Authors: Lee McGeorge
Johann froze for a second then blurted the words, “My wife is fucking another man.”
The back doors of the van opened and a second man with a shaved head pulled Johann inside. The gunman pushed from behind.
“Nooo! Nooo! Hilfe! Hilfe! HILFE! ANKE! ANKE!” He looked back over his shoulder to the house, screaming and begging that his unfaithful wife would hear.
A hit to the back of his head felt like a hammer cracking his skull and he yelped and stooped forward as he was pulled into the vehicle. The world blurred. A chained manacle clipped around his wrist and reality smacked him in the face. Scream. Scream or die!
The gunman smashed his nose with the butt of the gun then pressed the muzzle against his lips. Johann went quiet. He shook with uncontrollable spasms as his other hand was shackled and he was pushed to his knees. He heard the familiar purr of his Audi as it was stolen. A length of silver duct tape appeared ahead of him, in the hands of the man standing behind.
“No, Halt. Nooo!” Johann screamed as harshly as he could but the tape wrapped between his teeth, gluing to his skin, covering his mouth, his eyes, his ears as his head was cocooned. Like a fly being immobilised by a spider, he was wrapped in an inescapable binding to await some dread future purpose.
The assault stopped.
The engine to the van started.
And Johann began to feel an excruciating pain in his chest and neck.
----- X -----
“What happened to him?” Cornel asked.
Miklos raised a finger to his lips. Loro spoke in Albanian. Agron, who had arrived in the Audi, helped Loro lift the lawyer out of the van; he was barely moving. They walked him but his feet didn’t take purchase and dragged through the snow.
Miklos held the door to the cottage open and Burkhalter was dumped in a chair. He collapsed against the table with a groan.
Miklos threw ski-masks to each of the men then whispered to Cornel, “Wait by my side. When he sees you, walk behind him and stay there. You must not speak. This is very important. Only I can speak… Put the mask on.”
Agron, Loro and Ludovik had their faces covered. Miklos remained unhooded, he pulled a chair in front of Burkhalter and got to work with a pair of rose shears to cut the tape from the lawyer’s face. Burkhalter looked at the men in ski masks but his face didn’t register fear as much as it showed illness. “Bitte… Hilfe...” he said.
“You are Johann Burkhalter,” Miklos said in English.
“Medicine. In my coat. Medicine…” The man’s eyes rolled over to white and his head rocked back. He was losing consciousness. Miklos found a bag of medications pinned to the lining of his jacket.
“You need this? What for?”
Miklos opened the bag and found four white tablets. He put them to Burkhalter’s mouth and noticed him trying to guide them under his tongue, then his shoulders drooped and his eyes closed. Miklos pointed to the door. All of them moved together.
“What’s the problem?” Cornel asked.
Loro spoke quickly with Miklos.
“He thinks he had a heart attack after they picked him up.”
“Then we’ve got to get him to a hospital. He needs medical treatment.”
“We’re going to interrogate him first,” Miklos said. “It will make things harder. I want to make him stressed. But now, not too stressed…”
“Stressed?” Cornel almost yelled with incredulity. “If he dies it’s murder; and that guy looks minutes from death.”
Miklos replied calm as fuck. “And you’re a part of it… let us hope he doesn’t die.”
----- X -----
They sat in the van to keep warm. Miklos was looking through the window of the cottage then returned to the van. “He’s still upright, he’s looking around. I think he’ll survive… Put your masks on and we’ll try again.”
Cornel’s hands trembled and the mask didn’t go on straight. His fingers couldn’t pull the eyeholes into position. Miklos helped like a parent assisting a toddler put on their clothes. “Remember,” he reiterated softly. “Say nothing. Let him see you, then go and stand behind.”
Cornel tipped his head away, embarrassed for needing help. He knew he must look frightened. That must be the reason for the instruction to go behind. Be seen, be a presence, but don’t let Burkhalter see the body language of a man out of his depth.
They entered the cottage. Burkhalter’s skin was white, his breathing shallow but laboured. Cornel slipped behind him. It was theatre. Their entrance was controlled and the audience looked terrified.
“Please… Don’t hurt me,” he pleaded.
Miklos took off his coat to reveal a gun in his belt. Burkhalter swallowed hard. Miklos removed it, ejected the clip, slid the topslide to eject the chambered shell and handed it all to a man in a mask.
“I wish you hadn’t see this. Do you know about interrogation? The first rule is never take a gun into the room unless you are going to use it.”
Miklos pulled the rose shears from his pocket and rested them on the table. He flicked the safety catch and the blades sprung open.
Burkhalter’s head dropped on seeing them. He sobbed loudly. “Please no…”
“What is wrong with you. The medicine. What is it for?”
The lawyer took a few breaths first. “Heart disease,” he said in a breaking voice, his eyes locked on the rose shears. “Please, I will do anything. I am sorry for everything for…”
“Quiet!” Miklos interrupted. “Please, Herr Burkhalter. Don’t make this hard… I have some questions.”
“Yes! I will answer everything.”
“I SAID QUIET. DO NOT SPEAK UNLESS I TELL YOU TO SPEAK.”
The lawyer took deep breaths that didn’t seem effective. He wasn’t getting as much air as he needed.
“Let me explain why we are here... You hide money for people. This is your job and you are good at it. There is a man who you helped to hide money, but the money was not his… it was my money.”
“I can give you money, any money.” Burkhalter said.
“I have money,” Miklos said. “I don’t want the money, I want the man.”
“Please, I will give you anything, I will tell you anything.”
Miklos took his telephone and searched for something, then turned it around to show pictures. “This is Anke,” he said showing Burkhalter his own wife sitting at a garden table in a yellow summer dress. “And this is Henrik.” He showed an image of the boy riding on a child’s car.
Cornel leaned in closer to see. How the hell did he have these pictures? He only told him Burkhalter’s name last night.
“I am going to hurt your wife and child because you helped this man.”
Burkhalter shrieked. “Nooo, please. Not Henrik. I will help you, please, tell me what I must do.”
Miklos pulled his chair closer and held his telephone right under the lawyer’s nose. Burkhalter cried out in anguish. Cornel edged to look at the phone screen. It was a woman hanged with a tight noose; her neck pinched to only a few inches in width. A man in a black ski mask was standing beside her, his hands on his hips in satisfaction. Miklos swiped to the next image, a woman’s naked torso, her arms and legs piled next to the bloody chainsaw. He cycled through more images of gore, images that made Cornel look away. Then one image made Burkhalter cry out. It was child pornography. A young boy of perhaps five years old on filthy sheets. An older man with craggy skin had a finger in the boy’s asshole. Miklos moved to the next image. A grinning old man, naked in an armchair of a cosy sitting room, another naked boy about five years old was kneeling between his legs, looking across his shoulder to the photographer. The look on the boy’s face was piercing.
Burkhalter was crying.
“I’m going to do this to your boy because you didn’t answer my questions.”
“I’ll answer your questions. Please, I tell you anything,” the lawyer cried out. Ask me. You must ask me.”
Miklos picked up the rose shears and worked the scissor action a few times, cutting thin air ahead. “You shouldn’t have helped this man stay hidden.”
“I don’t know which man. Tell me which man and I tell you everything.”
Miklos got out of his seat and took hold of Burkhalter’s thumb. His wrist was taped to the rung of the chair. Miklos lowered the shears.
Cornel could feel himself reaching the moment of action. He was going to cut off the guy’s thumb, but how could he stop it? He had no way to fight four men and get the lawyer out of here; he couldn’t do anything. Oh Jesus, what the hell could he do?
The lawyer’s hand broke free. He’d cut the tape, he’d only cut the binding. “Stand up.”
The lawyer did so quickly then looked all the worse for the action. One hand went to his chest, the other to the table top to steady himself.
“These men are going to take you outside. This is your time to think. When they bring you back I will ask you straight questions about one man.”
The masked men pushed the lawyer outside.
“You can take the mask off now,” he said to Cornel.
Cornel leaned against the wall, his face coated in sweat. “Where are they taking him?”
“To dig his grave.”
----- X -----
It was an hour before Burkhalter was returned. It felt like an age watching them frogmarch him back to the cottage. Cornel couldn’t imagine him digging a grave. He could barely stand up and needed to be in hospital, not freezing outside digging holes in frozen earth.
They sat him at the table, his breathing slow and heavy, his jaw trembling and his shoulders clenched.
Cornel went behind as Miklos took his seat and held out his hand. A masked man handed him his gun, then the ejected bullet, then the magazine. Miklos slowly loaded and prepared the weapon and placed it on the table, then with the same precise movements took the keyfob for the Audi and placed it beside the gun.
“We are here, Herr Burkhalter. You can choose to help me, then get in your car and drive home and that will be the end of it. Or you can choose that I kill your wife and your child and then I take you to the hole you’ve dug and shoot you and bury you.”
“I will help,” the lawyer whispered. “I will tell you anything you want.”
Miklos brought out a notebook and photographs, composites and real pictures of Paul McGovern. As he laid them out the lawyer began nodding his head with confidence. “I know him,” he said. “I can help you. His name is Alan Jay. He is English. He asked my help to make trust fund for a little girl.”
Miklos readied the pen. “What did you say was his name?”
“Alan Jay. He is English. Alan Jay, his name is Alan Jay.”
“That is not his name.”
“Yes, it is. His name is Alan Jay. I have seen his passport.” Burkhalter turned in his seat with sudden stress, addressing the masked men around him, imploring them to believe. “I used his passport to open bank accounts. It must be real passport because banks won’t trust foreigners. This is FINMA regulation, financial law says bank has to do background check. He has British passport and his name is Alan Jay.” Then as an afterthought, “I have a photocopy of his passport at my office.”
“Which bank did you open an account?”
“I open business account with Credit Suisse and investment trust with UBS. The trust is in the name of a girl. She must be young because he has special rules of inheritance if he dies before she is eighteen years old. I believe she is a baby.”
“How do we find him?
Burkhalter sank, his shoulders sagged. “I have email only for him. It is in my telephone… he told me he is out of contact for long time. He said he is journalistand travels much.”
“Do you manage his money?”
“I set up investments and I email recommendations, but I don’t do anything regular. In my car is computer… I have all details. I can show you. Bring my laptop and I can show everything about him.”
Ludovik took the car keys and went to the Audi without being prompted.
“The man you are protecting, Herr Burkhalter, has killed many people to get the money he gave you.”
“I can give it back,” Burkhalter said. “I can give you money, this is not a problem, I can give you all money back.”
The laptop was brought in. Miklos turned it towards the lawyer. “Password. And then show me what you have.”
Burkhalter worked swiftly. “Here,” he said turning the laptop halfway back so they could both see the screen. “Alan Jay, Look Alan Jay folder, everything is here. Everything I know is here.” Then more animatedly he yelled, “Look!” and pointed to the screen at a document titled pp_id_AlanJay. He opened the document to show a colour scan of a passport. It was McGovern as he had been in London, with slicked back hair and a grey moustache. “I make this picture, but when I opened the accounts I used his real passport, not a copy. The banks, they checked it… I can show you how he gave me money.” The lawyer found a document and began showing the figures. His finger traced the screen. “He gave me nine thousand. Five thousand is my fee. Two thousand to open business account and two thousand to open trust fund.”
“Why did he want a business account?”
“Because Swiss immigration laws make it easier to become citizen if you already have business in country, but you must show accounts for three years.”
“So he’s trying to get citizenship?” Miklos asked.
“Yes. He said he is journalist, freelance journalist and he travels around the world.”
“When did you last see him?”
“When I first did the work, then a few months later when… Do you know about property in Romania?” Miklos remained quiet. “He wanted to buy property. He arranged I should pay direct like he wasn’t involved.”
“Is that unusual?”
“No. He tells me in his journalist work, he has exposed dangerous people and made enemies. And… this is Switzerland, it is what we do. People want to do things anonymously… Please, everything is here, look, every dealing, every email, every letter to Romania realtor, everything is here.”
“How many times did you meet him?”
Burkhalter paused for a second, his eyes rolled to the side as he mentally counted. “Four. I think four times or maybe five. It is in my email, I can show you in phone or here on laptop if I can have internet.”
Miklos handed the lawyer his telephone. Burkhalter found the information quickly and showed Miklos who stared at the screen for a moment before handing the phone to Ludovik.