Nik Novak stared into the computer screen, blinking as a mouse that had just appeared out of the coke. His hair stuck to his shiny forehead, sweat dripping down on his desk. He’d been working long hours, his eyes were red and hurt from watching the numbers all days and then this email arrived, the subject: We know what you’ve done!
Nik looked around nervously, although there was no one in the office. His partner left after lunch because of an important meeting, the secretary went home at the same time as every day, and the cleaning service was not supposed to do the cleaning today.
But he had this strange feeling anyway, the feeling of being watched. Observed.
He closed the lid of his laptop, stood up and stuffed the most important papers into his bag, and hurried out of the office. Away!
The only thing he could hear in the underground parking garage beside his steps was the echo of his steps. And the unlock sound of his obscenely expensive BMW reminded him that he could never afford it with his regular pay.
He threw the bag into the trunk and sat behind the wheel. Then his phone started ringing. It said Petek.
He tapped “ignore” and tried to stuff it back into his pocket but it slipped through his fingers and fell between his legs. He put his left hand on the wheel and tried to find the phone with his right when he noticed a group of men appeared from the dark. Their eyes flashed dangerously. He touched the phone, picked it up, and tried to unlock it, but the next second his finger released the phone and it fell again, blood drops covering it.
* * *
Inspector Wolf was in the middle of a quarrel with the coffee machine when his Boss called him. Wolf nodded and headed to the Boss’s office.
He was a large man and he looked as if he didn’t have a neck — as if his head was just glued between his broad shoulders. He sat down and crossed his legs.
The Boss scratched his shiny head and said Listen, Wolf …
Wolf knew what that meant — every time he began scratching his head and started with “listen, Wolf” some nasty case was going to be assigned to him.
Wolf leaned back and pushed his hair back. Despite his age, he had a pretty healthy bush on the head. He was grey but contrary to the Boss he never lost a single hair.
Before you say anything I need to remind you I’m retiring in four months. Don’t make me investigate something I can’t finish.
Yeah, yeah, Wolf, I know, I know, but this one … I can’t imagine anyone else working on it but you. And take the new one. Just listen to me, please …
And Wolf listened, cursing the damn coffee machine.
* * *
Wolf bought himself a coffee2go and a nice and greasy cheese burek. Although he was of German descent, drove a French car, and was an expert in Japanese martial arts, he had a sweet tooth for Bosnian food …
He parked outside the parking garage, grabbed his coffee and burek, and headed underground. The young policeman lifted the POLICE STOP ribbon and let him enter the crime scene.
Wolf walked slowly chewing his treat which he washed down with a sip of coffee, then suddenly he froze and sprayed coffee from his mouth all over the place.
What the actual f-f-f-… Jesus Chrysler, what happened here?
Luna Mesec, a young and beautiful paraplegic rookie inspector on a wheelchair shrugged.
Wolf looked around to find a trash bin and threw his food and coffee away. He paused for a second of silence.
He said there was a body! Did he say there was a body turned into a smoothie?! He didn’t!
Luna shrugged again.
Do we have any idea who he is … was?
Yes, said Luna. She identified the deceased as Nik Novak thanks to his license plate. He was a co-founder of a successful accounting firm upstairs, Novak&Mlakar.
Mhm. And the other co-founder’s in one piece?
Yep, he’s okay, we called him and he’s on his way. Should be here any minute now.
And the forensics …
Behind your back, sir.
Wolf turned around and saw the forensic enter the crime scene, all covered in white, holding a large bag and wearing a mask.
Looks like all hell broke loose here, literally, said the forensic.
Yes, Peter, it sure looks like it. Who’d have done it? Do we have some kind of Japanese mob here with shurikens and sharp katanas or some guy with a chainsaw who watched too many horror movies?
Or maybe some dissatisfied client … said Luna behind Wolf’s back.
Peter looked surprised as she wheeled from behind Wolf.
Oh, you must be the new one, right? We spoke on the phone a while ago? Pleased to meet you.
Luna nodded yes and they shook hands.
Dissatisfied client? asked Wolf.
Why not? said Luna. He worked in accounting and maybe he got “creative” … Luna drew quotation marks in the air.
So, let’s say he had double-crossed someone … mumbled Wolf. They could have hundreds of customers, how are we supposed to go through all of them? I mean I’m retiring in a couple of months.
I’m not, said Luna.
Peter smiled into his mask and started exploring the scene searching for clues.
Looks like the interior of a fucking blender, he said as a ringtone from Jaws started playing in Luna’s pocket.
She picked up and said We’re coming.
* * *
Nik’s partner, Robert Mlakar, looked devastated behind his desk. They weren’t just business partners, they’d been friends since forever. Almost brothers. No, he didn’t seem to be in any kind of trouble. Everybody loved him. No idea who’d want to hurt him.
Luna did a great job questioning Mlakar so Wolf was a bit bored and started feeling sorry about his coffee. And burek … What a waste!
Luna asked if she could get a list of their clients.
Mlakar was a bit surprised but then he said Yeah … sure. I’ll have my secretary go through our CRM and print them out.
In half an hour the secretary came with a thick folder, and Wolf and Luna thanked her.
Do you think one of my … our clients did it?
It’s too early to say, said Luna. But we would like to check if there’s anything unusual and we’ll let you know, so don’t worry.
Yes, yes, Mlakar nodded and absent-mindedly produced whiskey from the drawer. He didn’t mind pouring it into a tumbler, he just opened the bottle and chugged.
Luna and Wolf looked at each other, then he pushed her wheelchair out and they left him alone.
* * *
Back at the station, they started checking the extensive list of Novak&Mlakar’s clients.
You read the names and I’ll google them, said Luna.
I’ll google them — that means I’ll search the internet if any of them appeared in any news and check their business performance and taxation in a company database.
Wolf didn’t have a nerve for computers.
They only paused for a pizza they had ordered and Wolf had a couple of fights with the coffee machine, which he hated even more than computers.
It was dark when they went home.
* * *
The next morning, Wolf wanted to finish yesterday’s business with the coffee machine, when the Boss called him again. Wolf waved Luna to join him.
We’ve got another body … I want you two to check it out.
We haven’t scrapped yesterday’s body parts yet …
I know, but those two might be connected … in a way.
What do you mean?
Well, the body is in … a strange condition again.
Strange condition meaning what? A kebab?
You better go check it out.
* * *
Smart move … murmured Wolf to himself.
What? asked Luna.
Oh, nothing … I mean I was smart enough not to bring food and coffee. You know, after seeing this … And this … And that!
Wolf pointed his finger in different directions where parts of a man’s body were scattered all over the parking lot belonging to the fitness studio. The torso was lying in one place with a line drawn with chalk around it. The head was twenty meters away on the left, one leg thirty meters on the right, his hands were under a car and another leg god knows were. Obviously not fit at all …
Who found him? asked Luna. The young police officer who was still visibly shocked, pointed his shaking finger toward the fitness studio entrance so Luna and Wolf entered.
The young receptionist was shocked as well, of course. One policeman was questioning her but Wolf gently dismissed him.
We’re taking over, mate.
He showed him his badge and the cop left.
So … Tell us all you know, said Wolf.
Not much, the girl said. I came to work, parked there and found … Darko on the floor, chopped to pieces …
Do you know if he had any enemies? asked Luna.
Not as far as I know … He was extremely friendly to everyone … Almost too friendly.
What do you mean? asked Wolf.
I mean, women …
Do you have any list of your customers? Something that might be helpful? said Luna.
Yes, I presume you must have all the members saved on this computer?
Yes, sure, I’ll print it out.
Wolf was not in the mood to scan another endless list of names but he kind of started to like spending time in Luna’s company.
They took the list and headed toward the station, Wolf rolled Luna’s wheelchair.
* * *
Wait a sec! said Luna. What was the name again?
Sara … Petek, Wolf checked. His eyes hurt from reading the endless list of names all day.
We had a certain Petek yesterday, right? said Luna and started skimming the list that Mlakar printed out for them.
Here he is — Boris Petek, KetepInvest Group, CEO. Maybe we should have his transactions checked …
Maybe, said Wolf, or maybe this is just a coincidence.
I’ll check Google. I mean, the internet.
Luna smiled and started googling both names and in a matter of moments, she found some articles with juicy titles and even juicier pictures. Tabloids, of course: Shocking! You will never recognize this Slovenian celebrity — she lost 10 pounds just in time to jump into her bikini.
Celebrity? asked Wolf, puzzled. Never heard of her …
Wait, there’s another: An affair of the century — a respectable entrepreneur broke her lover’s nose. And guess who’s the lover with a broken nose, said Luna and smiled victoriously.
I guess the lover who doesn’t have any nose at all any more … And no legs. And arms, said Wolf. And was found lying on the parking lot in front of …
His fitness club, yes, that’s the one. Now we have a motive here. But what about Novak …
Well, maybe we should go check those transactions thoroughly anyway, said Wolf and stood up. But not today. Let’s get some sleep and I’ll pay Petek a visit first thing tomorrow.
Luna nodded and said I’ll have the numbers checked with Mlakar.
* * *
Wolf could not sleep. He lied on his back and contemplated the ceiling. Marta was snoring and that sure didn’t help.
He stood up and went downstairs, grabbed a can of beer from the kitchen, and dived into the sofa. He surfed channels for a while to catch some boring art film to help him fall asleep, then he finished his beer, took a piss and went back to bed to do some more ceiling contemplation.
The minute he fell asleep the alarm clock went on. Wolf rolled his eyes and got up.
* * *
That’s some terrible news, Petek said unempathetically. He was great at … accounting.
Well, I wouldn’t know that, Mr. Petek, but the thing is, that you were one of his clients and … now he’s great at dividing, so to speak.
Are you implying that I might have something to do with the murder?
I’m not implying anything, but …
Look, he was good at what he was doing and I was paying him fairly to do it and …
The door opened and a big guy entered and whispered something into Petek’s ear, his eyes fixed on Wolf. Petek nodded, thanked and waved him off.
Wolf sneezed. And he sneezed again. He felt his eyes started to itch.
Do you … have a dog? he asked.
Petek looked surprised.
I’m allergic to dogs — well not the dogs per se, but dog’s hair — and I thought there was a dog somewhere here. Nevermind. Where were we?
I was telling you that I was paying Mlakar to do his job, which he did great. If I killed him I’d need to find another accountant and you can search with a Maglite to find a good one.
Okay, I see … One more thing, Mr. Petek — yesterday we found another body … Well, we found what was left from the body.
I’m all ears, Petek said.
His name was Darko Krpan …
Petek didn’t react.
Your wife’s personal trainer?
I see where you’re getting. And the fact he was my wife’s trainer also makes me a killer …
I didn’t say that but they did have an affair …?
Listen, Mr. Dog.
Mr. Wolf — these were just … sensational stories, you know our media and so-called journalism. You need to read every story and divide it by ten to come a just a tiny bit closer to the truth, especially when the news is about some famous person. And maybe they had a short affair, so fucking what? My wife’s used to a certain standard of living which only I can provide …
Of course, Mr. Petek, thank you for your time. May I have your business card in case I need to ask you a question or three?
Petek handed him his card, Wolf took it and left the office.
The big guy who interrupted their conversation before was waiting outside and gave him a sharp look. Wolf sneezed again.
* * *
Hey, Wolf, Luna greeted him holding a stack of papers. Found something interesting.
Wolf needed some burek and coffee first, but she was so enthusiastic that he took off his coat and sat next to her.
First, I called Mlakar and asked him to check Novak’s business with KetepInvest. He then remembered that Novak and Petek argued in his office recently. Petek had a couple of big guys with him and they talked pretty loudly. When they left, he asked Novak what was that all about and Novak said it was something he needed to take care of himself … Excuse me, am I boring you?
No, sorry, I really need my coffee. Want one?
Luna nodded and went after him in her wheelchair.
So I asked Mlakar to check Novak’s emails and there were some pretty harsh messages in his inbox. From Petek.
Did he threaten him? asked Wolf and gave the coffee machine a decent blow.
Let me, said Luna and after she pressed a couple of buttons, a cup appeared and the machine started making coffee. Wolf looked puzzled. She offered him the coffee and prepared one for herself.
He didn’t actually threaten him but it looks like some of the numbers in the financial report made Petek pretty angry. Mlakar checked the transactions and the papers thoroughly and … A long story short, Novak seemed to be stealing from Petek.
So, Novak stole from Petek and the other guy, the fitness coach fucked … Excuse me, had a sexual relationship with Petek’s young wife.
That’s okay, said Luna, took her cup and they headed back to their office. So there, she continued, we’ve got motives, but we still need to prove he did it.
Which he didn’t, at least not personally as far as the state of the victims is concerned, said Wolf and the second or two later an annoying melody started in his pocket.
He produced his phone — it said Peter The Forensic.
Yes, Peter, spit … Uh-huh … A dog’s what?
Luna stared into Wolf’s puzzled face.
Yeah, thanks, man. See you around.
The forensics found a dog’s hair on both bodies.
* * *
What he needed was some fresh air. He and Luna spent the last month trying to fit the pieces together and nail Petek. He had some thoughts to sort out and Marta was in a mood. So he opted for a walk, maybe a beer or six at The Thirsty Joc, and then he would crush in the bed at the wee hour.
He skipped the last call and left The Thirsty Joc just after eleven. After a while, he spotted someone was following him. A large guy in a coat.
He tried to appear as if he hadn’t noticed, but then another guy stepped from the dark on the other side of the street.
And then the third one. They must have followed him all the way from home. Which meant they knew where he lived. He stopped and turned back.
Alright, guys, what’s the problem?
They surrounded him and none of them said anything. Their faces were hidden in the shadows of their fedoras but their eyes flashed. Their eyes … Like the eyes of a …
One of the men seized the opportunity and attacked him but Wolf turned around and the man landed on the floor all stretched like a nicely stretched burek dough, plus the sound of something breaking.
Wolf stepped on his neck and twisted his hand behind his back.
He wanted to say Ippon but all he could say was Achoo.
By then the second man growled and jumped forward. Wolf pressed his hands together, pushed them toward the attacker’s neck, stepped back to follow his move and let him fall on his back, then he blew him a deadly hit into plexus solaris.
And there was the third one — Funny how they were attacking him one by one just like in those unrealistic cheap B-movies, thought Wolf.
He said Good dog! when the third man jumped on him behind his back and Wolf made a dancing turn to shake him off. He pushed back toward the traffic sign behind his back, kneeled and surprised the guy with a blow between the legs with his elbow. When the furry attacker fell on his knees, he jumped on him and turned his head around, when suddenly he felt a sharp pain in the neck, unaware there had been the fourth guy around, he fell on his knees and then it was dark.
* * *
When Wolf opened his eyes, he was lying naked, frozen, and covered in blood. There were parts of his body where he felt pain but blood was all over him. Not his blood. What the fuck happened?
He stood up which had been a pretty painful process, and turned around. Three guys were lying around him, parts of their skin hanging freely, parts of their bodies all over the place.
Jesus Chrysler, Wolf thought. He started remembering a fight, but at least the guys had all been in one piece before the fade out …
He ran home. He could hear voices from every direction, he could almost hear the neighbor’s cat purr across the street …
He felt the urge to leave a loud long howl but the clouds began covering the moon.
He entered silently and stepped into the bathroom. He took a long, hot shower and — much to his surprise — discovered that all his injuries have gone. And the pain — gone. He felt strong. He felt twenty years younger.
He squeezed into the bed next to Marta and got a colossal erection, which hadn’t happened for a long time. He pinched Marta’s ass. she turned around and said What the …
He placed his hand on her mouth and got on top of her and made love to her as he did a long time ago when they started dating. They didn’t have five orgasms in five years.
Are you having an affair? Marta asked.
Then the annoying tune started, Luna said Come to the office as fast as you can.
Jesus, Luna, it’s two in the morning …
I said as fast as you can!
* * *
Don’t get too comfortable, said Luna when Wolf was taking his coat off. We need to check another crime scene. I’ll drive!
Yeah, three guys in the street torn apart a couple of hours ago. Just like those two a month ago. This is getting out of hand.
Luna drove one of those cars, specially remade for paraplegics.
The full moon lurking from behind the clouds started getting on his nerves. It felt like one of those hangovers after he went for just a beer with his mates and then went straight to work.
He tried to concentrate on something other than sweating and shaking. He needed to occupy his brain.
What exactly happened to you?
What do you mean, asked Luna.
I mean your …
Wolf nodded nervously.
Well, we were having dinner out with my mom and dad. Their marriage was a mess and they were trying to save it by going out together. Anyway, we had an anniversary dinner one night. When dad went over to the bar to pay I went to the toilet and saw he ordered a couple of shots. Then he gave mom and me a ride home. It happened so suddenly. I still can’t remember whether the accident was caused by dad or the other guy but mom died and I became … This. But I never let the accident stop me from what I wanted in my life … Here we are!
Thank god, Wolf thought.
* * *
Wolf scratched his head. Three guys were lying on the ground and he recognized one of them, the big guy he met when he had visited Petek at his office.
A coffee for your thought? Luna said.
Wolf shrugged and said I’m shaking, too much coffee already I guess. I think I’ll have to pay Mr. Petek another visit.
What? Now? It’s three am. Do you believe he killed them?
No, I believe this guy here was one of his … Dogs.
Dogs? Let me go with you.
No, I’ll go by myself, you make sure to … Document the scene properly.
Wolf ran away.
Pretty fast for your age, Luna thought. She rolled over to the young cop and gave him some directions.
* * *
Detective, Petek said, no surprise in his voice.
Inspector, Wolf corrected him.
Right, Inspector Wolf, to what do I owe the pleasure …
Well, you gave me your business card. With your number … In case I wanted to talk, remember?
And you wanted to talk.
Yes. I saw the lights in your office.
Petek looked through the window and saw Wolf waving at him. He waved back.
Yes, I tend to spend three nights a month here in my office. Business as usual.
If you came down here to talk, that’d be great …
Wolf looked nervously at the sky where clouds had almost cleared away and the moon watched what was happening down there.
The next second the door opened and Petek walked out of the KetepInvest Group building.
Wolfed was stunned by his speed and appearance — his face and neck were covered in hair, his ears were like two spikes, his eyes flashed furiously, his hands had claws instead of nails.
I see you’ve been beaten by a … dog, detective?
Inspector, Wolf corrected him again and only then he spotted his hands were hairy and had claws too. He checked his ears.
So what it is you wanted to talk about, inspector.
Just about a couple of murders that you might be … are connected to.
You never quit, huh?
Petek started walking around him in a circle.
Let’s say I never leave businesses unfinished.
I respect that, inspector, but you see, some businesses are better left unfinished.
Well, I’m retiring in a couple of months and I’d rather finish my last case by then.
I wish my employees were as persistent as you. Speaking of my employees, inspector, I believe you have something to do with the deaths of three of them. Even more — you’ve become one of us.
Wolf got tired from rotating. He said Nah, I’ll never be one of you … Let’s finish this.
Petek jumped on him but Wolf used one of his martial arts maneuvers to shake him off.
But Petek quickly stood up and prepared for another attack.
Wolf grabbed him and held Petek’s sharp teeth as far as possible from his neck. They were both too focused on the fight to notice a car that stopped in the KetepInvest parking lot. Luna climbed on her wheelchair and slowly moved toward the fight scene.
I thought you guys knew dog fights are illegal in Slovenia?
They both gave her a surprised look.
Petek let go of Wolf and smiled with fake kindness.
There, there, what is it, young lady? Don’t tell me you’ve got silver bullets in there?
Nah, that’d be too cliche for my taste.
Wolf seized the opportunity and attacked, they rolled on the asphalt and Luna kept aiming at Petek’s head. Wolf managed to shake him off and Luna shot in Petek’s direction. Petek jumped toward her and turned her wheelchair over, Luna was on the ground now but she was still holding her gun hard. Petek was circling around her.
Now what, young lady? Aren’t you gonna shoot me?
Then Wolf jump on his back and Petek tried to get rid of him, but Wolf gripped his neck tight. Petek leaned forward and then threw himself on the back, which was quite an achievement with Wolf who just kept on clinging onto him.
Luna started crawling toward them — she couldn’t risk shooting Wolf in the head.
Petek couldn’t do anything, he was lying on Wolf like a turtle on his back and couldn’t get back on his feet. He left out a long, deep howl, and then both of them slowly became human again.
Put them on and go home and change, said Luna as she handed Wolf the handcuffs. Wolf cuffed him and helped her get on the wheelchair.
Are you sure you can handle this by yourself?
You mean, after all … this? asked Luna and waved her hand around.
See you in the office.
* * *
Are you guys drunk? asked the Boss. Yes, you are. You’re telling me that these crimes were committed by some men transformed into wolves and they were led by the well-known entrepreneur who also has a habit of becoming a wolf every month when there’s a full moon?
Luna and Wolf shrugged.
Look, we told you what we saw, Luna said, we’re surprised just as you are. I thought this was some kind of bullshit from Slavic mythology too, but that’s what happened here. Just lock him up for a month and when the full moon comes, you can tell us whether we’re drunk or not.
Jesus, how are we gonna pull this of. What am I supposed to tell at the press conference in an hour? I mean, not only everything is unbelievable, but the guy has connections, he’s got the best lawyers that money can buy AND the money to buy them.
They shrugged again.
We did our job now you do yours, said Wolf, and stood up. I don’t know about you but I need the damn coffee!
Make that two, said Luna and followed him while the Boss tried to figure out what to do.
Let me, said Luna when Wolf was preparing to persuade the machine with a hard kick.
She produced two coffees and then they headed to their office.
Could you check this … Internet thing and find if I can somehow get rid of this? You know … This metamorphosis or whatever it is. Dog’s life. I’m allergic to dogs.
Luna nodded, she brought the coffee to her lips and laughed.
Hommage à Paul D. Brazill’s Roman Dalton
About Renato Bratkovič
Creative Partner @ Artizan.si, dark fiction writer @ TemneSnovi.eu and your international crime&noir festival creator @ Alibi-fest.com