Authors: Helena Anderson
”Where are you going?” Carlos shouted in surprise.
”We’re going to have a look at Sten Arvidsson’s house.”
”But take it easy now”, Carlos asked factually. ”We haven’t bloody finished in here yet. We still have the report of this man, Karl Hofv….”
”That’s for you to handle”, Sam hissed. He continued quickly out of the door to the corridor with Daphne following closely behind.
The Chief remained there quietly swearing. He looked at the note with Karl Hofvenskold’s name written on it and tried pronouncing the surname again and again but to no avail. A meowing caught his attention and he followed the sound with a hint of a smile on his lips until he saw the Panther sitting on Katerina’s lap. He sulkily looked out through the window but couldn’t quite shake off the feeling of having been betrayed.
”Call the wife of the missing man and ask her to come to the station as soon as possible.” Carlos gave Katerina his sloppy handwritten note and was expectantly hanging over the high reception counter.
”OK” Katerina sulkily said and dialled the number to Barbro Hofvenskold. Panther reluctantly jumped down on the floor and twisted around her legs a few times before disappearing through the door.
”She is getting into her car at once, and will be here in about 20 minutes”, Katerina said and pulled at her rugged, bleached fringe. ”Don’t forget to show some consideration to the woman, she sounded devastated on the phone.” Katerina looked in a pointed way at Carlos before disappearing in front of the computer again.
”Thanks for letting me know”, he muttered and went out to the parking to light up a cigarette. What was wrong with the staff today? As if I don’t know how to behave. Nonsense. Swearing he went around the house and finally threw the cigarette among the other butts on the gravel. ”Bloody heat, I can’t damn stand it anymore.” Irritated he dried a few drops of sweat from his bushy moustache and blew the snot out of his enormous nose. Five minutes later when the Chief returned to his office he saw the Panther on his back sleeping in his greyish office chair.
”Hello, sweetheart, are you OK?” He tenderly scratched the cat on his soft belly and wished that all his colleagues would be like the Panther. Life would be easy then. Carlos yawned and closed the shirt button over his bulky stomach for the tenth time that day. The dust in the room was dancing in the sunlight and he stopped for a while by the gridded window. Outside the grapefruit tree was slowly moving in the breeze and there were no clouds in the blue sky. Sighing he turned around and went to his desk, lifted up the cat and sat down with the Panther on his lap. With one hand he automatically moved his fingers to and fro behind the cat’s ears while getting the camera with the other. He easily clicked on the pictures of the latest victim and chose carefully which photos to show Barbro Hofvenskold. He stopped at a close-up of the victim’s face and couldn’t understand what kind of maniac they were dealing with.
Did the murderer want to say something by removing the eyes? Carlos thoughtfully scratched his head and felt a churning headache approaching. He looked for a pack of painkillers in the top desk drawer and swallowed the tablet with some old, cold coffee still on the desk. Without hesitating he scrolled back to Sten Arvidsson’s body and looked carefully at the picture again. The injuries somehow were identical even though Sten Arvidsson had been filled with concrete. The back of his head was pounding intensively and Carlos somehow came to think of his reading glasses. He hadn’t used them for a while, without knowing why. With the cat under his arm he went up to the book-shelf and got his black eyeglass cover which was next to the dusty law-book. At the same time the phone rang with a deafening signal.
”Yes?” Carlos answered while taking out his reading glasses from the cover.
”Barbro has just come inside. You’d better handle her carefully and show her some respect. She looks very frail.”
Carlos shook his head. ”Stop fussing and send her in.”
Katerina accompanied the elegant woman through the station and for the first time she felt ashamed of how run down it was. She also felt like a giant next to the small, stylish lady who was both well dressed and smelled fresh. Katerina tried getting rid of the feeling of inferiority but she couldn’t. Carefully she knocked on the door and smiled sweetly.
”Barbro Hofvenskold.” Carlos stretched out his hand and shook her slim hand far too hard. He noticed all the jewellery shining on the slim fingers and thin wrists and strangely enough he too felt a bit inferior. The woman was very beautiful, slim and with an aura of elegance. The dark blue dress looked expensive, fitted perfectly and her silver coloured hair was put up in a tasteful French twist. The discreet make-up highlighted her grey eyes but the look in them was one of despair and worry.
”Please, have a seat.” Carlos’ voice was deep and calm in order to put the old lady at ease. He tried smiling his best smile but felt a little bit insecure faced with all the elegance. As a reflex he patted his hair down by the sides, felt with his fingers around his mouth to make sure there were no crumbs left. Then he swept his tongue over the teeth and blew air through them so that any possible left-overs would disappear.
Barbro Hofvenskold carefully sat down on the wooden chair opposite the peeling desk.
”Do you know anything about my husband’s disappearance? Is that why you asked me to come here?” Her thin voice was shaking and she anxiously clasped her tanned hands on her lap.
Carlos cleared his throat and remembered what Katerina had told him.
”We are not quite sure yet…but earlier this morning an elderly man was found.” Embarrassed he twisted a bit, wondering how to continue.
”Well, where is he then?”
”No, no, he isn’t here. Unfortunately…ehm…we found him dead.” Carlos looked carefully at Barbro and saw how she suddenly stopped breathing.
”Dead? But my husband is not dead.” Barbro looked questioning at the Chief and didn’t understand how it was pertinent to her.
”No, that’s not what I mean.” Carlos was nervously touching the graphite-gray camera, turning it here and there before continuing: ”Just for the sake of it. Do you think you could manage to look at a few pictures of the man we found dead today. I mean, it would really make it easier for us if we could write your husband off as today’s victim, since you’re sure he’s alive.”
Barbro Hofvenskold curled her mouth, giving it a thought while nervously picking at her diamond studded necklace with her fingers. ”I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen a deceased person before.” She took a paper handkerchief from her handbag and quickly wiped the corner of her eye.
Carlos browsed through the pictures in the camera for a while. He chose a close-up which was less scary, although all of them were more or less creepy. The dead man was lying naked in the sea with his hair floating around him like a wreath. That the eyes were gone he couldn’t do anything about and he didn’t quite understand how he would be able to convey this to the distraught woman. Cautiously he looked at Barbro and noticed how affected she seemed to be. Would she really manage this?
”I guess it’s better to get it over with”, Barbro said and turned nervously.
”You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to”, Carlos kindly replied and tried to delay it. He didn’t like the way the eyes were staring empty on the photo.
”Of course I’ll help the police if I can. I also have to know that it’s not my beloved Karl in the picture.” She sobbed while getting her reading glasses from the handbag.
”Take as much time as you need.” Carlos tone of voice was soft as he put the camera in the woman’s hands.
Barbro stared into the camera. Her shoulders quickly dropped and she wailed. The camera fell down on the floor and big tears were pouring down her cheeks.
”But how are you?” Carlos got up and looked lost. The woman hid her face in her hands and sobbed desperately.
The cold of winter had affected the brothers badly. Big brother hadn’t grown many centimetres this past year and the school nurse had started an investigation into why he was losing weight.
Little brother had been petrified before his tenth birthday and didn’t know how to make time stop. He hadn’t forgotten Daddy’s promise of initiation in the house of torment next summer.
Mother had continued ignoring all the physical and psychological abuse and usually just stayed in bed with a bottle of valium close-by. The brothers who previously had been lively and happy had become more and more introvert and withdrawn. The bond between them had grown even stronger and with each-other they felt secure. Big brother had started dreaming about defending himself and he had started exercising in secret before going to bed. Little brother had tried joining him but he got a nose-bleed whenever doing the least effort.
This summer the brothers were no longer longing for a summer holiday in the countryside. The farm on Gotland that the brothers had inherited from their grandparents when they tragically died in a car accident now seemed like a prison camp.
Their father’s mood had been changing rapidly the last few summer months. The boys had learned to recognize the signs when they had to be extra careful, which was most of the time. The explosions came more frequently and the father had also started oppressing and psyching out his sons more and more. Little brother had been locked in a storage room in the cellar on his tenth birthday without either food or drink. One day had soon turned into four and Little brother could hardly crawl up the cellar stairs when Daddy had finally let him out. During this time Big brother had been punished by having to watch his parents eat their meals. A few times the mother had managed to sneak him some left-overs but usually he left the table hungry.
The storage room in the cellar became the boys’ worst fear where anything could happen. The summer had been full of several colds which had led to double-sided pneumonia because of spending countless days in the cold damp cellar, as well as due to malnutrition.
The holiday island which always had been the sun’s island where laughter and happiness had been rampant had slowly changed into a tyrannical prison. The children had lost their confidence in their mother and had seen her slowly turning her back at their suffering.
That autumn term the boys started school with burnt palms. The father had forced them to keep their hands on the ring on the old AGA stove until he smelt burnt human flesh. The boys had lied as usual to the school nurse but she still made a note in the margin of the brothers’ files, but nothing happened. The abuse was allowed to continue another complete autumn and winter.
Saturday June 8th
It was a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun was already hot and the temperature showed 35 degrees in the shade. Birds chirping were heard from the blossoming hibiscus hedge and the banana trees were slowly swaying in the morning breeze. Theo Aristou was sitting on the terrace having breakfast at the large kitchen table together with the rest of the family when his mobile rang. He had a quick glance at the display, noticed that it was an important phone call and excused himself before getting up.
”How did it go?” Theo wondered, biting his cheek while looking out through the large living room window overlooking the green garden and swimming-pool.
”I’ve got the money. Can you meet me at the office in half an hour?”
”Perfect, see you there.” Theo gave a sigh of relief. When he came back to the breakfast table there was a big fight between the kids over the jar of Nutella.
”Hey, there is enough Nutella for both of you. Stop bickering.” Theo handed the jar to Julia who put spoon after spoon on her newly toasted bread.
”But I also want it”, Thomas shouted loudly. ”Look, she’s taking all of it now. Oh.” Thomas tried taking the jar from Julia and Theo once again had to mediate between the children.
”That’s enough, Julia, give your brother the jar now so he also can have some while his toast is hot.” Theo sat down next to his beloved wife and kissed her cheek tenderly.
”Wonderful with brotherly love, don’t you think?” Pauline smiled. ”Who was calling by the way?” She blew on her hot coffee latte, carefully had a sip and licked the milk off her upper lip.
”Business, and unfortunately I have to be at the office in half an hour’s time even though it’s Saturday. But you know I have to do this, unfortunately there is no going back.” Theo smiled a fake smile, swallowed the last mouthful of crisp bread and finished his freshly made orange juice. Decisively he then pushed the chair away, collected the breakfast dishes and went into the kitchen.
Pauline slowly padded along, hugged her husband from behind and enjoyed smelling his aftershave. For several years they had been fighting setbacks but still always managed to keep their love alive. Theo turned around and kissed his wife tenderly. Then he lifted up her face so he could look into her deep blue eyes.
”I will be handing over the money today. That’s what the phone call was all about.”
”Damn it, I’d rather we kept it. Imagine everything we could have done with it”, Pauline dreamingly said but with a touch of anger. She didn’t know if she should feel relieved or despondent. Both feelings were whirling around like a yo-yo in her young body. Of course she knew what Vladimir and his crew were capable of if they didn’t pay the fake invoice on time. They had given proof of that last year.
”I know honey.” He frustratedly shook his head, made a face and glanced at the clock. Completely unnecessary since he already knew what time it was.
”It’s never going to work. Damn it. I can’t handle another trip with the Mafia. Why are they harassing us out of all people?” Pauline pushed a wisp of hair behind her ear and felt tears in her eyes.
”Hush, keep it low. Unnecessary for the children to know about this. Honey, I don’t know why. Sometimes I wish that I could look into the future, but unfortunately…” Theo hugged his wife and kissed her again. ”I’ll be back in a couple of hours’ time and then we’ll try looking forward again. Maybe we can go swimming with the kids? Think about it. I’ll give you a ring when I’m on my way home.”
”If Vladimir had been here I would have wrung his neck. Doesn’t he get it how much pain he is causing?” Pauline felt the anger come up like a fire inside and she couldn’t stop thinking of the Mafia. The tears were pouring down her cheeks while she showed with her hands how to twist Vladimir’s neck. ”I hate him, do you understand?” Pauline started crying loudly and blindly.
”Hush darling.” Theo embraced his wife and let her have a good cry. ”Come on, you’ll see things will work out. Now you have to be strong for the children. I will soon be back and then we’ll turn the page, OK?” Pauline looked up with eyes red from crying and nodded hopelessly. Theo kissed the tip of her nose and hugged her tightly.
”Promise you’ll be careful.”
”I promise. Forget about the Mafia now. I’ll pay them today and then we’ll cross our fingers that this is the last fake invoice- ever.”
Theo knew that he had to keep a calm and safe exterior for Pauline’s sake but inside him the fear was fluttering around like a big bat. Anxiously he went out into the hall, stood in front of the mirror and saw the worry reflected in his wide open eyes. The thought of handing over so much money hurt terribly, especially these days when sales were almost at a standstill. He thought he had aged. The skin around his eyes was loose and wrinkled. He looked tired. Unruly wisps of grey hair were hanging by the sides and Theo took the comb from his back pocket to try taming the whirls that liked living their own life. He noticed that the tabs by his forehead had grown and he knew that soon he’d be bald despite just being 46 years old. As usual Theo was wearing a suit and the tie was hanging untied around his shirt collar when he went out on the terrace to say good bye.
”Promise me to be good to your dear mother for a couple of hours, and we’ll see each-other later.” He gave them a fly kiss each and hugged his wife before taking the lift down to the garage.
Fifteen minutes later Theo parked the family’s black Mercedes CLS outside his office, opened up the glass door and switched off the alarm. He barely had time to put on the computer before hearing the door opening again.
”Hello, anybody here?”
”Up here”, Theo shouted. He quickly went to the marble staircase and looked at the other man. ”Thanks once again for helping me out.” He took the black briefcase and went in to the office.
”Would you like a drink?”
”Maybe another time. I have to go.”
”OK, talk to you later.”
”Of course. Take care and good luck.”
Theo sat down on the office’s black leather couch with the bags next to him, in order to gather some courage. However he turned the situation around he couldn’t find a way out of the Mafia’s grip. It was the Mafia deciding who they wanted to mess with. His knees started shaking. It felt like a hundred anthills in his trousers. Tired of himself and of being hunted he got up and anxiously started pacing to and fro. His clothes were sticking to him and Theo nervously scratched his neck. He knew that he should lift the phone and give Vladimir a ring but he agonized. Old memories from last year came up when Vladimir had beaten him and Theo made a bad face when he remembered the horrible pain. After a few encouraging pats on his cheeks he gathered up his courage and dialled the number from hell. He felt the heartburn come into his throat and the bitter taste was increasing with every signal going through.
Oleg Malyshev lit his cigar and blew the smoke out without any consideration of the other guests in the restaurant. He finished his cold frappé and burped loudly. The long slim fingers held the Cuban delight steadily and he habitually puffed a few smoke rings into the air. Casually, Oleg leaned back on the soft back support on the white leather couch and put one hand behind his neck. The greyish black hair on his chest was sprawling out of the tight white shirt which was open all the way down to the navel and a thick golden chain with the family’s crest was hanging far down on the chest. Oleg Malyshev was head of the Russian Mafia in Cyprus. He had started the organization some five years’ ago and for the past two years they had been more than active on the island. In Russia the Mafia leader still had around 50 active companies and in Cyprus he was responsible for about another 100. Being 1 metre 70 centimetres he was fairly short but more muscular than most in his family. His body was covered with scars and tattoos and he had about ten different murders on his 45 year old conscience. Nowadays he was thought to be one of the most dangerous men in Cyprus.
Vladimir Butonov was sitting opposite the Mafia boss inhaling deeply. A curtain of smoke had been formed around their table. Vladimir was a certified lawyer and had worked in the High Court in Moscow before being recruited by his brother Oleg three years ago. Vladimir was the smarter of the two with an IQ of 185, so he had been given the position of Oleg’s right hand man. With his extreme knowledge of computers he had managed to stay out of criminal records everywhere around the globe. He knew, though, that he had been included on Interpol’s observation list for about a year and a half. In December he would turn 50 but he looked much younger.
Vladimir was slim with an oval face and closely set blue little eyes. The enormous hairy wart on his right cheek was his signature as well as the fierce scar under his right eye. His style of dressing was similar to Oleg’s, open white shirt and suit. But never grey, that was Oleg’s colour.
”Well, well.” Vladimir smiled tightly when he recognized the mobile number on the display and nodded at Oleg that he was going to answer. ”If you’re calling to tell me you’ve got the money it’s OK for you to disturb me. If not I promise to cut your tongue out of your gob.” Vladimir tapped his long cigar in the already too full ashtray and had a sip of ice-coffee.
”I have the cash”, Theo stuttered while impatiently pacing his office.
”You mean you’ve got me a million euros?”
”Yes, I have the money”, Theo clarified and felt the pressure over his chest tighten.
”Good. You’ll find me on the boat in the Pafos’ harbour. Be there within half an hour.”
”What’s the name of the boat?”
Vladimir laughed out loud. ”Of all the 150 boats in the harbour ours is the largest.” He finished the conversation and put the mobile phone in the pocket of his suit.
”We have to get back. Theo is coming with our money within half an hour.” Vladimir smiled hard and pulled at the black hair on his wart.
”You mean that our million is coming?” Oleg smiled broadly and showed his front teeth made of gold.
They nodded at the young waiter before leaving the restaurant which was owned by Oleg. He had chosen to invest in a restaurant in Pafos’ harbour to be able to have his meetings in peace there. Apart from the fact that most restaurants in this beautiful area full of tourists were paying Oleg. Of course Oleg had forced the former owner to sell and then he had completely renovated the premises.
Oleg had gold-coloured sunglasses on, looking out over the harbour. The outdoor cafeterias were almost full of tourists and at Zeus cafeteria local youths were jostling the tourists for a place in the shade. The menu at Zeus was attractive with their fresh seafood and Cypriot specialities. But most of all they were know for their fantastic coffee.
With determined steps the brothers passed the ice-cream vendors and the souvenir shops where dancing toys were sharing place with cashew nuts and organic, local olive oils. They continued out to the pier and nodded silently at the guard who let them onboard. The dark blue luxury yacht was clearly the biggest in the harbour at 130 feet. With his usual persuasion and threats, Oleg had made other boats move away when they finally had decided on Pafos being their home port. Now they had the best mooring by far, close to all the cafeterias and restaurants. From the sun deck they could even follow the yearly opera performance being shown on the first weekend of September in connection with the wine festival. The opera was always held outdoors at the old 13th century fortress, which was all the way at the tip of Pafos harbour.
Theo had big sweaty spots under his arms when he reluctantly put on his jacket before going out on the pier. It wasn’t hard at all to guess which yacht belonged to the Russian Mafia. The boat was enormous with five floors. The name ‘Money Talks’ was burning his wallet now that he knew how the Mafia got their money. Both his jaws and posture were tense like violin strings when he was let onboard on the wide, well polished gangway. Before entering the lounge the guard made sure he left his shoes outside.
With the sweat glistering on his forehead Theo looked absolutely petrified. The guard ordered him to sit down and wait in the big light corner sofa which was made for at least 15 people. With pleasure mixed with fear he looked around the room. The boat was oozing luxury and vanity but Theo clearly felt he never wanted to set foot here again. He quickly turned around when he felt a chill at his back.
”Vladmir will see you now.” The armed guard went in front of Theo and showed him the way down the narrow spiral staircase which led to yet another big lounge on the lower deck. Vladimir was sitting behind a dark brown, well polished desk sneering and his hands were intertwined as if he was just about to say grace.
”Lucky you getting all the money on time. You know that it bloody hurts being late.” Vladimir nodded contentedly and looked at Theo’s black briefcase.
”I wouldn’t be here otherwise, would I?” Theo answered as coolly as possible. He was more nervous than ever but tried controlling himself.
”Open the bag and put it on the desk. I want to check that the sum is correct. We had said one million.” Vladimir smiled brutally and stroked his finger along the long red scar on his face.
A cold chill went along Theo’s spine and he quietly wondered if he really had been so smart. Should he tell him now or let Vladimir discover what he had done? Theo scratched his neck nervously and weighed the alternatives. His thoughts went to the family and he gathered up his courage.
”It’s like this, you get half the sum now and the other half when you promise to leave my family alone from now on. And I want it in writing.”