Monthly Archives: February 2020

Conversation among Trees

Long Night, Chapter Ten

Long Night, Chapters One- Seven  Long Night, Chapter Eight   Long Night, Chapter Nine

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

Chapter Ten: Sharlotta and Fanya

As they walked downstairs to the Acme offices, Slava said “Before we talk to the secretary, I think we should have a plan.  She might be involved in whatever got him killed.” Roza replied “What if we just do the sympathy bit?  I’ll talk to her gently and explain that we need to temporarily relocate her to a vacant office and that we’ll come back tomorrow or the next day ‘when she’s over the shock’ to question her.  You can watch how she reacts and stay behind to confiscate the computer while she packs up stuff to move out of the office.”  “Sounds good.”

Roza and Slava knocked at the door of Acme and went in without waiting for an answer.  The room was about 15 feet square and mostly occupied by two desks on either side and filing cabinets lined up against the wall like sentries.  The windows were on the right and Viktor’s desk was by the window. Okay, thought Roza.  Viktor preferred light, even if it was colder when the wind came through the cracks.  The desk on the left side of the room faced the door.  Behind it sat a young woman of about 25.  When they entered she was bent over, but quickly sat up and started talking.  “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. It’s awful; who could do this to Viktor?  I’m sorry I was just – I was at lunch and I was just taking off my boots and then” She indicated a pair of black leather boots with spike heels.  “Have you been upstairs yet? What is it like?  I don’t know what to — ”

Roza moved to take charge of the situation before the young woman babbled all morning.  “Hello, I’m Detective Roza Kozlov, and this is Detective Slava Egorov.  We’re very sorry for your loss and we won’t take up much of your time.  Right now we need to ask you to move to another space for the moment, because this office is a crime scene.  The room across the hall is empty.  I’m afraid it’s standard procedure that someone will need to stay with you while you move the essentials across the hall.  Then Slava will take Viktor’s computer back to the police station for examination.  Tomorrow or the next day we will need to talk to you, after you’ve recovered from this shocking event.  Oh, excuse me.  I just realized we don’t know your name.”

“Sharlotta.”  The woman was silent a moment.  “Okay, yes.  I will move.”  Roza noted Sharlotta’s appearance; she was blonde, of average height, with that small amount of body fat that probably bothered her a lot but that no one else would notice.  Roza was quite familiar with that phenomena, as she engaged in an ongoing struggle to lose five pounds that she had been assured were invisible to everyone but her.  Dating a baker didn’t help, she thought, and then returned to the situation at hand.  “Sharlotta,” she said, “as I said we will need to conduct a formal interview in the next few days.  But, for now, can you tell us the last time you saw Viktor?” “Um, yesterday? When I got here this morning, he had gone upstairs to the apartment where – where he was found.”  “Do you know why he was there?”  “Not really, but it was normal for him to check the guest apartment the week before we have a visitor, and we have a visit from the Central Auditor next week, I could check the schedule or maybe we should — ” She stopped talking.  “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said softly.  “Okay,” said Slava.  He glanced at Roza.  It would be better if they did not ask any more substantive questions until they gathered more information.  If Sharlotta was implicated in some type of financial fraud, it would help they knew where the tricky spots were before they interviewed her.  “Roza is going now, but I’ll stay and help you move,” said Slava.  “Yes,” added Roza.  “We will see you again in a day or so.”

Roza was glad to get out of the gloomy building.  It was odd, she reflected, that the cold inside the building felt colder than the wind outside.  It was midday, and the sky overhead was a deep blue grey, allowing her to see down the street without relying on the lamps posted at 100 foot intervals.  She was not looking forward to informing Fanya Lebedev that he husband had been murdered.  Best to get it over with, she thought.  Maybe there would be time to stop at the bakery on the way back to the police station.

Viktor and Fanya Lebedev had an apartment on the first floor of a building close to downtown, as befitted Viktor’s status as a high-ranking administrator for an important company.  When Roza knocked at the door, it was answered by a small dark-haired woman of about 25.  Roza was momentarily startled; Viktor was over 40 and the woman seemed young to be his wife.  “Are you here to see Fanya?” the woman asked.  Roza could see that she was attractive, in a pixie way, but her looks were marred at the moment by red eyes and smeared mascara.  “Yes, is she here?” asked Roza.  “This way,” the woman answered, and led her into the next room.

Viktor must be wealthy, important, or both, thought Roza as they entered the living room. The living room not only had windows on two sides, but there was no sign that it doubled or tripled as a kitchen and dining area.  Fanya was on a couch by the windows.  She had one leg stretched out on an old fashioned hassock and the other curled under her.  She was bundled in a large woolen shawl, and Roza briefly reflected that a lace border would have been a good addition to the shawl.  Fanya looked to be in her late 30s, close to Viktor’s age.  Roza immediately thought of the phrase “faded red head” when she saw Fanya.  Her hair, which had obviously once been a vibrant red, was now duller with grey and brown hair mixed with the red.  Roza wondered briefly why Fanya did not, as so many others did, use dye to maintain the red.

Fanya seemed simultaneously frail and steely.  When she saw Roza, she sat up and put down her tea on a small table.  “Can I help you?”  she asked.  She clearly wanted to maintain control both of her emotions and of the situation.  “Please sit,” she added somewhat imperiously.  “Ms. Lebedev, you may know why I’m here,” she began awkwardly.  Roza had tried to prepare for the task of telling Fanya about her husband’s death; she had not anticipated that someone would have already informed her.  “Yes, I imagine you are here to discuss Viktor’s death,” replied Fanya calmly.  Her icy demeanor unnerved Roza, who reflected that even Viktor’s secretary had seemed more upset than his wife.  “I am, yes.  Has someone else been here to tell you – ”  “Tatiana came over as soon as the police released her,” said Fanya.  So, thought Roza, Tatiana who answered the door was the person who found Viktor’s body.  “Oh,” she said blankly.  “So, do you know – did you know – did Tatiana know? –”  Fanya rescued her.  “My husband and I both know Tatiana.  Her husband works for my brother.  I am disabled, as you see,” she went on, gesturing at her leg, “and Tatiana helps me by filling some of my prescriptions at the hospital where she works as a practical nurse.  She was dropping off a prescription with my husband when she . . . found him.”

Roza tried to process this barrage of possible connections.  Tatiana was a nurse at the hospital.  Tatiana’s husband worked for Fanya’s brother.  Tatiana was taking pills for Fanya to Viktor and found his body.  Something about this explanation bothered Roza, but she decided it would be better to follow the same approach that she and Slava had taken with Sharlotta, and postpone detailed questioning for a day or two.  She had no idea if this was what experienced homicide investigators usually did: what if it was important to talk to every one as soon as possible, before they could coordinate their stories?  On the other hand, they might only have one chance for an interview and if they took it too soon then they might not know what to look for.  Well, she decided, at any rate a formal interview would have to wait until Slava was with her.

“Ms. Lebedev, did Tatiana explain – did she know – has anyone told you that Viktor’s death does not appear to be the result of natural causes?”  “I gather that he was murdered,” Fanya responded flatly. They say to start with family members in an investigation, thought Roza, and Fanya’s weird lack of emotion did nothing to dissuade her from that approach.  “Yes.  I’m sorry that I can’t tell you more.  We will certainly keep you informed of the progress of our investigation.  Also, we will need to conduct an interview with both you and Tatiana in the next day or so.” Fanya’s face remained composed.  “It’s standard procedure,” Roza trailed off, wishing she could be gone from this apartment as soon as possible.  “So, um, we’ll be in touch about an interview, interviews, and again we are very sorry for your loss.  Uh, good afternoon ma’am.”  Not sounding very professional are we, thought Roza.  “Very well. Tatiana will show you to the door.”

Slava and Roza met at the police station an hour later.  Roza described her visit to Viktor’s apartment.  “She already knew that Viktor had been killed; the woman who found his body had rushed over to tell her.  Her name is Tatiana and I guess her husband works for Fanya’s brother or something.  They said Tatiana found Viktor when she went to the apartment to give him a prescription for Fanya, which makes about zero sense.  Another thing, she was an ice queen.  No tears, no emotion; you would think I was there to interview for a position as her housekeeper.  Honestly, she rattled me a little.”

Slava considered.  “Wait, this Tatiana picks up Fanya’s meds for her . . . and brings them to her husband?  I guess that could make sense – the hospital is much closer to Acme than to Viktor’s apartment.  But, speaking of apartments, why did she go there instead of the office?  Before we interview these two, let’s think about what to ask and how to ask it.”  “Gee, great idea,” said Roza rolling her eyes.  As she did so, it occurred to her that if Slava was the touchy type he wouldn’t appreciate her teasing, but really – think about “what to ask and how to ask it?”  To her relief, he laughed.  “Brilliant insight, am I right?” he said.  “You got the computer, right?  Did anything happen while you were in the office?” asked Roza.  “The computer’s here; I’ll start reviewing the files in a few minutes.  Sharlotta is moved across the hall.  I secured the office as a crime scene.”

“Did Sharlotta say anything interesting?” wondered Roza.  “I don’t think ‘interesting’ is her strong suit,” replied Slava.  “She’s awfully flirty though.”  Saying this, Slava rose from his chair and briefly mimed a woman mincing a few steps, hips swaying, before affecting a coquettish arch of the back that accentuated her attributes fore and aft, while asking “could you be a dear and help me reach this?”  Roza burst out laughing.  Slava was a great mimic; she could perfectly imagine Sharlotta’s silly behavior.  Slava flushed and sat down, fiddling with something on his desk, and Roza realized that this performance was not acting. The feminine postures came too naturally to him.  Well, I’ll be, she thought.  Two days and I’m learning his big secret, just like on American television. For if Slava was gay, he would certainly keep it a secret in this setting.  To put him at ease, she gave a campy stage wink with the traditional “zip it” gesture across her lips.  “Okay,” she said. “What’s next?” Slava looked relieved and grateful, as they turned to planning their next steps.