Chapter 9 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

The investigation into Alexei's kidnapping begins on a relatively mild note. As always, comments are welcome.

CHAPTER 9

Svetlana Krazavitskaya sits near her apartment’s open front door as she waits for the St. Petersburg police to respond to her call. Leaving the door open seemed safer to her, for some reason, so she sits and smokes and waits with Alexei’s smashed glasses in her left hand.

She hears the elevator door open and sticks her head out into the hallway for the fifth time in the last thirty minutes. This time she is not disappointed. Two uniformed officers get off of the elevator at the end of the hallway. She calls to them.

“Down here. I’m the one who called.”

They walk towards her, vaguely inspecting the barren hall as if it might hold some clue to the crime they’ve been asked to investigate. As they approach, the older of the two addresses Svetlana after looking at a small notepad he carries.

“Krazavitskaya?”

“That’s me. I called. Come in.”

She puts her cigarette out by dropping it to the hallway floor and crushing it with her foot. The older officer takes charge.

“Take a look around. I’ll interview Miss Krazavitskaya.”

The younger of the two officers pulls out an identical small pad and a pen from his shirt pocket and begins to inspect the scene of the crime.

“Let’s begin with who’s missing.”

“Alexei Petrovich Kotuzov.”

“Age?” the officer asks as he takes notes.

“Twenty four.”

“Your relationship to Kotuzov?”

“We’ve lived together for over a year, since he started studying the law. I met him at a party.”

“Is he still a law student?”

“Yes. Here in St. Petersburg.”

“The two of your aren’t married?”

“What does it matter? I didn’t kidnap him. Why do you ask such a ridiculous question?”

The officer looks up from his notepad, shrugs and smirks.

“So maybe he’s at another party, with another pretty young student?”

“No. It’s not possible. I was gone for no more than 30 minutes. He was gone when I returned and the place was a mess. The door was open. His glasses were smashed, on the kitchen floor.” She waves the glasses at the officer to bolster her claim of foul play.

“Okay. Calm down. Does he have a cell phone?”

“Not anymore. We had one but we couldn’t afford it.”

“What about his politics?”

“Why?” She lights another cigarette.

“Maybe it’s an arrest and not a kidnap.”

Svetlana laughs at the suggestion that Alexei is a political threat.

“Alexei? He’s never had a political thought in his life. He’s a child. Besides, there is no more KGB. You watch too many movies.”

“Don’t be naive. KGB, FSB. You know, old wine in new jugs as they say.”

“Taken away in the middle of the day? They’d be wasting their time. Is this your idea of an investigation?”

“You’re right. It would have been easier to put a bullet in his head. It’s not FSB,” he declares as he closes his notepad, before putting it and his pen in his shirt pocket.

Krazavitskaya glares at him in disbelief.

“Do you have a recent picture of him?”

Krazavitskaya goes to the kitchen, pulls her wallet out of the bag of groceries still sitting on the kitchen table, and takes a head shot of Kotuzov out of it. She returns to the living room as the younger officer emerges from the bedroom. She hands the photograph to the officer who asked for it.

“Can I keep this?” he asks.

“Of course.”

“What about the building? Do you know if the security camera in the lobby works?” the younger officer interjects.

“I think so, but I don’t know. It’s not exactly the Ritz Carlton.”

“I’ve seen worse. All right. Call us if he turns up.” He motions to his junior partner indicating the interview is over.

“That’s it?” Svetlana asks incredulously.

“No. One more thing.”

“What? Anything at all.” Svetlana pleads.

“When he does show up, ask him what his new girlfriend’s name is.”

“Get out! Do your job!” Svetlana shouts.

The senior officer shrugs as he and his partner leave the apartment. Krazavitskaya slams the door behind them, goes into the kitchen and, with her hands trembling, lights another cigarette.

←↔↔↔↔↔→

The lobby, no more than five meters square, has the same hideous, worn linoleum floor that graces each of the building’s apartments. The two stainless steel elevator doors are badly scratched with competing expletives, so many that it is nearly impossible to distinguish one from another. The walls are covered in plastic, faux wood paneling. Along the wall to the right of the elevators is a bank of mailboxes each with a number corresponding to an apartment etched into its thin metallic door.

The police officers, having finished their brief interview with Svetlana Krazavitskaya, step off the elevator closest to the mailboxes. The surveillance camera Krazavitskaya mentioned, which they noticed when first entering the building, is mounted between the two elevator doors near the lobby’s ceiling giving it a direct view of the building’s glass-door entrance.  As the younger officer pens an entry about of the camera in his small notepad, a short, squat woman in her late sixties enters the lobby from the street. She carries two full bags of groceries as she waddles hurriedly to the elevator. She sets one of the bags of groceries down and pushes the elevator call button.

“Do you live in this building?” the older officer asks.

“For 30 years now. Since it was built,” she responds while keeping her focus on the lighted numbers above the elevator door.

“Who is the building manager?” he inquires as he once again pulls his notepad and pen out.

“Apartment 101. Marmeledov. Is this about those men in the Mercedes?” she turns and asks.

As the officer writes down the information about the manager he continues his mild interrogation.

“What men?”

“Less than an hour ago. There were four of them.”

“And?”

“They were all dressed the same. I thought they were FSB. Trench coats, black trench coats. All dressed the same,” she responds with increasing agitation.

“Is that it? It’s not against the law to dress in a trench coat now, is it?”

The woman does not appreciate the officer’s sardonic tone.

“You’re a policeman. Why do you ask me about the law? I’m just telling you what I saw. There was someone else with them. He looked sick, like he couldn’t walk by himself.”

The officer, slightly amused by the feisty babushka, continues.

“Was the sick one young, old, thin, fat?”

The woman returns to watching the numbers above the elevator indicating its slow progress towards the lobby.

“Young and skinny, a pig. You know the type. We didn’t have so many of those 30 years ago.”

The officer pulls the picture of Alexei Kotuzov from his pocket and shows it to the woman.

“Is that him?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t see his face. His head was down. Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Where did they go, these men with their skinny little pig?”

“I told you. What kind of a policeman are you? They got into a big black car, that Mercedes, not exactly a Russian model, and drove away, in a real hurry.”

“Anything else that you remember?”

“Are you asking if they came back? Of course not. That’s all. They drove away. Why do you ask such questions?”

The woman, relieved that the elevator has finally arrived, shuffles in the moment its doors open. The two officers look at each other with the same bemused smile and shake their heads.

“We should talk to Marmeledov about the camera.”