Installment FOUR, Angels or Devils (Chapters 5 & 6). Download to your preferred eReader/device or read online. All future installments will contain two chapters. Earlier installments are posted below.
© A.M. Potter. All Rights Reserved.
As Moore entered Zupan’s studio, Naslund glanced at the inspector. The moment he saw Zupan, his demeanor changed. His body stiffened; his gaze sharpened. She wasn’t surprised. She’d seen it before.
“Detective Inspector Moore,” he said and thrust out his badge. “Homicide.”
Zupan snorted, and not quietly. He sounded like an irritated horse.
Moore curtly waved him to a kitchen chair but remained standing, legs wide apart, head tilted back. His stance said enough of your horseshit. “I’m curious, Mr. Zupan, how did you know Mr. Novak was swimming in the outdoor pool today?”
Zupan said nothing for a few long heartbeats, seemingly telling Moore to eat more horseshit. “He advises me.”
“I wonder if you can enlighten me. Why do you think Mr. Novak hanged himself?”
“He did not!” Zupan’s eyes flashed. He appeared about to bull-rush Moore, but then gripped the sides of his chair and remained seated.
“Why do you say that?”
“It is truth.” Zupan’s voice had descended a few octaves, almost to a growl. “Complete truth. This I know.”
“How can you know he didn’t kill himself?”
“I know Mr. Rollo.”
“Not to get too philosophical, Mr. Zupan, but no one knows what goes on in someone else’s head.”
“This I agree. You are correct. I know only what I know.”
“I know in my mind. That is good enough for me.”
“But not for a court of law.”
“This too I know. We are caught between inner truths and outer truths. Always. But I am responsible for knowing. And for making correct choices.”
Okay, Naslund thought, enough of the existentialism.
Moore seemed to agree with her. He switched topics. “Do you know Karlos Vega, the financier?”
“Was he here yesterday?”
“Yes. I already tell the Sergeant.”
“What can you tell me about him?”
“He is loud. But he is rich. Much richer than Mr. Rollo. I hear Mr. Rollo say this. Also he says Vega is sometimes, what is word, tactless. Yes, Vega is tactless.”
“But Mr. Rollo, he likes Vega.”
“Do you like Vega?”
“Not so much. But I do not dislike either.”
“He is like older brother to Mr. Rollo. He is watchful. No, that is not correct word. I am now remembering my English lessons. Better word is protective. I hear Mr. Rollo say to wife, ‘Karlos and I are good together.’ Karlos is making sure Mr. Rollo makes more money. Much more. Wife likes that.”
“You mean Mrs. Katrina?”
“Yes. She showed much interest in making money.”
Naslund read his tone. Disapproval. Wives shouldn’t sully themselves making money.
“Did you like her?” Moore asked.
Not much of an endorsement, Naslund concluded. She regarded Zupan’s face: sullen, almost menacing. There appeared to be no love lost between the butler and the new wife. Although Naslund would have continued the Hayden line of questioning, Moore dropped it. “Are you responsible for the security of this house?” he asked.
“In what way?”
“I set and monitor security system. Mr. Rollo shows me how. He trains me. System is very precise, very powerful.”
“It has many alarm circuits. And eighteen cameras, all outward-facing. If you move outside, they record you.”
“And the interior of the house?”
“There are no cameras. Mr. Rollo, he does not like. He wants good privacy inside.”
“What about the art work, such as the three-piece painting in the foyer?”
Zupan snorted. “You mean triptych? Is altare portabile. Reproduction of ‘Dresden Triptych’ by Jan van Eyck. Mr. Rollo try to buy original, but they would not sell.”
Dresden Triptych, Naslund thought, altare portabile. Zupan was no goon.
“Is the altare,” Moore snidely asked, “secure?”
“Yes, same as all art in house. Is protected one-hundred percent with forcefields. You come too close, they make you unconscious. You try to remove art, maybe you die.”
“What happens if the power goes out?”
“There is backup battery bank, run by generator. Like for main system.”
“Is it fail-proof?”
“No. No system is fail-proof,” Zupan stated matter-of-factly. “But I am here. I am trained in other things.”
“What other things?”
“Combat. Hand-to-hand, guns, knives. I know them all.”
“What about the grounds? Do you monitor the grounds?”
“I already tell you,” Zupan peevishly replied. “System covers grounds. Grounds are secure.”
“Then perhaps you can tell me something.”
Zupan regarded Moore imperiously, then nodded.
“Why was the gate behind the outdoor pool unlocked?”
“It was not.”
“It was this morning.”
Zupan shook his head emphatically. “No. It is never unlocked.”
“I repeat, it was this morning.” Moore eyed Zupan as if he’d unlocked it himself.
Zupan’s face reddened. “That is not possible. Not possible, I say.”
“The Sergeant,” Moore gestured to Naslund, “will tell you what she found.”
“The gate was unlocked,” Naslund confirmed. “I opened it and went through it at approximately nine a.m., about half-an-hour after I first met you.”
Zupan studied her, seemingly judging her words. Eventually he shrugged, apparently conveying acceptance. “That is very strange. It is, as you say, suspicious.”
“Yes,” Moore said. “It is. So, Mr. Zupan, the premises were not secure.”
“I am surprise.”
“Is that right.”
“Yes.” Zupan glared at him. He jutted out his hefty chin. “Is right.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Moore’s smile said the polar opposite. “For the time being, you’ll remain here.”
Naslund figured Zupan didn’t realize he was being jailed without a warrant. Or maybe he did. Maybe he was feigning cooperation, the better to break out when he saw the chance. Despite his ostensible cooperation, she didn’t trust him. She told herself to forget his rights. A snoop camera or two was tempting. One in the main room; one in the toilet.
Outside the studio, she stopped next to Chandler and gestured inside. “He doesn’t leave. Not for any reason.”
“Roger. A butler in hand is worth two in the woods. Running like hell.”
She chuckled. “When you need a break, switch with Sandhu, not Derlago. The Inspector and I are going to Toronto. As soon as the whitecoats arrive, assign Derlago to canvass the neighbourhood.”
“Consider it done.”
Catching up to Moore, she gestured back at Zupan’s studio. “The butler’s under wraps.”
“Good.” Moore pulled out his phone. “I’m calling Central now. I want the autopsies tomorrow afternoon.”
She nodded. The gears didn’t grind when DI Moore was on a case. They hummed. Autopsy bookings usually took several days, but not with Moore. As he talked, she dissected Zupan’s interviews in her mind. The butler had used the word ‘precise’ a few times. My time is precise. System is very precise.
How was the wire twisted around Hayden’s neck? Precisely. Zupan was certainly strong enough to pull it very tight. She recalled his sullen face when speaking of Katrina Hayden. Small observations, but, collectively, they hung in the air.
Maybe he’d killed Hayden and a comrade killed Novak? It was only a supposition, yet Naslund couldn’t dismiss it. Her mind had dredged up some of Zupan’s exact words. When it did that, she listened. If he’d left the back gate unlocked, the partner could have entered the pool area. What else had Zupan said? I feel something is wrong. So did she. For now, she’d keep it to herself. Although the new Moore seemed open to intuition, it wasn’t time to hit him with word associations and body language.
Toronto, Ontario. May 21st
Early that evening, Naslund and Moore pulled up to the Four Seasons Private Residences. The sun sat low in the west, tingeing the Residences burnt red. A valet hesitantly walked their way, seemingly in no mood to service them. Naslund assumed it was due to her car: an eight-year-old Mazda 3, unwashed to boot.
Moore powered the passenger window down. “We’re here to see Mr. Karlos Vega,” he snapped.
The valet’s back straightened. “He expecting you, Sir?”
“Yes. We have a six o-clock appointment.” They were five minutes early.
The valet bowed and pointed to the lobby. “Please, go right in. I’ll take care of your car.”
Inside the lobby, a liveried attendant hustled up to them, smiling profusely. Naslund figured he’d seen the episode with the valet. “Who are you visiting today?” the attendant inquired.
“Karlos Vega,” Moore said.
Instantly, the attendant became even more attentive. “Very good.” He escorted them to a softly-lit alcove with a pair of luxurious coffee-brown leather chairs. “Please, have a seat.”
Thirty minutes later the two detectives were still sitting. Naslund had begun researching Zupan on her phone. The butler was born in Jesenice, Slovenia, on March 4th, 1973, which made him Novak’s age. Maybe Novak talked to him because of their shared past. They came from a fractured region. Yugoslavia, a quarter the size of Ontario, had disintegrated in the 1990s, giving way to seven nations, Slovenia and Serbia among them, adding further complexity to the historical divisiveness of the Balkans. She scanned the region’s topographical map. It was no wonder the Balkans were divided. There was little geographic continuity. The region resembled a maze. The valleys ran in all directions — north, south, east, and west.
Moving on, she determined Zupan had arrived in Canada four years ago, worked two years as a security guard in downtown Toronto, and then started working for Novak. His address was 12 The Bridle Path, Toronto, Novak’s main residence. The butler had a clean sheet: no speeding, no traffic violations, no misdemeanors. She zipped off a secure email to her old friend Jan Januski, an inspector in Organized Crime with Metro Toronto, asking him for a full international search on Zupan.
Switching to Wikipedia, she checked out the Serbian Army, which, she soon learned, had supported the Bosnian Serbs during the Siege of Sarajevo, at three-plus years, one of the longest sieges in modern history. She remembered it, and the bitter Bosnian War. She wondered if Zupan had taken part in the Siege. He was an artillery man. He was old enough: nineteen at the start. She and Moore would have to take another run at him when they arrived back in Wiarton.
For now, she sank into the chair. Very nice. She’d like to buy two for her livingroom. Then again, the likely price — a fortnight’s salary — wasn’t on. Moore kept glancing at his watch. She knew he wasn’t impressed. He hated being kept waiting.
Naslund sensed someone close by and looked up to see a beefy man approaching them. Given his severely broken nose, she took him for a brawler. He wore his expensive dark suit and polished shoes proudly, but they didn’t make him a gentleman. His hawk eyes and wide neck said muscle, pure muscle. Unlike with Zupan, she wasn’t expecting any existential musing from this man.
“Show me your IDs,” Wideneck bluntly ordered.
The detectives obliged. “And who are you?” Moore asked.
“Mr. Vega’s Security Manager. Follow me.”
No name offered, Naslund noted, no pretense of welcome. The three rode up an elevator in silence. It opened onto a huge private foyer. Vega owned the Residence’s only penthouse, the whole top floor. Wideneck ushered them forward, leaving them in another softly-lit alcove. A huge rococo vase held dozens of fresh tiger lilies. The stamens were glossy and engorged. The petals seemed to glow, almost as if they were lit from within. Naslund eyed the vase. She’d bet it was solid gold. She was familiar with ostentation. Her mother had very expensive tastes, yet Vega’s condo orbited another planet altogether.
As if on cue, a waiter appeared bearing a gold drink tray. He wore a gold-braided uniform. “Champagne or Cognac?” he asked.
Moore waved him off.
Naslund asked if he had water. A minute later, he reappeared with sparkling water served in a gold-rimmed glass. More gold, she thought. A Midas theme.
She glanced at Moore. Not happy. She could read his pursed lips: another effin wait.
He was wrong. Within seconds, Karlos Vega joined them. She didn’t hear him coming. Taking in his last step, she saw that he walked like a puma, on the balls of his feet. She and Moore stood. The famous man was about her height, five-foot-seven. He wore a sleek ebony-black suit, white shirt, charcoal tie, gold cufflinks, and crocodile-skin shoes. His long dark hair was tied back in a ponytail. It shone like buffed onyx. His face radiated health — wrong, Naslund decided — it radiated money. She felt distinctly underdressed.
Vega shook hands and sat in the chair opposite them. His eyes seemed to say he could buy anything, including her and Moore. According to the celebrity rumor mills, what you saw of him in public was what you got in private: a take-no-prisoners smart-ass. “I could have met you on time,” he said, “but I decided to keep you waiting.” His voice was loud yet silky. “Don’t be offended, Inspector. I see it in your face. I wanted to find out about you. With some people, it takes less than a minute. With you, longer. In my world, the longer you wait, the more important you are.” He smirked. “Sometimes.”
Moore said nothing.
“You’re well-respected, Inspector. Famous even. In your world,” Vega added and turned to Naslund. “You, Sergeant, are a bit harder to plumb. Keep out of the limelight, don’t you?” He scrutinized her frankly. “Not likely from any lack of self-confidence. Yet you prefer to lay back. That won’t help you make Superintendent.”
He’d nailed her on that one, Naslund admitted. Was it that obvious? In any case, it seemed to be his nature. From what she’d seen on TV, he was a man of quick judgements that were often correct. He liked to probe people for weaknesses and show right away he’d uncovered them. The best thing to do was return the favour. When the time was right, she’d zing him back.
“Congratulations, officers,” Vega continued. “You two solved the Tyler murders. He’s my favourite painter. I’d show you my Tyler collection.” He glanced at his watch. “Perhaps another time. Well, no. There won’t be another time.” His tone was somehow both arrogant and agreeable. “What do you want to ask me?”
“Was Mr. Novak on edge lately, worried about anything?”
“The old standard.” Vega waved dismissively. “The old wives standard, I should say. Haven’t you detectives gotten past Agatha Christie?”
Moore seemed unable to answer.
“To reply, Inspector, not that I know of. But that wasn’t Rollo. He wasn’t a worrier.”
Moore seemed to recover his equanimity. “Did he mention any business deals that were troublesome?”
“All deals are troublesome,” Vega said with condescension. “Contrary to what most people think, a deal is not sealed with a handshake. That’s just the start.”
Naslund shook her head inwardly. POIs usually acted the same: deferential, nervous, even fearful. Not Vega.
“I mean,” Moore said, “was he involved in any deals that might have made enemies?”
“All deals have that potential. However, he had no enemies that I knew of, business or personal.”
“Are you sure?”
Vega regarded Moore as if he were a child. “Of course I’m sure. I said, that I knew of. Don’t you have any better questions?” Vega shook his head irritably.
Moore tried a new tack. “Do you know why Mr. Novak committed suicide”?
“Suicide?” Vega huffed. “That’s ridiculous. I won’t even deign to comment.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Where do you detectives get your theories? If one can call them theories.”
“Science,” Moore replied. “Forensic science.”
“You call that science?” Vega huffed again. “Putting people away for life based on a fingerprint pattern? Excuse my bluntness, Inspector. That’s bullshit.”
Naslund couldn’t argue with that. The man was right. Fingerprints were unreliable.
“That was the past,” Moore managed to say. “We’ve learned.”
“I hope so,” Vega shot back. “Until you learn more on this case, you better stop wasting my time.”
“We’ve improved,” Moore insisted. “You can’t judge us by the past.”
“What else can I judge you by?”
Moore appeared to be tongue-tied.
“Don’t you have an answer?”
He remained silent.
“Not a clue.” Vega smirked. “And you’re supposed to be a detective.”
Moore looked confused. If Vega was contemptuous at the start, his contempt was only increasing. Naslund stepped in for a zing. “Apparently, Mr. Novak had no enemies. Given the detection you do on TV — the theories you form — why don’t you tell us why.”
Vega smiled. “Touché, Sergeant. And I will tell you. Because Rollo was fair in everything, especially in business. Often too fair. Not a patsy, but too much of a gentleman.”
“Yes, for his own good.”
“For his own profit, you mean.”
“Let’s not waste time, Sergeant. You two have a lot of hard work ahead of you. Well, I hope you’ll work hard.”
“We always do.” She smiled graciously. Like many arrogant people, Vega shut down topics he disliked. “Mr. Vega, when did you last visit Mr. Novak’s house north of Wiarton?”
“How long were you there?”
“Only the day. I arrived around eight a.m. and departed about eleven-thirty p.m.”
“Where did you arrive from?”
“Here. I left at half past five. Some people think Rollo and I spend all our time drinking champagne. Incorrect. We work. We get up early, both of us. Well,” he added in disbelief, “we once did.”
She’d check his departure time. There’d be CCTV at the Residences. “Do you have proof you arrived at the Wiarton house at eight a.m.?”
“Yes, Rollo’s butler greeted me. If greeted is the word. Mr. Damn Jan.” Vega sneered. “Don’t know what Rollo sees in him. Saw in him. Face like a brick, eyes like cement.”
True, Naslund thought. “What can you tell us about Melanya, Mr. Novak’s first wife?”
“Very little. She’s beautiful, but everybody knows that. I rarely socialized with her. Perhaps three or four times.” Vega stopped and regarded his hands.
“We didn’t talk, other than to say hello, and Rollo didn’t talk about her with me. I didn’t visit him much at home, any of his homes, not until he married Kat.”
Kat, Naslund noted. No one else had called her Kat. A small thing, but Naslund looked for small things. She filed the tidbit away.
“Now,” Vega said, “if you want to know about Kat, I can help.”
“Please. But, first, when did you meet Mr. Novak?”
“About five years ago, on the set of Angels or Devils. We became fast friends, which surprised some. We’re not exactly two peas in a pod.” He grinned mischievously. “To extend a theme, to many people, Rollo’s an angel and I’m a devil. I’m not all ego, Detective. I have some self-knowledge.”
She nodded. “What about Katrina Novak?”
“Kat. Yes. Let me put it this way: she’s — was,” he corrected himself and sighed heavily. “She was both an angel and a devil. Both heavenly and earthly. Tall, blonde, and beautiful, like Melanya, but a lot more worldly. Despite the bombshell appearance, one might say bimbo appearance, she was as smart as they come. And as tough. Rollo adored her.” Vega glanced at his watch.
“One more question. Did Mr. Novak’s sons like her?”
“Oh yes. Especially Rollo Junior. But don’t think salacious. She and Rollo Junior simply had the same outlook: make hay while the sun shines.”
“Very good, Mr. Vega. We may need to speak with you again.”
“That won’t be easy to arrange. After Miami, I’m due in São Paulo. Two days later, I’m back here for a night, but then I fly to Hong Kong the next morning.”
“We’ll book a time.”
“I thought Mr. Novak was one of your best friends. With all due respect, I think you should make time.”
Vega studied Naslund silently. Eventually he nodded. “You’re right, Sergeant. Here’s my card. Call me.”
Moore inched forward, as if to return to the fray.
Vega eyed him with disdain.
Moore spoke anyway. “In the meantime, Mr. Vega, we need to take a DNA swab and fingerprint you.”
Vega’s eyes narrowed.
“Standard procedure,” Naslund explained. “We have a kit.”
“I’m going to call my lawyer.”
“Of course,” she said. “We simply want to eliminate you as a suspect. We don’t want to confuse your bio matter with anyone else’s.”
Vega considered her words. “All right.”
As Naslund drove away from Vega’s condo, the inspector remained silent. He was more than pensive, he was subdued. She knew he wasn’t used to ‘losing’ an encounter. Well, she reflected, he’d won their hotel debate. He insisted on the Sheraton on Queen West. She’d voted for the Holiday Inn on Carlton, but he wouldn’t budge. Too down-market, he claimed. Down-market, she’d thought. It cost $150 a night for a single, not that she was paying. It was taxpayer’s money. But that didn’t matter to her; it was the principle. Her ex had joked that being part-Scottish, her cheapness was inevitable. I’m frugal, she would counter. In her view, you were frugal if you pinched pennies on your own behalf. If you pinched them when buying for others, you were cheap.
Having reached the Sheraton, Naslund and Moore checked into their rooms and went to the hotel steakhouse for dinner. They rushed through their mains — filet mignon for Moore, chicken pasta for Naslund — and passed on dessert in order to reach his room for a 2100 meeting. He’d arranged a team teleconference with the ninjas, Forensic Constables Dan Mitchell and John Wolfe, and the Mobile Unit, aka the MU, led by Forensic Sergeant Lance Chu, with CS video-photographer Constable Noreen Ross and two forensic scientists, Constables Jamil Chahoud, an all-rounder, and Tamara Kovalev, a print expert.
All communication lines encrypted, Moore turned the proceedings over to the ninjas. The two reported that although the Novak security system was state-of-the-art, it wasn’t wireless. The alarms were hardwired. The wire arming the back-gate alarm had been cut. The two ninjas swept the nearby area, including the packed-earth path to the east, which ended at Colpoys Bay, one-point-two kilometres away. It hadn’t rained for four days so the path was hard. They only found three workable shoeprints, all near the house. However, they had better success with DNA carriers — multiple cans, butts, and wrappers — which they’d queued for processing. They also swept the interior of the house for evidence of larceny. Other than the back-gate entry, they detected no signs of a break-in. When they got the house’s inventory list from Novak’s insurance broker, they’d compare the current contents to the list.
Naslund knew the ninjas. Their work was usually faultless. She didn’t think the no-larceny status would change.
Sergeant Chu went next. His group had handled the corpses and pool area. They found DNA carriers in the form of blood, skin, and hair on the wire around Hayden’s neck as well as on both neckties. The DNA had been sent to Central for processing. The necks had been hauled tight to the stair rail. The corpses were the same height, one-point-seven-three metres, five-foot-eight, of which roughly forty percent was hanging underwater.
Ross had videotaped the entire area and taken over 300 photos. She also searched the house for personal electronic devices and sent two laptops, a pad, and two smartphones to Central. Having powdered the complete pool deck, Kovalev found shoeprints leading from the sliding pool door to near the crime scene, and back. She also uncovered eleven partial shoeprints, eight clustered around the hanging rail, three leading to the back gate. She found no fingerprints on the hanging rail or within a two-metre radius. Tomorrow, she’d move inside the house.
Chu then summarized Chahoud’s work. He’d examined the two corpses before cutting them down and shipping them to the morgue at Central as they’d been found, with the Hayden wire ligature and the two neckties in situ. He discovered no injuries on the bodies other than neck bruises. He conducted an intensive DNA sweep from the pool stairs to the back-gate, hoping to at least find perp hairs, skin flakes, or nail slivers, but found nothing.
Bad luck, Naslund thought. Killers often left DNA signatures near bodies, especially when struggles occurred. She took over and described Zupan’s interviews and then moved on to his Serbian Army background. She concluded by delivering a recent update from Januski: Zupan had no international sheet.
Moore thanked everyone and unceremoniously signed off. No rah-rah speech, no next steps. Naslund glanced at him. Still brooding. The Vega effect was powerful. She left him to lick his wounds and walked to a nearby pub, a favourite haunt from her days as a narc.
Although she’d grown up in Toronto, the city centre felt alien. The streets were walled in by mushrooming towers. The sky above was clear but empty. The stars that illuminated the Wiarton night were absent, devoured by a massive urban corona.
At the pub, Naslund ordered a half-pint of Scottish oat stout. Murder didn’t swell her thirst, it suppressed it. Nursing the stout, she pulled out her personal phone and called Hal Bell. They’d been ‘seeing each other’ for almost a year. More to the point, as she teased, they’d been smelling each other. And he smelled very good. She loved his looks: the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. A cliché, she admitted, but she didn’t care. It was true. He laughed easily, the laugh of a younger man, genuine and hopeful. She was hooked.
She’d moved a few outfits to his place, and then a few more. Now she spent most nights there, happy to inhabit his world, that of a man with no cares. His house was shipshape and modern. In comparison, her’s, a century-old grange that looked two centuries old, felt dark and haunted. Hal was a journalist. He generally worked from home, which was perfect. She was usually out. Now, with a murder investigation on the boil, she’d rarely see him. Get home, plop into bed, get up, hit the road.
“Hello, sweet,” she said. She still said that. He was a sweetie.
“Is that my Sergeant? I love a woman in uniform. Or out of it.”
“Your wish is my command.”
“Today’s police. So friendly.”
“Only to you,” she purred. “And how’s the Garden of Eva?” She’d commandeered his small backyard and planted high-bush blueberries, which would take years to yield fruit. Presumptuous of her, but sometimes you looked ahead.
“In full bloom,” he said. “You find the murderer? There’s got to be one down there.”
She chuckled despite herself. “Oh yeah, one or two.” She didn’t like talking about work. It had sunk other relationships. Rule One, she’d learned the hard way, was no shop talk, especially with journalists. Things slipped into print or online and you were left holding a stink bomb.
“The wind’s looking good,” he said. “How about a sail tomorrow?”
“Sorry, likely no sailing for me for weeks. Too much on the go.”
“Better sign off, sweet. Sleep tight.”
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