21

His head was tipped back, his legs sprawled, his mouth slack and half open. She cleared away the dishes as quietly as she could, but he didn’t stir, even when a fork slipped off a plate and landed noisily in the sink. He looked awkward, his bad leg twisted, likely to wake up sore and stiff. She got a pillow and eased his head onto it, lifted his legs onto the couch, then took the duvet from her bed to spread over him.

She took her laptop to her desk and tried to figure out how to spend the day. She would have to stop by Area South and make a formal statement before long. She would probably have to make some gesture at talking to witnesses. Maybe when Donna wasn’t in such a state she’d be able to accept that her disturbed son had finally committed the crime his voices accused him of whenever he was psychotic.

She fingered the tender spot under her left eye. It didn’t look too bad, but it smarted when she touched it. Taking a breath, she picked up her phone and called Josh’s neighbor. He didn’t answer, so she left a message, speaking in a low voice, though the man asleep on her couch didn’t stir. “Hi, Kyle. This is Josh’s friend, Anni. Could we talk sometime? His family is pretty freaked out about things and, um . . . well, just hoping we could touch base.” She left her number and hung up.

She turned to the to-do list and decided to research the orphanage where Feliks Król had been sent, the one listed on his sad childhood report card.

Two hours later, she had a stiff back and a new appreciation for not having been institutionalized. As rough as life in foster homes had been, it wasn’t as prison-like as Feliks Król’s early childhood. She had gathered a handful of potential contacts from a hobby website that documented the history of the orphanage. Someone had even posted a copy of the same photo of solemn children posed on the orphanage’s front steps that they’d found in the box with the picture of his mother. She made a list, then mapped out a route that would give her a chance to interview two of Król’s fellow orphans on the way to the archives at Loyola University, where papers from the orphanage were kept.

She slipped her laptop into her bag, grabbed her keys, and wrote a note to Slovo before heading out. She wasn’t sure it was wise to leave a man with so many unanswered questions alone in her flat, but she didn’t have anything worth stealing and he looked likely to sleep for hours.

 

It was late when she returned. Adam was standing in front of the house amid a clutter of bags and toddler supplies, keeping an anxious eye on Daniel, who was shrieking and running with his arms outstretched. “Airplane!” he shouted as he collided painfully into Anni’s legs. Then he changed his mind and tried to climb them. She picked him up, her back protesting. “You guys need a ride to the airport?”

“I ordered an Uber with a child seat. I think this is it.”

She helped the driver get all of the gear into the trunk as Adam muscled his son into the car seat and got him strapped in. “I keep thinking I forgot something.” Adam patted his pockets worriedly.

“Phone? Charger? Wallet? Snacks for Daniel?”

“Oh, the keys. I almost forgot. Can you give these to Kostya?”

“To who?”

“Your friend,” he clarified as she stared at him, puzzled. “He’s going to take care of Grommet. Lucky, huh? I was getting desperate. He’s going to house sit for us.”

The cab pulled away and she climbed the stairs, seething with feelings she couldn’t quite identify. The couch was empty, the duvet piled up in a heap. She heard the shower running. Slovo’s coat was still draped over a kitchen chair. She went through its pockets, but found nothing beyond a crumpled fast-food wrapper, some loose change, and a pocket knife. She unzipped his duffel bag and rifled through it. Some T-shirts, a pair of jeans, underwear. A comb, a toothbrush, a bottle of Advil, nothing inside other than what was on the label. As the water shut off she tossed the pills back and zipped up the duffel. Slovo stepped out of the bathroom, clinging to a small towel that barely made it around his waist. He had a wide welt of scarring that ran from the hip down to his knee, like a lightning strike that scored a tree trunk. “Oh, uh . . . hey, hope you, don’t mind. You got an extra towel?”

She went to the basket of clean laundry near her bed and found a bath towel. He slung it over his shoulder, picked up his duffel, and limped back into the bathroom. His back was striped with shadows, she noticed, parallel lines of discolored skin. He whistled quietly in the bathroom, muffled behind the closed door. She’d seen scars like that before. While still in her probationary period, she arrested a man who believed in that biblical verse about spoiling children. He didn’t spare the rod, or the fist, or the belt buckle. Her training officer explaining the strange marks on the child’s back: that’s from a radiator. The ones on his arms? Cigarettes. Like they were hieroglyphics she had to learn how to read.

A few minutes passed and Slovo was back, dressed, springy hair clinging damply to his forehead. “How’s Adam doing?”

“He’s on his way to the airport.”

“Good deal. He was worried about missing his plane. Say, I noticed you had a couple of deodorants in there.”

Mi casa es su casa.”

He didn’t seem to register her sarcasm. “No, I didn’t use it, just . . . look, I’m being a jerk, showing up like this. Is it going to bother your roomie?”

“My what?”

“Your boyfriend?” He pretended to nudge something out of the corner of his eye, gaining time. “Just wondered if he might misread the situation.”

“Like, he might see you making yourself at home and think that includes hitting on me whenever you feel like it, like old times?”

“Ouch.”

“That is not going to happen.”

“Man, I was such an immature asshole.”

“No, you were a serial harasser. And an asshole.”

He winced. “Fair enough. I don’t do that anymore.”

“Because you finally grew up? That’s your excuse?”

“No, I . . . since I left here I met somebody.” He rubbed his eye again, cleared his throat. “It didn’t work out in the end, but I learned some things.”

“How Oprah of you.”

His mouth tightened. “Look, I don’t know what I was trying to prove back then, but it was stupid, all right?”

“You made some kind of living arrangement with my tenant while I was out.”

“He was freaking out. I never saw somebody so worried about a rat. Well, worried about a rat’s welfare. Usually it’s wondering how to get rid of the bastards. Did you know they’re really smart? Adam said—”’

“I own this building.”

“Right. I would have checked, but you weren’t here and his plane was leaving, so . . .”

“We need to get some things straight.” She pointed at the couch.

He sat, clenching his hands between his knees like a boy called into the principal’s office, but he wasn’t clowning around now. He looked different. Not apprehensive or ashamed. Just tired.

“First, you need to tell me what went down in Boston.”

He took a breath. Then he let it out and looked toward the door as if he’d rather be somewhere else.

“Don’t fuck around. You tell me everything or I’m on the phone right now with the two detectives who are looking at your friend Król. They’ll want to talk to you. They’ll want to check in with Boston. And don’t give me some sob story. I don’t like being manipulated.”

“Guess you have a right to ask.”

“Damn straight.”

“It’s not anything bad. Well, it’s bad, but it’s not anything I did. Well . . .” He read her expression and changed course. “Okay, I’ll explain. You know I was in Maine for a while? I busted my leg there, the one that was already messed up from the shooting. After that I wasn’t good for much. I moved to a neighborhood in Boston where got to know this cop, a good guy. They have a sizable Russian community. Some are nice old ladies like Zoya, some aren’t so nice. Anyway, my only job at the time was drinking and sleeping too much, so he got me hooked up with a defense lawyer who needed a translator. That guy hooked me up with some other folks and long story short, I ended up aware of a situation that got real messy because cops are involved.”

“What kind of situation?”

“Trafficking. Women with E.U. passports, East Europeans, mostly, but also some kids from the boonies up north. I first learned about it from a friend from Maine who came down to claim a body, a runaway who tricked for a while before she OD’d. I realized it connected up with these Russians I’d met and I took it to my cop friend and he found out too late there was some police involvement and now it’s a total clusterfuck.”

“Which you decided to run away from, as you do.”

He closed his eyes for a moment, took a breath. “I left to slow things down. My friend is jammed up thanks to me, and in a week or he should have some information that will unjam him. But if they yank me in front of a judge too soon, the cops who are mixed up in all this will have the upper hand. I’m just delaying things for a few days.”

“Are you personally facing criminal charges?”

“What day is it?” Seeing her response, he quickly added “Maybe failure to appear. I was supposed to be in court this morning. Or yesterday? I’m losing track. Nothing else. Not even parking tickets, ‘cause I haven’t owned a car since I screwed up my leg. Believe me, if there was any way they could convict me of anything, they’d have thrown away the key long ago. This investigation has been in the works for more than two years.”

“How high up does it go?”

“A deputy superintendent. He’ll probably walk away without a scratch, maybe lose his pension but probably not. Below him, a captain and a whole strike force that’s in up to their necks. They have the most to lose, and they do scary for a living. If things go right, in a week or so they’ll be forced to turn in their badges, which is why right now they’re losing their shit.”

“What about the Russians?”

“They lost their shit a while ago.”

“I mean, will they come after you?”

“Not likely. You know the really smart hackers from there? They guys who can turn an election or take out a power grid? These aren’t those guys. They’re just dumb thugs with police protection. I was more worried about the cops.”

“Who know other cops. You sure coming here was a good idea?”

“Given what happened with Robin? Yeah, not my smartest move. Only this thing about Feliks came up. I didn’t want him accused of anything he would never do, so I came to see if I could explain before I moved on. That was the plan, but then Adam said he needed a house sitter for a week and I was thinking okay, this could work. I could just lie low. With this Russian thing, always wondering when the next shoe would drop, having a few days somewhere safe, it was like a gift just fell in my lap. Too good to be true. I mean, you don’t have much reason to trust me, and your boyfriend has even less.”

“What do you know about a boyfriend?”

“Two toothbrushes and a brand of deodorant. That is all the Sherlock I got.”

He’d had plenty of time to search her place, Anni thought. He could know a lot more than he let on. She remembered all of the rumors that swirled around him when he ditched out on his dead partner. His own family had no clue what he was up to or where he’d been living for years.

Her danger signals should be ringing loudly but they weren’t. She pictured him before, in the squad room, an outsider among the clannish band of brothers, but street smart, committed, working all hours and bringing in more convictions than any of them.

No. There was no way she could trust him, no matter how plausible he seemed.

“Sounds like you have more than one case going,” he added. “Adam gave me a password for his computer. I could do some work for you, digging around online. Or just watch Netflix. He gave me that password, too. You might want to warn him not to talk to strangers. He’s a little too trusting.”

“Well, I’m not.”

He nodded, looking resigned to what would come next. She still hadn’t made up her mind.

“Is there someone who could vouch for you? That cop friend of yours in Boston?”

“He’s already in enough trouble, and he’s being watched.” He chewed a thumbnail, thinking. “There’s this immigration lawyer who knows the situation because of clients. You can look her up, she’s legit. Only it would be better if she didn’t know where I am, being an officer of the court and all.”

“What’s her name?”

“Anita Brockhurst. She has her own practice, teaches part time at BU Law.”

Anni got her laptop, did a quick search and scanned pages, glancing at Slovo as she learned what she could. Brockhurst apparently was used to handling sensitive information online, with instructions on her site about how to contact her using end-to-end encrypted messaging. Anni could cross-check her credibility. No doubt the civil rights lawyers she worked with could get some inside dope. On the other hand, he had gotten in a mess in Boston and ran away from it, just like when he’d left the CPD. She knew enough of his past to distrust him, or at least have doubts.

He nodded as if she’d spoken aloud. “Never mind. This won’t work. It’s too risky. Your boyfriend or whatever, he’s going to notice.”

“He’s away this week. For work.”

“Cool, but you’re not comfortable with this. Don’t worry about it. I’ll go. Only think about what I said. Feliks didn’t hurt Danny. Somebody else is responsible. You need to find out who.”

“No, I don’t. My only job is gathering background on Król.”

“Well, keep an open mind, anyway. I know it would feel good to close that case, but—”

“Didn’t I just say? It’s not my case.” Maybe she was just tired after dealing with Josh and spending a day running around town chasing slim leads on a man who drew disturbing pictures worth an obscene amount of money. Maybe it was the weirdness of having a man she had worked with at Area 4 Headquarters sitting on her couch, or the aftershock of seeing that shirt, those sandals that had been part of a description she put out ten years ago as she set up operations on a hot day in Grant Park. It was her case, past tense, and it was still part of her, a nagging itch she couldn’t reach.

If Slovo was willing to go through those creepy notebooks she wouldn’t have to, she thought. He might pick up on things she would miss. He knew Król personally. He might have even worked on some of the crimes that inspired the crazy old man to imagine those scenes of cruelty.

She was an idiot, she thought, if she didn’t kick him out immediately.

“Course, somebody’s going to have to feed that rat,” he added, starting to rise from the couch.

She waved him back and said she would check out what that lawyer had to say before she made a decision. But she knew he could tell, with that goofball grin of his, that it was settled.

God, he was annoying.

License

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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.