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Walking Dead – Chapter Three

In all honesty, I haven’t been that sick in a long, long time. Have to go back to college for it, I think, freshman year. Spent a week in bed fighting a fever. A very nice young lady named Cathy York brought me food from ACDC. Terrified my roommate at the time (though, admittedly, he was easily terrified, and already frightened of me to begin with).

Not. Fun.

Better now. Can manage to walk and talk and do cute little human things with my hands without falling into convulsive coughs. You know it’s bad when your five year old looks at you with big eyes, pats your arm, and says, “you’re going to get better, right?”

Criminy.

Still angry about having to miss B’con. In the main, I do not look forward to attending the convention, but this year was different, and I was excited about going. So this year I get sick. Go figure.

Anyway, enough about me. Here’s some more about Atticus. The refresher course is available here (that’d be Chapter One) and here (that’d be Chapter Two).

This would be .


Chapter Three

The regional head of the police in Kobuleti, Mgelika Iashvili, was in his late forties, tall and broad and thick through the neck and shoulders. Georgian pride runs to many things, their wine, their tea, their nearly four thousand year history. Stalin. They’re also very proud of their weightlifters, and the rumor was that Iashvili had trained as a power-lifter for the Soviets back in the day, before everything had changed. Whether he still kept with it was unknown, but it did nothing to detract from his thuggish air, one that was well-earned.

“And neither of you heard anything last night?” he asked. “Anything at all?”

Alena, at the stove and preparing tea, shook her head. She let her lower lip jut just enough beneath her upper to indicate both sincerity and bewilderment.

“I sleep very deep,” she lied. “Just ask David.”

“Like a log,” I agreed. In fact, the previous night had been the only one I could ever remember when I’d had difficulty waking her. “Are you going to tell us what this is about, chief? Did something happen?”

Iashvili kept his eyes on Alena, watching her. He did it not so much because he suspected she might be lying, I thought, but rather because he liked looking at her. It wasn’t unusual. A lot of people did, and if they noticed that she was sometimes a little slow, sometimes seemed to favor her right leg over her left, it never stopped them. Given that once upon a time, she had excelled at being someone who was barely noticed, I think Alena had come to even enjoy it.

The chief turned his attention reluctantly to me. After a moment for thought, he said, “You’ll hear soon enough. Bakhar Lagidze, his whole family. They were murdered last night.”

Alena dropped the tea cup she was about to fill. The sound of it shattering in the sink was enough to turn Iashvili’s attention back to her. I was grateful for the misdirection. It gave me an extra handful of seconds to set my reaction.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

“The children?” Alena asked softly, her voice thickening. From where we sat at the table, she had her back to Iashvili, her shoulders now bowed.

“All of them,” Iashvili said. “I’m very sorry. They were your friends?”

I thought about the word. In Georgian, friend was megobari, which, loosely translated, meant, “I will take your place in times of danger.”

“Yes,” I said. “They were.”

“I was teaching her to dance,” Alena said. “Tiasa.”

“I have to ask,” the chief said. “Did you notice anything unusual? Strangers in the area? A change in Bakhar’s behavior?”

“No, nothing,” I said. “Everything was…everything was fine. I talked to Bakhar the day before yesterday, we were going to take Koba to the football game in Batumi next week.”

“Do you know if he’d bought the tickets?”

“I was going to buy them. I was going to get them today.”

The chief frowned. At the sink, Alena began gathering pieces of broken crockery.

“I’m sorry to say this,” Mgelika Iashvili said. “It looks like Bakhar killed his family, then himself.”

***

Alena walked him to the door when he left, waiting there to watch as he drove away. I stayed in the kitchen. Miata trotted over from where he’d been taking the sun through the windows, and I gave him a scratch beneath the chin, stroked his neck. Alena returned and fixed me with a stare that was almost accusatory.

“He’s lying,” I said.

“Of course he’s lying,” Alena said. “He’s been bought.”

“Then he knows who killed them. Maybe he even knows why.”

“He certainly knows who paid him.”

“And maybe where Tiasa is.”

“It’s not our problem.”

We stared at each other. I understood her anger, though the intensity of it surprised me. I knew what she was thinking. I knew why she was thinking it. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t go to any great length to hide that fact.

“What you did last night was foolish,” Alena added.

“I didn’t go over there planning to find the house soaked in blood. I went to help.”

“I know that. I know why you went. Just as you know you shouldn’t have.”

“I’m not going to apologize,” I said.

“I don’t want an apology. An apology does us nothing. We have a home here, we have built a life. Do you want to have to leave, to run, to find somewhere new and to start again? To spend the years it will take us to rebuild? Do you want to lose all of this?”

“The only thing I fear losing is you,” I said.

That stopped her, at least for the moment. Affection was still difficult for her, probably always would be, the way it dogs most survivors of abuse. Even though she knew my sincerity, believed it, speaking of it could bring her to moments of almost confused silence. Love was still a fragile thing for her, despite all its strength.

“You should never have gone over there at all.”

“I didn’t know what I would find,” I said.

“It’s not a question of what you found! You shouldn’t have done it, Atticus!”

The mere fact that she’d used my real name was proof of how upset she was. I got out of my chair, went over to her, rested my hands on her arms. When I kissed her forehead, she closed her eyes and put her arms around me.

“They were our friends,” I said, holding her.

“Yes, they were,” she whispered. “And now they’re gone.”

***

We spent the rest of the day going about our routines. I made my daily check of the security arrangements, the alarms, did yoga for an hour with Alena, then went for my run, leaving her to work out in the studio.

I covered eight miles, down to the water, along the beach. It was hot and growing humid, even by the waterfront, and the beach was beginning to fill. It was tourist season, and the influx had easily doubled Kobuleti’s population, though that was down from the previous years. Another by-product of Russian pressure on the economy.

I passed the Gio, a café that, like so many others in town, turned into a bar-slash-night club after dark during the summer months. One night, the summer after we’d returned to Kobuleti, Iashvili had been dining there with a couple off-duty members of the force, celebrating a junior officer’s impending marriage. A group of laughing teenagers attracted their attention. Iashvili thought he and his fellows were the source of amusement. The fight that followed ended with the chief shooting three of the boys in the foot. There was no official record of the event. Even the hospital where the boys had been treated refused to document the case.

Democracy was wheezing its way into the Republic of Georgia, but it still had a very long way to go. In the open land between the Black Sea and the capital, brigands still lurked the roads. The Russian Army’s presence still lingered in both Poti, further north on the coast, and in Gori, restricting traffic to Tbilisi. The declaration of independence in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia made Moscow’s shadow fall long and cold throughout the country.

I looped back, this time following main street, waving at the people I knew and exchanging brief good-mornings as I went past. I no longer got the stares I once did, but the amusement at my commitment to exercise still remained. I made my way back up the road towards the house, digging down for extra speed, feeling my lungs starting to burn. At the fork in the road, I went right, heading toward home, telling myself there was nothing in Bakhar Lagidze’s house that I needed to see again.

***

The rest of the day passed in somber silence. Late in the afternoon, when Tiasa would’ve come for her lesson, Alena went out to the studio again. I was working in the yard on an old Dnepr motorcycle I’d bought a couple of months earlier, Miata lazily watching me as I tried to make sense of the schematics I’d downloaded from the Internet. Alena and I had only the one car for the two of us, a forty year old Mercedes Benz diesel sedan that took five minutes to start during the winter, and that could easily double as a light tank in an emergency. The Dnepr, once repaired, would hopefully serve as more reliable, if smaller, transportation.

The music in the studio came on, one of the more energetic pieces that Alena used for warming up. She’d left the door open, and the noise kept Miata and me company. After a few minutes there was a quick silence, and then the sound of John Lennon’s voice as she switched to her Beatles play list, and there was nothing unusual in that. Alena had loved the Beatles for as long as I’d known her, and she frequently danced and taught to their catalogue.

So when “Golden Slumbers” came on, I barely noticed, occupied as I was with trying to remove the dead battery from the bike without tearing my knuckles open. It’s a short song, hardly a minute and a half long, and so when it repeated, I missed that, too. But somewhere around the fifth time through it registered what I was hearing, and when the song ended, and then began again almost without pause, I got to my feet, wiping my hands on my jeans. Miata lifted his head to see what I was doing, then went back to watching the squirrels.

The song had ended and begun again when I stuck my head through the doorway. Most of the space was cleared for dancing, mirrors on the barre wall. At the far end was our heavy bag, the stack of weight plates and barbells. The stereo sat in the opposite corner.

Alena was on the floor, her back to the mirror, facing the stereo. She sat with her knees drawn to her chest, arms holding them close, head buried, and now that I was inside, I could hear it. In all the time I’d known her, I’d seen her cry only once. Tears weren’t something she cared for, nor were they something she offered readily. And even when I had seen her cry, it had been nothing like this.

The sobs wracked her, making her shake, and it was obvious she was trying to control them, to control herself, and that she was failing, but yet unwilling to surrender. It was so utterly unexpected, so unlike her, that I spent an instant unsure of how to react. Then I went to her side, and she heard me coming, and tried harder to hide her face away. I sat on the floor beside her, the mirror glass cold against my back, and carefully put my arms around her, waiting to see if she’d resist. She didn’t; she slumped against me, her whole body shaking.

She continued to cry, and I continued to hold her, and Paul continued to sing, and I wondered if this was grief, or something more.

***

I couldn’t leave it alone.

The next morning, when I reached the fork in the road, I went left instead of right.

There wasn’t much sign of crime scene investigation as I approached the house. The front door still hung ajar, the splintered and burst wood from the rounds that had torn through it all the more garish. Bakhar’s car remained where it had been the other night. I slowed to a walk, feeling sweat dripping off me into the dust. A dark brown puddle had dried on the dirt road, where the man I’d shot had bled out. When I listened, I could hear the buzzing of flies from inside.

There was no police tape, nothing saying that I could not enter, not that the presence of police tape would’ve stopped me. There was a curious sense of déjà vu when I stepped inside, triggered, perhaps, by the shift in the illumination, the transition from bright sunlight without to the shadows within. A cloud of flies, swarming over the still-tacky puddle in the entry-way, scattered and then almost as quickly reformed, ignoring me.

The house had already had one full day to cook in the summer heat, and it reeked. Whatever tracks I may have made had been obliterated by the multiple police boots that had tromped up and down the hall since the discovery of the bodies. I wondered, idly, who had called the crime in to the police, how they had been notified. Conceivably, it could’ve taken days before anyone had noticed what had happened here.

Unsure of what exactly all my questions were, I started searching for answers in the kids’ rooms first.

***

I spent nearly five hours on the search, with a couple of breaks in between to grasp some fresh air and clear my head. In Koba and Tiasa’s rooms I found nothing extraordinary, only sad. Koba had an eight year-old’s collection of detritus, scraps of paper covered with drawings of spaceships and football players. He’d taped a crude family portrait he’d drawn on the inside of his bedroom door, the house small in comparison to the figures. In it, he’d drawn himself biggest of all, smiling with lots of teeth. His sister had been smallest, but not by much, almost as tall as he’d drawn Ia.

Tiasa’s room was harder. Books, schoolwork, magazines. A DVD Alena had leant her of a Savion Glover tap performance. A bottle of cheap perfume, and a brand new lipstick. I didn’t find a diary.

If I had, I doubt I could’ve brought myself to read it.

It was in the master bedroom that I began to concentrate my efforts. There was nothing in the clichés, no documents taped to the back of the furniture, nothing beneath the mattress or submerged in the toilet tank. In the back of the closet I found a nylon carry-all, the kind of thing to hold towels and swimsuits for a day at the beach. This one held three pairs of underwear, three clean shirts, three pairs of socks, a pair of pants, and a toothbrush. It also had just shy of five thousand Euro, a loaded 9mm Makarov, and two passports, one Russian, the other Romanian. The pictures inside each matched Bakhar, even if the names didn’t.

There was also a small, tattered address book. When I flipped through it, the entries were all in Georgian, first names and phone numbers. Some of the country codes I recognized – Ukraine, Romania, Turkey, Russia, Germany, England – and some I didn’t.

I put it aside, wondering why it was Bakhar Lagidze needed a go-bag.

The only other item of interest I found was in Bakhar’s tackle box, the same one he always took with him fishing. Beneath the top compartment, wrapped in an oily rag, was another pistol, this one a small Czech semi-auto. The gun was a cheap one, poorly maintained, and nothing I would have trusted my life to in a pinch. Bakhar clearly seemed to have thought otherwise.

That was all I found.

***

Alena was in the kitchen when I got home, putting together a salad, and I let her know I was back, though she’d already determined that from Miata’s reaction the moment I’d come onto our property. I dropped the go-bag on our bed, stripped and took a quick shower. When I returned, Alena had the contents dumped out, examining them. She shot me an accusing glare as I passed her but didn’t say anything until after I’d finished getting dressed, and then, when she did, failed to deliver the admonishment I’d expected from her expression.

“I have to go to Tbilisi tomorrow morning,” she said, tossing Bakhar’s Russian passport back onto the pile, and picking up the address book.

“Why?”

“Nicholas is meeting me at the Marriott.” She leafed through the little book in her hands, flipping the pages slowly.

“We saw him in March,” I said, surprised. Nicholas Sargenti, to grossly over-simplify things, was our banker.

“Yes. I want him to free up some more funds, just in case we need them quickly.” She looked up from the book to read my expression, and then added, as if it needed further explanation, “In case we have to run.”

I tucked in my shirt, thinking. In the world Alena and I had made for ourselves, Nicholas Sargenti was the hidden facilitator. When Alena had been working, it was he who had arranged contact protocols, had retrieved job offers, passing them along to her through varied and elaborate cut-outs and dead-drops. He had been her hidden necessity, able to provide papers and identities on short notice, and all of them entirely legitimate. From his office in Monaco, he had moved the substantial amounts of money required for her to do her job around the world quietly and quickly, deftly funding each cover. While we rarely availed ourselves of his other services much these days, he still handled the majority of our finances.

Alena had never admitted to him what it was she got paid tens of millions of dollars to do, and he had never asked, but he was smart enough to do everything else, which meant he was smart enough to have figured it out. Which meant he was a risk to us, albeit a very calculated, necessary one. For that reason, face-to-face meetings with him were always planned with great care, their number limited. That Alena had arranged to meet him only three months after last seeing him concerned me, but not nearly as much as the fact that she was meeting him in-country, in the capital. It was sloppy, and that was utterly unlike her.

“I’ll come with you,” I said.

“Better if you don’t. If Iashvili comes back with more questions and we’re both gone, it will look worse than it already does.”

“It doesn’t look bad right now. You heard him, he’s calling it a murder-suicide and putting it all on Bakhar.”

“Even so.” She indicated the spilled contents of the go-bag on the bed with her free hand. “Did you find anything else?”

“Bakhar kept a pistol in his tackle box,” I said, aware she was changing the subject. “Piece of crap little Czech thing.”

“That is not so unusual, that he would bring a weapon for self-defense.”

“Maybe. Wouldn’t do him much good at the bottom of a tackle box.”

“That implies a level of trade-craft that isn’t evident here.”

“He had a go-bag.”

“A very bad go-bag. Too many clothes. Not enough cash. No credit cards. And this.” She held up the address book. “If this is a list of contacts in whatever his business was, this is very unprofessional.”

I held up a hand, began counting on my fingers. “Drugs, guns—“

“It doesn’t matter,” Alena interrupted, dropping the address book on the bed. “Whatever it was he was into, his sins caught up with him. Come, dinner’s ready.”

She walked out of the bedroom. I stared at the scattered clothes, the two passports, the address book, the gun. I thought about my own go-bag, waiting on the top shelf in the front closet, resting beside Alena’s.

Wondering how much longer I had before my sins caught up with me.

10 Responses to Walking Dead – Chapter Three

  1. crisper

    Glad you’re feeling better. Good health is rarely something that you think about when you have it. (I’ve been thinking about it today only because my daughter has a nasty cough and my wife has the sorest throat she’s had in a year, and I’m worried I’m going to come down with something too.)

  2. stealthbunny

    It is a good thing that you have already said that you will be posting more.

    ’cause otherwise, it would be bad. Badbadbadbadbad.

    Did I mention it would be bad?

    Very bad.

    Must have more.

    And get a flu shot, so you don’t come down with that too, on top of the bronchitis.

    Must have more…

  3. crisper

    Yeah, now I’m gettin’ sick too, for sure. Ah, well, so much for weekend getting-out plans.

  4. jonlaw

    Second, third and fourth that!

    More needed!

  5. tsob

    Breathing is good. Try to keep it up.

  6. fluidbeauty

    Dude. You quoted Richard Jeni’s Platypus Man. Awesome.

    Re: the posting of the chapters. This is such a treat. Much appreciated. It’s interesting how the serial format is different for me. I have trouble picking up all the details the first time I read one of your books because I’m dying to know what happens. Some times I have to force myself to reread a paragraph and not blow past the words in order to know what’s next. Here though, with the time between chapters, I can take my time, reread a few times, go back and read all three with the knowledge of the future chapters altering the impact and meaning of the first chapter. It’s very cool. Kind of like a hybrid of a comic and a novel. I say that because with the comic there’s a lot of rereading to pick up all the little details.

    Thanks again. Hope you’re enjoying posting these.

  7. kokyu

    Hi,

    I just discovered your journal. I’m a fan of your Atticus Kodiak novels and so am excited to find you on LJ.

    I’m an asiring writer and member of MWA and I was planning to attend Bouchercon too. Had my ticket and everything. Unfortunately money has become a growing problem over the last few months and ultimately I decided I couldn’t afford it – especially not knowing how the economy was going to affect me further. So I know how disappointed you must be. I am too.

    Anyway, great to find you online. Hope you feel better.

    Michael

  8. khatru1339

    Hey, Greg. I hadn’t checked here and was surprised when I went to your first scheduled Bouchercon panel that you weren’t there. Ah well, I had a great Bouchercon even though you were at home, and I hope you’re doing much better.

    While I’ve never had bronchitis myself, several friends are prone to it, and it lingers a lot longer than you might think. So even when you feel better, take it easy for a little while, and don’t charge back to 100% activity. Better that than having it knock you back to an unwilling half strength.

    All best.

  9. snoristed

    Great chapter!

    Thank you so much for posting these chapters. It’s really fun to get to sneak a peek before the book comes out. I can’t wait to read the whole thing.

    Having spent a lot of time in Europe, I have one concern: “football.” This is in U.S. English, right? You mean soccer, right? I can’t imagine people are playing football in Batumi… Although, you never know…

  10. admin

    Re: Great chapter!

    He’s using “football” rather than “soccer.”

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