tonight. We have waitresses in short skirts who step-dance on the bar.”

Arkady didn’t feel up to that. “Just a beer and soda bread.”

“With gluten or without?”

“Just a beer.”

The bartender sneaked a look at the television. “It’s the Irish Ultra Marathon World Cup. Want a thrill?” He picked up the remote control and froze the picture. “That’s me in the emerald-green jersey, right behind the asshole in the Union Jack who’s about to crash. I can’t stand this.” He turned the monitor off. “It gives me a chill every time I see it. Like a goose flew over my grave. What was your order?”

“Just the beer.” Arkady squinted to read the bartender’s name tag. Mick. Mick sounded authentic enough. “So you know about bikes?”

“I hope so. Where are you going?”

“I’ll be back.”

•  •  •

By the time Arkady was nine years old, General Renko had largely retreated to his library, into an aura of red velvet drapes. The room was forbidden to Arkady. Occasionally, the general called for him to bring vodka or tea and he glimpsed irresistible photographs of a gutted city, and a collection of German helmets and tattered battle standards. The room’s single light was a desk lamp, and there the general conjured up his enemies.

Arkady waited for his chance, and when the door was left ajar, he sneaked in. He raced around the room taking inventory, until he came to standards topped by swastikas and eagles. He was fascinated most by an SS standard of a skull and bones. The fabric was silk, stiff with blood. He didn’t hear the general return until he was almost in the room.

Arkady dove behind the drapes as the old man came in with a bottle of vodka and a water glass that he stopped to wipe clean with his nightshirt. Every move was solemn and ceremonial, like a priest’s at communion; he sat and drank half a glass of the vodka in one go. On the desk were a typewriter and three phones, white, black and red, in ascending importance. Arkady was silent. The general was so quiet Arkady thought he must have fallen asleep. He waited for an opportunity to creep out but then the general twitched or muttered or refilled his glass. He laughed. Waved his hand in a vague manner. Shook his fist as if addressing a crowd.
Perhaps he had not been given the field marshall’s baton that was his due, but people who knew, knew!

The red telephone, the line to the Kremlin, hadn’t rung for a year. Nevertheless, he was ready. Just a matter of getting into his uniform and shaving.

“Who’s there?”

Arkady wasn’t aware of having made a sound. He did hear the general’s chair roll back and desk drawers rapidly open and slam shut. He heard the cylinder of a revolver swing open and bullets roll across the desk. “Is that you, Fritz?”

Arkady dug deeper into the curtain.

“I’m going to give you a hint, Fritz,” the general whispered. “If you want to kill a man, if you want to be sure, get close.”

BOOK: Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel (Arkady Renko Novels)
11.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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