Authors: Lee McGeorge
“Yeah, I can do that… Is it serious?”
“I’ve just watched one of them smash a prostitute’s teeth out to prove a point. Once they know who Popescu is they’re going to want to talk to her and we can’t let them do that. They don’t know why she’s important yet, but they’ll connect the dots soon enough. Something else though, they came to my home in a white van, a Volkswagen Transporter with an Albanian license plate. It was at my home this evening about an hour and a half ago. See if it shows up on any traffic cameras and try to get the registration. We need to track this vehicle.”
“Do you know where it is now?”
“No, but they’re coming to my home in the morning and they’ll use the same vehicle.”
“How do you know that?”
Cornel choked a nervous laugh. “Because it’s a prison on wheels, they’re looking to capture him.”
“Okay… okay, okay, I’m up and ready. I’ll stake your place out to see what vehicle comes. I’ll try and get pictures... Why are they coming to you in the morning?”
Cornel sighed. “They want me to go to Switzerland with them.”
“Are you going?”
Cornel was silent for a moment. “Something else, the ringleader is called Miklos. He left Private Club in Astra only fifteen minutes ago by taxi. Try and find the taxi driver and find out where he went.”
“I can try,” Ciprian said sounding a little more alert. “But what is happening? Are you going to Switzerland with them?”
Cornel sighed. “I’m trying to find a reason not to.”
----- X -----
It was still dark outside but the sound of traffic had begun filtering in as the work day started. Cornel made the call… again.
“Ion, this is Cornel. I wanted to talk in person but I’m out of time. I’m being taken to Switzerland by the Albanians. It’s imperative that you take the Popescu girl into protection. I can’t stress this strongly enough. These guys are violent and they’ll be looking for her.”
He ended the call. He was having… feelings.
For months he’d spiralled in a vortex of hatred for Ildico Popescu. He wanted to hurt her to hurt McGovern. An attack by proxy. That was what he’d thought right up until Miklos smashed that girl’s teeth out. He’d dreamed and fantasised of seeing that happen to Ildico Popescu right up until he met the man who would actually do it. The fantasy was nice. The reality was sobering.
Miklos had made statements that went under his skin. ‘The business of women’s bodies,’ he had said. ‘You can rent the pussy of a girl like this for ten Euros or sell her kidneys for sixty thousand.’
It was a business to him. Women were the commodity and he was the broker.
Eight in the morning. A knock on his door made his heart quicken. Was this the point of no return? Should he open it?
“Did you sleep? Anxious?” Miklos asked.
The van was waiting with the engine running. Falling snow shone in the headlights. Miklos slid the door open and gestured for him to get in. Cornel looked around, hoping Ciprian was true to his word, out of sight and taking photographs. There were three seats in the back, the first occupied by the lanky thug with shoulder length hair, he was drumming his fingers on the armrest. Cornel sat beside him. The two men sitting in the front were both middle aged with shaved heads. One of them leaned back across the seat. “Good Morning my friend. Coffee, coffee?” There was something musical about his voice. He held out four cups in a cardboard holder.
“No, thank you.”
“I am Agron,” the musical voice responded. “Please, I buy for you, I buy you coffee.”
Miklos got into his seat and took one of the coffees. “Thank you, Agron.” To Cornel, “It’s a long drive to Switzerland, Detective.”
“I prefer Cornel,” he replied, answering both Agron and Miklos. "I prefer you to call me Cornel.” He took a coffee. “And I’m not a detective anymore, I stopped being a policeman a year ago.”
The words hung in his mind. I stopped being a policeman a year ago. Was that the point of no return? Saying it out loud, “I stopped being a policeman?” Miklos slid the side door closed with a resounding 'thunk' and the decision was made. The point of no return was passed. He had stopped being a policeman. He was now something else.
----- X -----
Eight hundred miles of motorway stood between Romania and Switzerland. “We should be eighteen hours, Miklos.” Agron spoke in English but it was for Miklos’ benefit. “Weather is bad, but roads are good.”
Loro took first shift on the driving. Cornel suspected he and Agron were good friends, there was an easy bond between them. Ludovik to his left said nothing and looked comfortable with silence.
“You were never married, no?” Miklos asked twenty minutes into the journey.
Cornel shook his head. “No. Never.”
“And no children?”
“I have a child. A daughter, Melina. She is ten years old now,” Miklos smiled contentedly. “It’s good to be a father, it makes you see what is important in life.”
Cornel felt his face screwing up. ‘The business of women’s bodies’ still played on his mind. “You think it’s good to be a father and you have a ten year old daughter… You are in the business of exploiting girls and young women. This is your ‘business’, your trade...”
Miklos held open his palms awaiting elaboration. “And?”
“How do you do it? How would you feel if someone prostituted your daughter for a handful of Euros?”
“I would kill them. I would slaughter that man.” His response was matter of fact.
“You would kill them, because they had done something bad to your daughter, to you, to your family, correct?” Miklos nodded. “But you do it to other people? Why would you take another man’s daughter and sell her? What is to stop that father finding you and killing you?”
“There’s nothing stopping him. It happens. This business is not without risk.”
“I guess what I’m asking, is why you would choose to do it?”
“Choose? You think this is a choice? I don’t know how to answer that... I had a wife and a child and the child was crying because she was hungry and I couldn’t put food in her mouth… You shouldn’t be judgemental. If you grew up in a world where crime pays and victims suffer and there’s nothing in between, then the choice is whether you allow yourself to become a victim or not. Don’t judge me. Don’t ever judge me.”
Cornel looked ahead. “That’s bullshit. You’re not a simple thief stealing an apple to feed a child.”
“And that shows you know nothing. I am exactly a thief stealing an apple to feed a child.”
The conversation ended.
It was hundreds of miles to Zurich.
The silence was painful. Cornel didn’t want to concede, but the silence cut colder as every second passed. He wished to get out of the van. To be left on the side of a freezing motorway in the wilderness would be better than enduring the freeze inside. Then he remembered McGovern. He was the real villain and the Albanians were the ones who could get him close.
Make peace. Remember why you’re there.
“I’m sorry if I offended you,” Cornel said. “When I said you were not a thief stealing apples, I realised as I said it that you’re right, it’s wrong of me to judge when I don’t understand.”
“That’s alright,” Miklos replied. “The moment I tried to claim I was a thief stealing an apple, I knew you were right, I was talking bullshit.” He gave a wink and a wry smile then closed his eyes.
Cornel stared ahead and watched the road.
The van stopped every few hours for the drivers to change. They ate sandwiches from motorway services. There was little chatter.
“Switzerland,” Agron called as they passed the border.
They bypassed the centre of Zurich and went straight to Jurapark Aargau, a valley offering a few easy ski slopes and occasional rustic looking buildings. There was no lighting and the valley was pitch black, the only illumination coming from the vehicle headlights.
They got out and stretched. Cornel kicked through deep snow and jumped a few times to get his legs working. Miklos unlocked the door to one of the buildings and spoke to Ludovik about lighting the wood burning stove. Agron and Loro disappeared into a bedroom, presumably to get some sleep.
Miklos motioned Cornel to a chair. He took a notepad and pen from his bag and a mobile telephone. “We are here,” he was opening a new SIM card for the phone as he spoke. “It is time we talk. Who are we going to meet?”
Cornel took a deep breath. The point of no return was passed… or was this the point of no return? “Before we do this,” he said. “I want a guarantee that you’re not going to hurt this guy.”
Miklos frowned. “That’s up to him. But, you are a policeman and I do not wish to make myself criminal when you are watching… Now, tell me who he is.”
“His name…” Cornel’s mouth went dry, “is Johann Burkhalter.” Cornel took a small slip of paper from his wallet and handed it over.
“What does this say?” he asked. “Muhlbackstrasse?”
“It’s the address of his office. On the surface, he’s an immigration lawyer, but you don’t have to look far to see that his main business is helping foreigners hide money. Most of his clients are Russians with lots of cash.”
“How did McGovern find this man?”
“I don’t know. McGovern is resourceful. He hit the jackpot when he robbed Gjokeja and would need help to hide it. He probably came looking. How much did he steal? Was it really hundreds of thousands of Euros?”
“Two million, five hundred thousand in cash and over a million in gold.”
“Three and a half million? Are you serious?”
“He took Aldo’s brothers,” Miklos said. “The money doesn’t matter to Aldo… Can I ask you a question, Cornel? Why do you want him? Underneath what he did to your face, your career. What is driving you. I don’t fully understand why you want to be here with me?”
Cornel put his elbows on the table and his hands together in prayer. “What I want is satisfaction.... McGovern is unfinished business. He destroyed all the things I held of value. He took the things from me that made me who I am and I can’t accept that… I won’t… I used to imagine shooting him, but it was a fantasy. I felt like a stupid pretender. I wanted him dead but there was no way I would ever do it in real life.”
“And do you think I’m going to do it for you?”
Cornel shook his head. “No… And I don’t want you to. Killing him is something I want to do, but I didn’t have the courage to do it alone. When I met Aldo, I realised there was a way to make it real.”
Miklos rubbed his chin, thoughtful, his eye contact solid. “I have to make a call,” he said. “Get some rest. Tomorrow we will make things happen with this lawyer.”
----- X -----
“Papa, papa.” Six year old Henrik Burkhalter abandoned his early morning cartoons and rushed with his arms aloft for a hug. His father Johann, obliged and kissed the little boy on his head. His wife Anke smiled at him. She was having an affair with another man... again. She made a broken smile to him then looked away to stare through the window to the snow covered garden.
Johann hugged his boy. He’d suspected for a while and came home early yesterday to catch her in the act. There was nobody there, no suitor hiding in the wardrobe. He said he’d come home because he felt horny and wanted to make love and Anke had complied. The broken emotion in their lovemaking was the first confirmation, her semen filled vagina as he took sloppy seconds was the clincher. He said nothing at the time. They both dressed afterwards in silence.
“What are you doing today?” he asked. “What are your plans?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, I may do a little shopping.”
“Will you be in town for lunch? We can try that new Sushi restaurant; let me know when you’re around and we can meet up.”
Anke feigned a smile. “Will you have time?” She stared at his chest rather than his face.
“I’ll make the time.”
What to do?
After the first affair they’d come to within a hair’s breadth of divorce. He’d salvaged the marriage but was coming to the realisation that she didn’t love him and she didn’t know how to end it. Perhaps she had never loved him and he wasn’t sure what feelings he had left for her. All the emotion had been washed out of him during the first rinse. He didn’t have any more tears to cry or angry words to yell. Is this how a marriage ends?
Only Henrik was of importance.
Johann was a heavyset man in need of a haircut. Too much stomach was breaching the beltline and his moustache needed trimming. He was no match for his trophy wife, but if it wasn’t for her boobs and legs she wouldn’t have a six bedroom luxury home and life’s finer pleasures.
He put the boy down. “Meet me for lunch,” he said.
Anke nodded and went back to staring through the window.
He went outside into the cold and got into his car, a beautiful new Audi. The radio came to life along with the engine.
“It’s over,” he said to himself. “And she ended it.” The car rolled forward. He’d slept last night, slept like a baby. When he’d discovered her first affair he hadn’t slept for a week with stress and anxiety. This time he accepted it and passed out. That was the difference. Acceptance.
Fuck it all.
Only the boy was important. Do whatever is right for him.
He drove to the end of his driveway. The gates opened but there was a van parked over the entrance. What idiot parked their van here? He beeped the horn. A man with shoulder length hair appeared briefly, then moved out of view.
Johann lowered the window. “Bitte können sie ihr hahrzeug zu bewegen.” Please can you move your vehicle, he called.
There was no response.
His wife was sleeping with another man and now some idiot had parked over the entrance. Today was shit. He hadn’t even got out of the fucking driveway and it was shit.
Johann got out, his feet crunching the snow and the gravel of the driveway. “Allo? Allo?” he called as his breath streamed in the cold. Who in the hell was she sleeping with this time? The last idiot was her bastard yoga coach. He’d paid for that fucker to put his hands on his wife’s body. The man with the black shoulder length hair reappeared from behind the van and looked straight at Johann. “You need to move your…”
The man raised his arm. He was holding a gun. It was pointed right in his face.