Authors: Dan Spanton
MURDER IN UKRAINE
I’m enjoying kasha and burnt sausage for breakfast, when I catch the first report of Tatty Akkuratney’s murder on my kitchen TV. I don’t recognize the victim’s name, but it turns out she’s a moderately well-known YouTube blogger. A frail old babushka discovered the body as she was taking out her tiny sack of trash, and the camera pans to a dumpster and a cracked toilet beneath a leafless tree.
The crime is especially pitiful since the girl’s hands were chopped off.
While I’m listening for details, my cat Masha takes scurrilous advantage and leaps onto the table to snag my sausage. What can I do? She’s barely out of kitten-hood and totally amoral. If anyone knows how to discipline a cat, please write me – Constable Katya Kondrashov, Police Department, Kiev, Ukraine.
Well, that’s the end of Tatty Akkuratney, but it turns out it isn’t, because when I reach work I’m called into Commander Shulikov’s office. He doesn’t ask me to close the door so I relax a bit. Shulikov says he wants to pull me off patrol duty and loan me to a detective team, and he acts as if it’s completely routine, which if you know anything about the Kiev police department, it’s not.
A pair of detectives need assistance with phones and possible travel arrangements, and according to Shulikov I’m available for desk duty. I’m strictly an outdoor type, you can imagine my panic, until I learn that one of the detectives is Sanya Zubov, who has beautiful grey eyes, and shoulders like a shot-putter. (Don’t worry, I’m not delusional, I’m aware I don’t stand a chance with a handsome boy like Sanya.)
The other detective is Misha Volodney, whom I’ve seen around.
Guess what? They’re investigating the murder of videoblogger Tatty Akkuratney, and when I report for duty Mister Volodney says they’ve been deluged with phone tips. Then he adds that we’re heading out, grab a set of keys from car pool, you’re driving.
“I’m baby-sitting the phones,” I say glumly.
Volodney grins. “Keys, Constable.” I brighten up. Who am I to argue with a superior officer?
Volodney gives me an address near Olympic Stadium, and while I’m chauffeuring him there, I ask why we’re not sifting the crime scene for clues.
“We haven’t got a crime scene,” replies Volodney. “Not yet.” He explains that although the body was dumped under a tree, the victim was murdered elsewhere. Possibly by Pasha Bulychuk, who was put on trial last year for raping and strangling a tram driver by the name of Natalia Bulgarin, and removing her arms with a hacksaw, not necessarily in that order. Pasha is the son of Deputy Bulychuk, of the Ukrainian parliament, which, we are told, had nothing to do with Pasha’s subsequent acquittal on all charges.
“Where’s Mister Zubov?” is my next question, referring to good-looking Sanya. “Investigating,” says Volodney as he tosses a cigarette butt out the window. I’m guessing Volodney’s closing in on forty, I note with approval that his suit is clean and freshly ironed.
I’ve never visited a Deputy of Parliament’s home, but as soon as we’re inside I can tell that this Deputy is divorced. It’s a single male’s playpen, twenty stories up, with a glass-top bar and rows of floor- standing, dancing-bubble fountains. There’s gold plated plumbing on the sinks and the fridge holds rows of bottled Perrier, and the freezer is stocked with vodka and cheesecake. Volodney and I are poking around after the concierge lets us in. No sign of the Deputy, nor of Pasha the acquitted hand hacker.
A knock, I open the door and admit Detective Sanya Zubov.
Let me stipulate that Zubov’s dual shades of brown hair, like two quality chocolates –a light Bavarian chocolate, melted and poured over a dark, Russian Babaevsky, and then swirled but not blended - have nothing to do with my feelings toward him. Nor does Sanya’s athletic body inside the crisp suit, which I can only imagine.
What attracts me to Detective Zubov is the fact that he’s absolutely, at all times,
He ignores me. “What have you turned up?” he asks Volodney.
Volodney tells him that the Deputy has just finished a committee hearing and will arrive shortly, and that son Pasha is skiing in the Carpathians, according to the concierge. Furthermore, there’s word that the dead girl Tatty Akkuratney had a boyfriend, also a video blogger, who only hours ago flew to Moscow, Russia, according to his mother.
“By the by, this is Miss Kondrashov, who’s been loaned from patrol.”
Zubov brushes past me, and Volodney and I follow him to a sliding glass door, which Detective Zubov draws back to admit mild March air. We all step onto a balcony and look twenty stories down.
I don’t know if Zubov is pondering the case, or admiring the gold domes of St. Sophia Cathedral, but I anticipate his insight. Down below there’s scant snow for the first week in March, and the weather bureau says not much in the Carpathians, either. In fact, the ski resorts have crocuses popping up, according to the resorts I just contacted, so it seems likely that “hacksaw” Pasha hasn’t gone to the Carpathians to ski, but to hide out. It also looks suspicious that Tatty Akkuratney’s video blogger boyfriend has chosen today to fly to Moscow, but maybe that’s just me. I know when to keep my mouth shut.
“Check out the victim’s YouTube posts,” Zubov tells Volodney. “See if she mentioned anyone suspicious. I’ve already interviewed her parents, they’re in the dark. Tomorrow morning we’re flying to Moscow to interview the boyfriend.”
“Me too, sir?” I ask. Mister Zubov appears uncertain whether he heard a voice from the TV, or a neighbor behind the wall. He focuses on Volodney. “Take a statement from the Deputy when he arrives,” he says.
Then he’s gone, past the bubble columns and out the door, and I swoon a little against the balcony railing.
“Careful,” says Volodney.
I’m packing for Moscow. I rent the second floor of my brother-in-law’s house, and I leave the door propped open when I’m out, so my cat Masha will have the company, and hopefully, the caregiving of those on the lower level.
From downstairs I catch the betrayed wail of my three-year-old nephew, Klem. Full name Klemente (if you’re wondering) and every time he cries I hear betrayal. My sister says little boys cry more frequently than little girls, and I wonder what happens to that impulse when they’re older -maybe it goes away, maybe it doesn’t, but if it doesn’t, it explains a lot.
that poor girl!” says my sister minutes later, when I stand beside her at the stove.
“You didn’t know her, you watched her on Periscope,” I say. I’ve arrived in time to prevent her eating all the crispy skin from the roast duck. Her own children sit at the table just four feet away, impatiently waiting sustenance, unaware of their mother’s selfish behavior.
My sister sniffles. “You’re callous. Otherwise you wouldn’t be with the police.”
I don’t have an answer to that, since it may be partly true.
“I hope you catch him,” says Anna. “Not you personally, that would be too dangerous.” She lifts a knife and slices the wings off the duck.
Eight AM, we’re boarding for Moscow and I’m with the men, having booked tickets on a department card provided by Commander Shulikov. Six months from now someone will demand to know who authorized business class (me), and while they’re fretting over the expense, they may forget to ask who authorized a lowly constable to go at all.
I’ve never been to Russia, and I plan to promenade across Red Square, for that
thrill, and hopefully to snap pictures of me and Sanya Zubov together.
I also have a list of gifts for my niece and two nephews compiled by my sister, which I know she expects me to pay for, and they’re not all souvenirs. There are certain anomalies.
Something for the winter blues,
Anna has scribbled at the end.
“What did you find out?” asks Sanya Zubov, leaning across the aisle. Volodney shifts in the window seat like a child needing a pee. I remember that Zubov asked him to check out Tatty Akkuratney’s videos, and after a pause I violate my cardinal rule, which is keep my mouth shut.
“Nothing there, sir,” I reply on Volodney’s behalf. “She liked to stroll through the parks alone, while she filmed herself chattering. Not a risk taker, just oblivious. If anyone was tailing her and waving a hacksaw, she overlooked it.”
“It was a long shot,” says Sanya. “Good work, Mister Volodney,” he adds.
“Thank you, sir,” says Volodney.
We land in Moscow noonish, Mister Volodney flags a taxi and directs the driver to the Brighton hotel. This is where video blogger Philip Deruga is holed up, according to Russian Immigration, and since most young men without a day job are night owls, we may catch him before he rolls out of bed. The taxi driver asks Sanya Zubov, who occupies the front passenger seat, “That’s something, isn’t it? About the Akkuratney girl?
Beside me, Volodney’s eyebrows twitch, but I’m not surprised news of our local murder has reached Moscow. All Ukrainian video bloggers employ the Russian language, and Tatty was no exception. They’d be stupid not too, it’s a huge audience.
A news kiosk occupies the sidewalk next to the Brighton, but there’s nothing about our victim, it’s all Dicaprio, Dicaprio. Russians have a big fat crush on DiCaprio, and he’s just snagged his first Oscar, so it’s a national holiday here. Zubov shows his credentials at the desk, and we go upstairs.
Tatty’s boyfriend, Philip Deruga, is known in Ukrainian street slang as an extreme roofer. He scales bridge supports, or hangs off the edges of tall buildings by his fingertips. He balances on the roof of speeding commuter trains, and strips to his underwear and rides a toilet down the street on a skateboard, and tasers and maces his numb-nuts friends. He films it all with his GoPro, and posts it to YouTube, and he’s not just famous in Ukraine, he’s a hit in Russia as well. Deruga’s a big earner, not so much from YouTube, but from advertising deals.
I hear all this from my sister Anna, who’s stuck with three preschoolers all day, and has sacrificed her youth. (You know I’m smiling)
Upstairs Volodney knocks gently on Philip’s hotel door, so as not to spook him, but in vain. We return to the Brighton lobby without our person of interest; the desk clerk didn’t notice him go out, so we buttonhole the doorman, who says he hailed Deruga a cab and overheard the words Moscow City. Sanya Zubov perks up after hearing this; Moscow City is a modern cluster of skyscrapers, boasting dance clubs and Michael Kors and so forth, and maybe Sanya thinks he’ll spot a fashion model. On the sidewalk I say I need the ladies’, and everyone looks around for a MacDonald’s. We find a Starbucks a block away. I use the toilet, and when I come out the detectives are sipping Kenyan and ready to leave. They haven’t ordered me anything, but I tell myself I’m a grownup, so don’t sulk.
“If there’s a mall in Moscow City, that’s where he’ll be,” says Volodney. This isn’t deductive reasoning; he’s simply stating the obvious. Nobody loves a shopping mall more than a Ukrainian. He nudges me with an elbow, and passes me a Starbucks bag with a chocolate croissant.
The shopping mall in Moscow City is dazzling, we all stand in the atrium transfixed by a massive fountain jetting water five stories high. Nothing in Moscow so far has made me feel more like a country cousin, but I focus on the business at hand. “He likes to wear a Dynamo football jacket,” I tell the others, “it’s his trademark.” They pretend they already know, so I don’t add that Philip Deruga recently dyed his hair blond, and doesn’t resemble the photo the two of them are passing back and forth. I know Philip is now blond because my sister Anna, who has a desperate, adolescent crush on Philip Deruga, told me so.
“Food court,” says Volodney.
I believe there are richer hunting grounds, but you know me, mouth shut.
The food court’s stadium-huge, and we’ve hit the lunch hour. Soon both men are not really searching at all, unless you count the menu board at the Teremok.
I’m getting impatient, so I say, “He’s hanging out in the arcade.”
No one reacts. “If he’s not at the arcade he’s in the Converse store, buying the most expensive sneakers they have,” I elaborate.
I point to a directory mid-concourse, and after getting our bearings we ride the escalator three floors up.
There’s a mechanical bull at the entrance to the arcade, only nobody’s riding him at the moment, and he’s paused with his ass in the air. After the bull there’s a maze of gaming consoles, but it’s a school day, so not much action.
Philip Deruga is working out his grief over Tatty Akkuratney on a trampoline the size and shape of a tennis court, in his stocking feet, surrounded by ball pits, and watched by an awed group of fans. There’s also a separate contingent of
, members of a thuggish Russian subculture, the sort of urban trash who love Deruga’s lame brain antics. Philip’s wearing his blue sports jacket and filming himself with a selfie stick as he hops around on the trampoline with a pair of girl fans, and when Mister Volodney whistles and waves him over, he retorts with a string of obscenities and then turns the camera on himself to record a delighted grin.