Authors: Lee McGeorge
The guard nodded his satisfaction.
“Do you have your identification, your passport?” The English spoken voice came from another man wearing a dark blue suit, he wore it well. Cornel handed over his passport and the man read the details. “Mister Latiss?” he asked.
“It’s pronounced, Latish,” Cornel corrected.
“I am Miklos, I manage security for Mr. Gjokeja.” Cornel took a moment to look the man up and down as his passport was scrutinised. Miklos was cool looking, with sharp skeletal features. Black hair slicked back and well groomed. Even in darkness his shoes were so polished they caught and reflected every glimmer of moonlight. “Is this all you wish to show Mr. Gjokeja?”
“I have questions also,” Cornel said. “I’m trying to identify the man who did this to me,” he drew a finger around his face. “I believe it’s the same man who attacked him.”
Miklos leafed through the images of McGovern. “Come with me.”
The security man led Cornel into a home that was dripping with opulence. A dining table for sixteen with gilt gold features. Marble floors and walls, pedestals topped in fresh flowers. It was closer to a luxury hotel than a home. Miklos ushered Cornel to an arrangement of sofas that looked down onto Lake Skhodra. “Wait here,” he said.
The wait was only a few minutes.
The wheelchair was pushed by a nurse in a tight white mini dress that barely contained her enormous plastic breasts. Her collagen filled lips were coated in bright red lipstick. Her waist was tiny and her legs were sheathed in fine white stockings.
As the old man was wheeled in by his sex doll, Miklos moved to the shadows to oversee the meeting. Somehow Cornel’s intuition told him it was Miklos who he needed to impress. Aldo Gjokeja may have been the big man, but something about Miklos, the confidence to his manner, his stature within the home suggested nothing happened unless he approved it.
“Hello, Mr. Latis. I am Floriana, I am Mr. Gjokeja’s personal attendant,” the nurse said in English.
Cornel nodded. “Hello.”
Aldo said something in Albanian.
“Mr. Gjokeja is wondering why you are here,” Floriana said.
“I used to be a policeman,” Cornel took the photographs from his pocket. “I was attacked by a man.” He handed the pictures to the nurse and raised a finger to point at his face. “The man in the pictures did this to me.”
Aldo and Cornel held eye contact for longer than would usually be comfortable. They looked at each other’s facial scars. They had something in common.
The nurse turned the pictures towards Aldo. Composites of McGovern, manipulated to give him beards and moustaches as well as real images taken from social media.
The old man clenched his right fist, raising it ahead of his face, the only movement he had left. “Kush eshte ai,” he barked.
“Mr. Gjokeja is asking who this man is.”
“Is it the same man who attacked him?”
“Po!” Aldo yelled showing he understood some English, “Po… where man is, where?”
“He is using a lawyer in Switzerland to buy property. I want to interrogate this lawyer to find the man. Will you help me find him?”
“I want find,” Aldo said as saliva drooled from the left side of his mouth, “and I want kill.” Floriana wiped his lips with a tissue.
“Will you help me?” Cornel asked.
Beyond the paralysed and scarred features of Aldo Gjokeja’s broken frame, he flashed a look of unadulterated evil. “Po,” he spat. “I will help you kill this man.”
Cornel arrived back in Brasov on the first flight after Christmas. He’d managed to miss the seasons celebrations. It felt good to miss them.
At his apartment he found a note slipped under the door. ‘Urgent, need to speak with you. Very important, contact me as soon as you get this. Urgent. Urgent. Urgent. Ion Lupescu.’
“Lupescu... What the hell could be so urgent you write it three times?”
Did he know where he’d been? Had Ciprian said something? He checked his mobile phone and realised he’d switched it off as he left the country to avoid foreign charges. He turned it back on to find eight missed calls from Brasov police. “Jesus, you really do want to talk.”
----- X -----
The public areas of the police station were normally packed to the rafters but over the Christmas break it was deserted. One window was open, manned by a young kid who had drawn the short straw to work the holidays. “I’m here to see Chief Lupescu, my name is Latis.”
Lupescu picked him up within minutes. “Cornel… Good to see you!” The words came with a smile and a handshake. Something was wrong. Something was seriously out of place.
They went to his office.
“I wanted to talk with you but your apartment was empty and it made us nervous,” Lupescu said. “Where were you?”
“You don’t know?” He waited for a response. Lupescu shook his head. “I was in Albania.” He waited for the chief to betray some kind of reply but there was still nothing. “What’s this about, Ion?”
Lupescu lit a cigarette and smoothed his moustache. “Paul McGovern,” he said blowing smoke to the side. “There’s some news… A few days ago, McGovern appeared in Bucharest having located the private home of our old friend Doctor Lucian Noica. He ambushed him.”
Cornel felt the phantom pain of being stabbed. His hands clenched and his toes curled in his shoes. “Oh, no. Oh, Jesus Christ.”
“McGovern somehow got his home address and grabbed him,” Lupescu continued.
“Is he alive?”
“No, Noica. Is Noica alive?”
“Yes... McGovern held him at knifepoint and asked him fifty questions about his illness. Noica tried to convince him to surrender.”
“He survived. Holy fuck. Is he injured? Have you got a lead on McGovern?”
Lupescu shook his head. “We’ve got nothing. I wish there was something to say. I wish I could tell you there were leads, but he vanished as quickly as he arrived; but, McGovern was in Romania only a few days ago and making house calls. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I thought about what you said regarding the Popescu girl. If you’re right about him buying her a home then there is a chance he could visit her, or at least try to watch her. I wanted to warn you that he could be here in Brasov but couldn’t find you, then we found your car and feared the worst.”
“My car? What do you mean you found my car, is something wrong?”
“It was crashed in an alleyway.”
“My car is crashed?” Cornel feigned his shock convincingly. “Shit! What happened?”
Lupescu raised his hands. “I don’t know. It’s crunched but I was told it still runs. You’re going to need a new front grill and bumper... But look, have you got a gun at home, privately owned?”
“Yes. My service pistol.”
“Keep it with you at all times; I’ll arrange a concealed carry permit. If he’s brazen enough to turn up on Noica he’s brazen enough to do it with you.”
“A pistol isn’t enough,” Cornel said.
“You should look at bolstering your home security. We can have a panic button installed.”
“Do you know why I was in Albania?”
Lupescu shook his head.
“Well, I’ve been doing work on Paul McGovern too. I discovered an unsolved murder spree with a surviving witness in the city of Skhodra, so I went to show some mugshots... I got a positive, Ion. I’ve got a positive from a crime scene where he killed two gangsters, their banker and the banker’s boyfriend before walking away with hundreds of thousands of Euros.”
Lupescu’s eyebrows raised. “Gangsters?”
“Yeah,” Cornel chuckled. “He murdered bad people but left their relatives alive… Now let’s discuss this.” Cornel rested his forearms on the table with his fingertips touched together. “You think he might come to Brasov to see Popescu, Albanian gangsters are looking for him, you are looking for him, the British are looking for him... and I am at the centre of every thread.”
Lupescu looked him up and down. “What’s on your mind?”
“The Albanians have fresh leads and I think they have a good chance of finding him; I’ve agreed to work with them. What I can offer is to keep tabs on the Albanians and also keep you informed. I would need a legal framework in which to operate. If the Albanians find him, I can alert the nearest authorities. I would need Europol information share. I would need immunity from prosecution against anything the Albanians do and I want to be salaried as a special advisor.”
“I don’t have a budget for you.”
“The British do. Get me a Europol advisory role and let the Brits pay... Paul McGovern kills people wherever he goes and he could be coming here. You wouldn’t want him to kill in Brasov and then have people know you could have prevented him, would you?”
Lupescu stared across the table. He said nothing.
----- X -----
Cornel had finished cleaning the kitchen and had moved on to the bathroom. For the first time in over a year he was cleaning and he was imbued with fresh energy, fresh impetus. Things were moving.
His telephone rang. “Cornel? This is Lucian Noica.”
“Lucian. My goodness I wanted to talk with you but never expected you to call me. I was told you met Paul McGovern last week.” He felt goosebumps just saying it. “What happened?
Noica sighed, “I was getting into my car and he got in with me. He pushed me in, climbed on top and put a knife to my throat. He wanted to know the medical reasons for his condition. I told him a little and convinced him I was his best hope of a cure.”
“Has he changed his appearance? What does he look like?”
“Short hair, clean shaven. He looks solid and he doesn’t shake or tremble like we expected. He’s a lot bigger physically, like a bodybuilder.”
“I see.” Cornel pictured McGovern in his mind. Not so much the physical description, rather he put an expression to the face. A scowl. Gritted teeth. “How did you survive?”
“Because he has questions only I can answer.” Noica said it with an air of self-importance.
“He is researching what is wrong with him. The same as he was in London, only now he’s at the level of a PhD. He had ideas about the genetic basis of the illness and interesting theories relating to hormonal control genes. Academically, he’s impressive.”
“It sounds like you admire him,” Cornel spat the words. “There is nothing to like about him. He’s a rapist, a kidnapper, a sexual torturer and a murderer. Never forget that.”
“I don’t admire his crimes,” Noica replied. “I admire what he’s doing in the face of impending death. He knows that no man has ever survived an infection and his agenda is to get well. Most infected men can’t even stand up by six months and are dead within the year but he is walking and talking and what he has to say is worth listening to.”
“Fuck me,” Cornel began pacing the bathroom. “You really do admire him. Do you need reminding of what he’s done? Do you remember when he cut my face off?”
“Yes, I remember… He had a knife to my throat and I was sure he was going to do the same to me; but he was thoughtful, engaged and most importantly he was invested in what I had to say.”
“Lucky you,” Cornel said. He wasn’t really listening anymore. His focus of attention had shifted to the bullet hole in the wall where he’d shot the mirror. How nice it would be to see a bullet hole like that in the side of Paul McGovern’s head.
“Listen to me, Cornel. Listen to what I’m saying about him... We talked about him surrendering and he accepted the logic. He agrees this would be the most likely outcome. He understands that ultimately it may come down to surrender or death.”
“He has already pushed people to make that choice, Lucian. It’s death. He has hurt people who have no problem with killing. Is that why you called me? Are you frightened your research subject is going to be slaughtered?”
“You’ve missed the point, Cornel. I’m not calling to persuade you to let him go, I’m calling to tell you that he is sharp as a pin; he’s thinking, he’s capable. He’s in the top five fugitives in Europe for a reason and one of the most dangerous people alive… Yet you’re deciding to get involved with people you can’t know or trust. You’re trying to chase the man who disfigured your face with the help of the people who gave you post-traumatic stress... I put it out for what it’s worth that this is not a rational decision. You’re making this choice for emotional reasons, not logical ones.”
There was silence for a few seconds. The phone beeped in his ear. He looked at the screen. It was Lupescu. “Lucian, I’ve got another call, let me put you on hold.”
He switched the line. “Ion, it’s Cornel.”
Lupescu answered simply, “It’s on.”
----- X -----
The doorbell rang. Cornel looked through the spyhole and his positivity dissolved with a rush of foreboding. On the other side of the door was the security man from Albania, the well-dressed man with the skeletal features. Cornel swallowed hard, took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Hello, Detective. Do you remember me? I am Miklos, from Albania.”
Miklos didn’t cross the threshold but leaned his head through the door, looking into the apartment. “We need to talk. I know you like drink. You like it and I like it. We can drink together, so… let’s go.”
“A moment.” Cornel closed the door. He locked his fingers in his hair for a second.
He went to his bedroom. His police pistol. He loaded it, checked the safety, stuffed it into the back of his trousers. He checked the mirror to make sure it was concealed under his jacket.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
Cornel’s building had a tiny elevator with a sliding grille safety door, two persons maximum. Miklos stared at him as they descended. “How long have you been in Romania?” Cornel asked.
“We’ve just arrived. We came straight to you.”
The elevator door made a squeal of scraping metal as Cornel pulled it open. Outside was a heavy but windless snowfall. Miklos motioned to a white van. “Here. You should meet everybody.” He pulled the side door open to reveal seats in the back and three men. “This is Loro and Agron,” he pointed to two unlit men in the front; both had shaved heads, were stocky and in their forties. “And this is Ludovik,” he said of the man in the back. Ludovik was under the courtesy light and could be seen easier than the men in the front. He was tall and thin with greasy shoulder length hair pushed behind his ears; he didn’t smile.