Installment FIVE, Angels or Devils (Chapters 7 & 8). Download to your preferred eReader/device or read online. Earlier installments are posted below.
© A.M. Potter. All Rights Reserved.
Toronto. May 22nd
Over a working breakfast at the Sheraton, Naslund dug up details on the Novak family, starting with Rollo Junior. Twenty-four; single; MBA with Distinction from Harvard. You can’t buy one of those, she reasoned, but you can buy help to get the marks. A few brushes with the law, nothing unusual for a rich kid. Two DUIs, both unsuccessful prosecutions, no doubt due to daddy’s lawyers.
As for Junior’s digs, he lived two blocks from Karlos Vega’s condo. She wasn’t surprised. The rich consorted with the rich. Junior’s address translated to a full-floor penthouse suite, like Vega’s. It was registered to Novak Senior, but the utility bills were in Junior’s name. Tough, she wryly thought, papa didn’t pay all the bills.
Unlike the Four Seasons Residences, the Novak tower had no valet. When Naslund and Moore entered the foyer, no attendant rushed up to them, no security manager met them. The concierge waved them to a private elevator. Moore had a spring in his step. He’d been chirpy at breakfast. She was glad to see him back to normal.
The all-glass elevator afforded an uninterrupted view of the city and Lake Ontario. The condo tower was positioned between two ravines. Its dominant note was exclusivity. Rising up into the sky, she didn’t skip a beat. She’d expected the trappings of wealth. She wasn’t impressed. She was a Bruce local now, an ex-Torontonian.
The elevator doors opened to reveal Novak Junior: lustrous dark hair, clean-cut, commanding. He graciously beckoned them in. Patrician already, she reflected, even in his fledgling years. A veritable Number One Son. Some people were born to be leaders. Rollo Novak Junior appeared to be one of them. He wore a perfectly-tailored navy suit framing a crisp dark blue shirt and silver tie. Understated yet impressive. If clothes made the man, they made this one manlier.
“Sorry for your loss,” Moore began.
Novak Junior shook his head morosely. His eyes went vacant. He said nothing.
Naslund saw a rudderless ship. However, Junior could be playing them.
“A terrible shock,” Moore added.
Junior seemed to recover his bearings. “Yes. Terrible.” He bowed slightly. “Please, follow me.”
Although Junior hadn’t asked for their IDs, Moore pulled out his badge and gave his usual spiel. “Detective Inspector Moore, OPP. Homicide,” he added, and then glanced her way.
“Detective Sergeant Naslund, OPP,” she said and showed her badge.
“Coffee? Tea?” Junior asked as they walked.
“Coffee, thanks,” Moore said. “Cream. No sugar.”
Naslund repeated Moore’s request, noting the inspector rarely said thanks to any offer. Perhaps he’d fallen under Number One Son’s spell.
The detectives followed Junior down a long, wide corridor flooded with natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows commanding the heart of the city. Lake Ontario extended to the horizon, dancing turquoise and green. Naslund knew the lake was a chemical cocktail, yet it looked heavenly. She wanted to keep walking forever, but Junior ushered them into an oak-panelled study.
Gesturing to two guest chairs, he sat behind a massive desk, switched on an intercom and called for coffee service for three. She scrutinized him as he spoke. Definitely dynamic, but there was something disarming about him as well, boyish and endearing. His voice was breezy and confident. Perhaps she too was falling under his spell. Enough of that, she thought.
Moore seemed to agree with her. He tilted his head sharply back. “Mr. Novak, where were you Sunday, May twentieth?”
“Here, until about nine p.m.”
“What were you doing?”
“What about after nine p.m.?”
“I had dinner. I went to Tosca’s.”
“How was the food?” Moore genially asked.
“What did you have?”
Naslund recognized Moore’s strategy. He wasn’t simply playing good cop. He was trying to discern if Junior had actually been there.
“Capelli d’angelo con aragosta,” Junior replied.
“Angel-hair with lobster,” Moore said, “very nice. Cream sauce?”
Naslund knew the inspector would check the menu. She heard a soft knock outside the study door.
“Come in,” Junior called.
An elderly uniformed maid entered with a silver coffee service. She had grey eyes and a long face. Her lips were as thin as a ruler.
“Hvala, Branka,” Junior said. “Thanks. We’ll look after ourselves.”
Coffees poured, Moore restarted the interview. “Mr. Novak, what did you do after dinner on Sunday?”
“I came back here, watched a little TV, and then went to bed about eleven-thirty.”
“Can someone verify that?”
“Yes. Amber. My girlfriend,” he explained. “I called her just before bed.”
“She wasn’t here, Mr. Novak. How can she verify you were?”
“We spoke on videophone. My room and bed were in the background.”
“As you may know, we can subpoena your call data stream and your location.”
“Be my guest. I have nothing to hide.” Junior grinned. “I was under the covers.”
Moore wasn’t amused. “What did you do yesterday morning?”
“Amber came here for breakfast. Afterward we took a walk.”
“I started my workday.”
Naslund read between the lines. Breakfast, a roll in the hay, a walk. La dolce vita.
“When did you start?” Moore asked, his authoritative voice getting harder and faster.
“About ten-thirty. I had a meeting.”
“Here. I work from home. It was a phone meeting.”
“Can someone verify that?”
Moore raced on. “Anyone else?”
“Yes, Branka. She served us breakfast at nine, then brought me coffee about ten-fifteen.”
“Where was Branka born?”
“Slovenia. She’s my father’s aunt.”
“Branka Taja Novak.”
“Does she reside here?” Moore asked.
“What time does she start?”
“What’s Amber’s full name?”
“Amber Sang Luu.”
“Address and cell number?”
Junior delivered the information.
Moore entered it in a notebook, then casually addressed him. “Do you have any idea why your father committed suicide?”
“He didn’t,” Junior flatly stated.
“How do you know?”
“I know Dad. That’s absolutely impossible. Absolutely. Absolutely and unconditionally.”
Naslund noted the repetition. Number One Son seemed to be laying it on thick. On the other hand, he sounded forthright. Maybe he was trying to spare his family the stigma of suicide. She studied his mouth. A good liar, or a good son. She couldn’t tell which.
Moore remained quiet, trying to bait the POI with silence.
Junior stepped into the trap. “Why would he hang himself?”
“How do you know he hanged himself?”
Junior shook his head. I know that gambit. “I listen to the news, Inspector. I can also read. The media says he hanged himself. But that’s ludicrous. Why would he?”
“You tell me,” Moore said.
“I should think you’d know.”
“If my father had any ruinous debts or soul-destroying business liaisons, you’d know. Financial forensics.”
Naslund nodded to herself. Although they had nothing yet on Senior’s money trail, they would. There’d likely be a rabbit warren of numbered corporations. Men like Novak didn’t use corner banks. They moved money around with the click of a mouse, depositing it to offshore shell firms, transferring it to other shell firms, then dissolving the original firms. And then there was the Dark Web.
Moore left Junior’s assertion unanswered. “Mr. Novak, I’m interested in what you know. Any insights you might have into your father’s personal life. You said he wouldn’t commit suicide. Why not?”
“He, well, he had everything to live for.” Junior fidgeted with his coffee cup. “A platitude, I know, but he did.”
Moore held his fire. The silence deepened.
Good move, Naslund thought. Moore talked quickly, and yet he listened carefully. He knew when to keep quiet.
Junior eventually broke the silence. “Dad loved his work,” he hesitantly began, “and his new wife. His properties too. Especially the Wiarton one.” He shook his head. “What a terrible irony. Dad died in Wiarton.”
Naslund made a mental note. Junior didn’t mention papa loved his two boys.
The POI hung his head.
Moore waited until he looked up. “How do you get along with Mr. Zupan, your father’s butler?”
“Butler? Axe man is more like it.”
“I take it you two don’t get along.”
“What can I say? He’s a troglodyte, a Neanderthal man. Look at his jawline.”
Naslund recalled it. Junior was right about that.
Moore quickly switched gears. “Who stands to benefit from your father’s death?”
“How would I know?”
“Because,” Moore replied, “you worked with him.”
“Because,” Moore snapped, “you’re his son.”
Good, Naslund thought. That was the Moore they needed: pushy and pugnacious.
“So?” Junior repeated.
Moore scrutinized him. “I said, ‘Who stands to benefit?’”
“I heard you. How do you expect me to know? Talk to his lawyers.”
“Good for you.” Junior pushed his chair back. “You can talk to mine too. We’re done.”
“As you wish.” Moore stood, his stance saying now it’s my move. “Mr. Rollo Novak Junior, you are not permitted to leave the province of Ontario.”
“What?” Junior sputtered. “Are you kidding? Am I a suspect?”
“No,” Moore replied, “and yes. As in no kidding and yes, you’re a suspect.”
Moore grinned. “That you can do. Only in Ontario, of course.”
Junior rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”
Naslund smiled inwardly. Sarcasm was always a bad idea with the inspector.
Moore pursed his lips. No kissing cod this time, Naslund saw. Irritated sage. “Normally,” he said, “I’d ask for your cooperation, to take a DNA swab and fingerprint you.”
“Suppose I don’t want to cooperate?”
“Oh no.” Moore feigned a tear. “But it’s your call, Mr. Novak.”
“In that case, we’ll take you to a station.”
“You’d have to arrest me.”
Moore turned to Naslund. “These amateur law buffoons, pardon me, law buffs, they need to do more reading.” He turned back to Junior. “We don’t have to arrest you to take you to a station. But we could. We could charge you with refusing to assist an investigation.”
“What if my lawyer tells me not to cooperate?”
“She,” Junior corrected him. “Amber Luu’s her name. My girlfriend.”
Moore didn’t look thrilled to hear that. Naslund wasn’t. The girlfriend could coach Junior. If she knew his movements or his past, even part of it, she might keep him from divulging valuable details. Regardless, Naslund liked Junior’s comeback. It might teach the inspector to think twice. His old-boy side always assumed male.
“She,” Moore stated, “would likely advise you to do so. It’s to your benefit. One, it could eliminate you as a suspect. If we don’t find your bio matter in, let’s say, any compromising locations, your innocence stock goes through the roof. Two, do the job here and it means you may not have to see us again.”
A good lie, Naslund thought. They’d certainly be seeing Junior again.
The POI leaned back and regarded the library wall behind the detectives. His eyes travelled the book spines, apparently searching for counsel. Finally, he nodded. “Let’s do it here.”
Naslund unshouldered her CS bag. As she deployed her fingerprint kit and took a DNA cheek swab, Moore watched silently, leaning nonchalantly against the door jamb. Barely seconds after she finished with Junior, Branka entered the study. It seemed the maid had been following the proceedings on a security camera. She approached Junior’s chair and addressed him quietly in what Naslund took to be Slovenian. Her mouth barely moved as she spoke; her teeth didn’t show. Leaning closer, she scolded him, her tone saying you know better. Junior’s face reddened. Message delivered, the maid marched out.
Branka gone, Junior sheepishly addressed Moore. “Mother’s here,” he politely said, clearly trying to bury the hatchet. “And my little brother, Atlas the Artiste.”
Naslund noted the mocking timbre of the last words.
Moore looked at Junior quizzically.
“When we heard from you yesterday, I asked them to come here. To make things easier for you.”
“That’s good of you,” Moore grudgingly said.
And unexpected, Naslund thought. Junior appeared to have a decent side. Then again, maybe he’d ordered his family here to keep the OPP away from their residences. Circling the wagons.
“Please follow Branka,” Junior directed.
Branka Novak led the detectives to an airy kitchen, where Atlas Novak sat at a breakfast bar. To Naslund’s surprise, he was even handsomer than his older brother. His gaze was more direct; his body, lither. His full lips were well-defined, yet definitely masculine. He had his father’s hair: brown, thick and wavy. He wore a faded hoodie with No Way is the Only Way etched on the front, torn jeans, and worn flip-flops.
She’d looked Number Two Son up on Facebook. Despite Hal’s ridicule, she liked Facebook. Although he was averse to La Vida Virtual — Googling, Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming — she wasn’t. Google was a great tool, if you critiqued what you’d gathered. Atlas was twenty-two, a high-school graduate with no sheet, and a well-known lightshow artist. According to Twitter, he had over thirty thousand followers.
Moore stepped forward and gave his usual introduction, triggering Naslund to do the same. “We appreciate you coming here,” Moore began.
“You’re welcome,” Atlas quietly said.
“Sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. But we’ll move on. Father would want that.” Atlas’s tone was grieving yet matter-of-fact, as if he truly accepted what had happened.
Naslund couldn’t get a read on him. On the one hand, his words sounded trite, almost flaky. We’ll move on. On the other, his tone was heart-felt. His voice was deep and steady.
He scrutinized her frankly — no, hungrily — his eyes lingering on her lips, then her chest. Really, she thought, a come-on? She was almost twice his age.
Moore cleared his throat.
Atlas slowly turned to face him. Did I hear something?
Moore narrowed his eyes. “Mr. Novak, where were you yesterday, Monday, May twenty-first?”
“I was in Hamilton,” Atlas evenly replied, “and the day before that as well.”
“When did you arrive in Hamilton?”
“Two p.m. on Sunday,” he decisively said.
“Why that time?”
“I had to set up a show at FirstOntario Centre.”
Moore’s face went blank.
“Formerly Copps Coliseum. A lightshow for a concert,” Atlas added.
“When did you leave Hamilton?”
“Yesterday at ten a.m.”
“Are you sure?”
“I left at approximately ten a.m.”
“Of course you did.”
Atlas eyed Moore. You’re a joke.
The inspector smiled back. I’m your worst nightmare. “Can someone verify your whereabouts during the time period in question?”
“About fifty people during setup,” Atlas confidently replied, “then more on Sunday night. Many more. As for yesterday, I drove back to Toronto alone. My partner saw me leave.”
“Partner?” Moore prodded.
“Lightshow partner. He handles the hardware. I handle the software.”
“He does the wiring and lights. I do the effects. The show,” Atlas mockingly explained.
“What’s his full name and address?”
Atlas gave it.
“Where do you live?” Moore asked.
“Toronto. Liberty Village.”
Atlas recited it.
“Is that a loft?”
“No. It’s an atelier.”
“An atelier by any other name is a loft.”
“Not to the French.”
“Fuck the French.” Moore smiled. “Pardon my French.”
Atlas shook his head in disgust.
Moore pursed his lips as if to say you have a problem?
Atlas blinked. It seemed he wanted to have one. However, he decided he didn’t.
The inspector glanced at Naslund: Any questions?
None, her eyes replied.
“Very good, Mr. Novak,” Moore said. “One more thing.”
Having received permission to fingerprint Atlas and swab him, Naslund started the process. When a fellow officer was available, it was standard practice for them to witness and sign bio tests. Moore remained close by. She was relieved. She didn’t want any ‘contact’ from Atlas Novak. As she did her work, she observed her subject. If the older brother was a money-maker and fighter, this one was a lover. And, as with Junior, he seemed to be decent and predatory at the same time.
In the corner of her eye, Naslund saw Melanya Novak enter the kitchen and check out the sink. She tsked. Apparently, it was dirty. Atlas’s tests complete, Naslund stood and smiled at Melanya. In response, she raised her chin.
Welcome to the Novak family, Naslund thought. Certainly not the Partridge Family. The woman was undeniably beautiful. At forty-four, although five years older than Naslund, she looked ten years younger. She walked like a runway model: hips forward, shoulders back. Her blonde hair was Southern-belle-big. She wore a sleeveless linen dress, definitely haute-couture. It showed exactly what was under it.
As with the two sons, Naslund had done a preliminary search on the ex-wife. Melanya Carola Novak, née Kemet, was a year younger than Rollo Senior. She had no sheet. She had no job history. According to her tax records, she’d never worked in Canada.
Moore strode forward and gave his usual introduction. Naslund followed.
Melanya’s chin rose even higher. It wafted her perfume their way, a flowery, cloying scent not typically worn in Toronto. It reminded Naslund of Budapest, Mittel Europe in a bottle.
“Please, have a seat,” Moore instructed and pointed to the kitchen table.
As Melanya sat, Atlas asked if she’d like him to remain. She waved her son off.
“My condolences,” Moore began. “Sorry for your loss.”
“For this I thank you.”
“I understand you still call yourself Mrs. Novak. Why?”
“Yes, I do. Why not?” Her voice was low and reasonable. It barely extended beyond her body. On an audiotape, it’d be easy to think she was across the room, not a metre away.
Moore had no answer to that. “Do you know why your ex-husband committed suicide?”
Her eyes glazed over. She shook her head.
Naslund read Melanya’s face. She looked doubly detached, as if her ex’s death was both unreal and none of her business.
“Any idea?” Moore prodded.
Melanya’s detachment morphed to antagonism. “Why are you asking me?” Despite the antagonism, her reply was still quiet.
“Because,” Moore said, “you were married to him for over twenty years.”
“Do you think I know everything about him? If I did, I would have seen he was leaving me.” She exhaled sadly. “And stopped it.”
Naslund doubted that. In her experience, when men wanted to leave, you couldn’t stop them.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Moore said. “Mrs. Novak, let’s assume you know nothing about your husband’s suicide. Then perhaps—”
Melanya interrupted. “I told you already. I know nothing.”
Naslund wondered, parenthetically, about Melanya’s accent. It was as thick as Zupan’s. She and Rollo Senior had escaped from the former Yugoslavia just before the Berlin Wall came down, when she was seventeen. Although she’d been in Canada twenty-seven years, she sounded like a recent immigrant.
“Then perhaps,” Moore said, “you can tell us where you were yesterday, Monday, May twenty-first?”
“I was home,” she softly stated.
“Queens Quay. I have apartment on lake.”
“Address?” Moore asked.
She readily replied.
He jotted down the information. “Were you there all day?”
“What about Sunday, May twentieth?”
“Can someone verify that?”
“Many people. I swim in the pool every morning and afternoon. I meet neighbours there.”
“Names?” Moore asked.
“Some I know only their first names.”
“Whatever you know.” After writing Melanya’s response down, he eyed her. “You swam twice both days?”
“Yes,” she replied and then crossed her shapely legs and looked away, as if she’d said all that was necessary.
Was she wary, Naslund wondered, or just self-contained? With her wide Slavic eyes and tentative manner, she wasn’t the usual society beauty. She didn’t seek the limelight. But maybe that was because she spoke heavily-accented English.
“What times?” Moore asked.
“I go at nine in morning. There is sauna too. I also swim at four p.m.”
Some people, Naslund thought. She hadn’t had time for a sauna in years.
“What were you doing Sunday night?” Moore asked.
“A dance class in social room.”
“Do you drive, Mrs. Novak?”
“No. I do not have licence.”
Naslund nodded to herself. She hadn’t found any record of a D/L for Melanya Carola Novak or Melanya Carola Kemet, either in Ontario or elsewhere in North America.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Moore asked.
Melanya bristled. “None of your business.”
“I’m afraid it is. You see, Mrs. Novak, everything is our business — until we find out what happened to Rollo Novak Senior and his wife. Do you have a boyfriend?” Moore repeated. “Let me rephrase that, a man friend?”
She shook her head. “And this woman is not his wife. I am his wife.”
“The law says differently.”
“It can say what it wants.”
“It does.” Moore gave his canned speech about fingerprints and DNA. “You can come to a station or we can process you here.”
“Please do here.”
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