17

Returning home, Anni updated her notes, downloaded her photos, and studied them. Beatrycze Król, with her gaunt cheeks and cloud of dark, wavy hair. A blurry snapshot with “Feliks” penciled across the back in spidery cursive, showing a baby standing in a crib, holding onto the bars and peering through them like a tiny, solemn convict. A fuzzy photo of a group of boys in uniforms, their hair cropped so short it was nearly shaved, lined up on the steps of a brick building watched over by a nun in full habit, a bundle of keys hanging at her side. Anni wondered which one was the unsatisfactory boy who needed improvement in religion.

She caught sight of the time. Dammit, running late for dinner.

 

Anni parked in front of the house, behind the familiar battered Volvo that Nancy had been driving for more than a decade. It had acquired some new dents and scrapes, thanks to Sophie, who had passed her driver’s test but hadn’t totally gotten the hang of it yet.

Sophie greeted her at the door and pulled her into the kitchen, eager to show off the quiche she had made while simultaneously complaining about her required science course. “Why should I have to take biology again? I had it in high school.”

“You could have taken something else,” Nancy said, taking the bottle of wine Anni had brought.

“What, chemistry? Physics? I’m going to major in art. I don’t need science. I got a D on the first test.” She sounded proud of it. “Worst score in the whole class. What do you think of the crust?”

“It’s beautiful,” Anni said, truthfully, admiring the fluted edging.

“You should have seen the mess she made,” Alice said. “Looked like a flour sack exploded.”

“I cleaned it up.”

“Last time you didn’t. I got stuck doing it.”

“Can I show you my volcano?” Lucy tugged at Anni’s shirt as the girls bickered. “I can make it erupt.”

“No,” Nancy said firmly.

“Talk about a mess,” Alice muttered.

“But it’s so cool,” Lucy squealed. “It shoots up in the air!”

“How’d you make this volcano?” Anni asked.

“With candy and diet pop.” Lucy folded over with laughter.  “It exploded!” She demonstrated, with her arms stretched toward the ceiling, adding sound effects.

“It’s your turn to set the table, Luce,” Nancy said calmly.

“Don’t set a place for me,” Sophie said. “I have to meet Lucas. That play, remember?”

“That’s not until eight.”

“We want to get good seats.”

Nancy glanced at the clock. “You have a few minutes, anyway. Anni wanted to talk to you about Dr. Sidlo. There’s an artist he’s been researching.”

“Oh, yeah. Ben’s so excited about that guy.” She absently broke off a piece of the crust and popped it into her mouth.

“You took a class from him, I heard.”

“Contemporary Art and Theory. It’s a three hundred, so I had to get permission, but it was awesome, which is why I want to major in art. Or maybe Theatre, with a minor in arts management. Ben’s a great teacher, though sometimes he doesn’t stop when class is over. He gets so wound up that he just keeps going. I had Spanish right after, but it was really awkward to get up and leave, even though I had to get all the way across campus and my Spanish teacher was, like, really strict about everything. What’s the deal with this artist, anyway? Was he a pedophile? His stuff is so creepy, but you’d think he was Leonardo da Vinci, the way Ben talks about him.”

“I guess that kind of art is his specialty. Outsider art. He wrote a book about it.”

“Figures. I liked his course, but he’s so into himself it’s kind of gross. I gotta go. Can I take the—”

“No.”

“You didn’t let me even finish my sentence.”

“I don’t like you driving in the city, especially at night.”

“Jeez.”

“Did you put mushrooms in this?” Alice poked at the quiche. “You know I hate mushrooms.”

 

After dinner, the women lingered at the kitchen table, finishing a bottle of wine. “How ridiculous. Dugan’s a good cop. It’s an insult to suggest he can’t keep the details of a case confidential.”

“I don’t know what they’re investigating but it’s political dynamite and one of the people involved has a connection to a case I worked on. The reality is, I’m the last person he should be with.”

“They shouldn’t hold it against him that you occasionally work for a lawyer who keeps suing them.”

Anni gave her a crooked smile. “It’s not that, and you know it. I’m a liability. You don’t shack up with someone who disgraced the badge.” Nancy started to object, but Anni cut her off. “That’s how they see it. You don’t rat out a fellow cop. You just don’t.”

“Which is why citizens don’t trust the police. No accountability.”

“Dugan’s not like that.”

“Neither were you. But that culture is toxic. How does Dugan cope?”

Anni shrugged. Though she sometimes wondered that herself, she was ready to change the subject. “Say, don’t tell Ben Sidlo, but I was going through Feliks Król’s stuff today.”

“Why shouldn’t I tell him?”

“He wants to control who has access and how everything is handled. It’s fine with him if it takes years to get through it all. Gives him more time to build up his reputation, and he wants to control what he calls his media message.”

“Hard on Danny’s family, though.”

“On the mom, yeah. The dad’s just like Ben, enjoying all the attention.”

“I’ve seen him on television. What a git. Did you find anything?”

“A few bits and pieces. I thought  might find something about Danny, but nothing has turned up yet.”

“I passed along that name you gave me to my colleague in Boston. He’s already been tapping his contacts.”

“Thanks. It’s weird. While I was trying to trace Slovo, I found out all kinds of things I didn’t know, but nothing about where he is now.” She recapped her search so far as Nancy refilled their glasses.

“How strange. You never knew he had brothers?” Nancy asked.

“He only talked about his grandmother. Not sure how you make dementia funny, but he did.”

“Oh dear.”

“It sounds awful, but it was kind of touching. She didn’t speak much English, so he’d had to interpret for her at the nursing home. She died right around the time I got to Harrison. He was really upset about it. I assumed she was the only family he had.”

“But the one brother, the oldest one, he lives in Chicago?”

“He seems like a nice guy. Teaches social studies at a Catholic high school. From what I can tell, they had a pretty messed-up childhood. Their dad died when they were small and their mother had a crummy job that didn’t pay enough to feed five kids. Another brother, one who lives in California now, he told me she was abusive and Slovo got the worst of it. He ran away and was a street kid for a while, which explains a lot. I mean, he was always goofing around, like a clown with anger issues, but he didn’t socialize after work. Even when he was working, he kept his own hours and did his own thing.”

“A man of mystery.”

“More than I ever realized. It turns out that Dugan grew up with the detective who got killed the night Slovo was wounded. They were close family friends.”

“Jim didn’t know her, but we went to her funeral.” There was a brief silence while they both remembered another funeral that was a sea of uniforms, hundreds of officers showing solidarity. The sound of bagpipes.

“Your other case,” Nancy said briskly. “The boy who’s headed to a crisis. How’s he doing?”

“I haven’t talked to him today.” Her hand reached for her phone automatically. No new messages. “He’s not a boy anymore, he’s a graduate student. He’s the one tried to go to Argentina.”

“I remember that. Those poor parents.”

“They disagree about what to do. His mother is over-involved. His father is ready to wash his hands of him.”

“That poor kid.”

They finished the bottle as they talked, then Anni headed to campus to spend the rest of the evening with her brother. They were watching a documentary about bees on the Discovery Channel in companionable silence when her phone rang. She frowned at the number. It wasn’t anyone in her contacts, but the area code seemed vaguely familiar. She’d used it not long ago, she realized, calling people in the Boston PD, trying to get a bead on Slovo.

“Yes?” she said, rising and taking her phone to the hallway outside her brother’s studio apartment.

“You’ve been asking about me.”

No hello, just the sharp edge of suspicion. “Is this Slovo? Uh, yeah, thanks for getting in touch.”

“What do you need?” There were echoing sounds in the background. Voices bouncing off hard surfaces. A radio playing in the background.

“I wanted to ask you about Feliks Król.”

“Feliks?” His tone thawed. “Wow. Been a while. How’s he doing?”

“I’m afraid he died last January.”

“Shit. What happened?”

“It was pneumonia.”

“Damn. I guess he was getting on in years.”

“Sorry to drop the news on you like that. So, you knew him pretty well?”

“What’s this about?” The warmth had left his voice as abruptly as it had come.

“I don’t know if you remember the Danny Truscott case.”

“Sure. The one you caught. I heard they found some evidence.”

“Danny’s shirt and shoes. They were in Król’s room.”

“In . . . Sorry, it’s noisy here. What was that?”

“Feliks Król had some of Danny’s clothes in his room.”

“No. What I heard, it was some crazy artist.”

“That’s Król. His room was full of paintings and drawings. Nobody knew until he died and they went to clear out his room.”

Slovo didn’t respond for a moment. “He was an artist?”

“Yes. Experts think his work is pretty important.”

“Huh. Well, if you’re thinking Feliks did something to the kid, forget it. That’s not possible.”

“The subject matter of the art is violent and disturbed. His pictures, they all involve children. I’m just trying to piece this together.”

“Maybe he picked the clothes up somewhere. Maybe even the art. He did a lot of scavenging.”

“No. I was in his room. There was a project he was working on, half finished. It was inspired by a newspaper story about an abused child. He has dozens of these notebooks. He was obsessed.”

“You have this all wrong.” He sighed impatiently. “People thought he was a little weird, okay? But I knew the guy, knew him for years. There’s no way he—fuck. I’ll call you later.”

“I’m sorry if . . .“ Her phone beeped three times and she looked at it. He’d hung up on her.

She paced up and down the hallway, thinking. She should have handled it differently. Slovo was upset enough to learn Król had died, then learned he had led a secret life. But clearly he knew the man, knew him well enough to care about his reputation. Enough to be completely thrown to learn he might, after all, have had an unhealthy interest in children. She would give him time to collect his thoughts before calling him back.

She only had the patience to give it a minute before redialing. “This is Zoya.” A quavering, elderly voice answered.

“Um . . . I was trying to reach Konstantin Slovo.”

“The young man? He’s your friend?”

“We used to work together. Is he around?”

“Let me check.” Anni waited. “No, he’s not here anymore.” The background noise had increased, voices raised, echoing and confused. “Hey, watch out, mister. What’s your hurry? Idiots. Wait one moment please.” The sounds grew muffled and a few seconds later were replaced by the sound of tires on pavement, city street noises. “Okay, is better now. Every time I stop in to get milk or cigarettes, some drama is happening at this store. So, you are also translator? Govoritze po Russkie? Po Ukrainskie?

“Sorry?”

“Spanish, then? You said you work with him.”

“Uh, that was a long time ago. I was just trying to call him back. Do you know how I can reach him?”

“Sorry, I don’t even know his name. Nice boy. Twice he help me with some papers. They send me documents in the mail that I don’t understand, they make no sense. So sure, I let him use my phone, no problem. Such good manners he has. His Russian is a little terrible, to be honest, but don’t tell him I said so. Instead, you say Zoya sends greetings, okay?”

“I will,” Anni said, and went back to watch a show with her brother, trying to make sense of it all while on the television screen bees swarmed together like an ominous and highly organized ball of humming menace.

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In the Dark by Barbara Fister, 2020, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.