It’s time for chapter three of our book of the month, Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins. Although the chapters are short, they are perfectly formed to deliver you one of our fine debuts…
When Lom got back from placating Magadlovosk on the phone, Ziller was already in the office, writing up his report. Ziller wrote carefully, word by meticulous word, holding his chewed pencil like a jeweller mending a watch.
‘Where are they?’ said Lom.
‘Briefcase,’ said Lom. ‘The soldier.’
Ziller put down his pencil. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Them. Lasker had them taken across to the Barracks. The militia are going to sweat them a bit and then send them to Vig.’
‘What?’ said Lom. ‘I’d have got what I needed in an hour. They won’t survive a week at Vig. You saw them—’
Ziller looked awkward.
‘Lasker wanted them off the premises. He said they were an embar- rassment.’
‘It was a contact,’ said Lom.
‘Yeah,’ said Ziller. ‘Well. Lasker thinks you fucked up. Actually, he just doesn’t like you. But forget it; it doesn’t matter anyway. You’re going on a trip. There’s a wire on your desk. There was no envelope, so I read it. So did Lasker.’
Lom spread the crumpled telegram out on the table, trying to flatten the creases with the side of his palm. A flimsy sheet with blue printed strips pasted down on it.
INVESTIGATOR VISSARION LOM MUST MIRGOROD SOONEST STOP
ATTEND OFFICE UNDER SECRETARY KROGH STOP 6PM 11 LAPKRIST
STOP LODKA STOP MANDATED REPEAT MANDATED ENDS
Lom read it three times. It wasn’t the kind of thing that happened. A provincial investigator summoned halfway across the continent to the capital. They never did that. Never.
‘Maybe they want to give you a medal, Vissarion Yppolitovich,’ Ziller said.
‘Or shoot me in the throat and dump me in the Mir.’
‘Don’t need to go to Mirgorod for that. There’s plenty here would do it, not only Lasker, after what you did to Laurits.’
‘Laurits was a shit,’ said Lom. ‘I saw the room where she was found. I saw what he did.’
‘Sure. Only she was a non-citizen and a tart, and Laurits was one of our shits. He had a wife and daughters. That makes people feel bad. You’re not a popular guy any more.’
‘It wasn’t a career move.’
‘Better if it was,’ said Ziller. ‘They’d understand that.’
‘I did it because he was a murdering bastard. That’s what policemen do.’
‘You shouldn’t joke about this, Vissarion. Things could get serious. People have been asking questions about you. Turning over files. Looking for dirt. You should be careful.’
‘What people?’ said Lom.
Ziller made a face. ‘You know,’ he said. ‘People.’ He hesitated. ‘Look, Vissarion,’ he said. ‘I like you. You’re my friend. But if they come after me, I won’t stand up for you. I can’t. I’m not that kind of brave. I won’t risk Lena and the children, not for that. It might be a good thing to be away for a week or two. You know, let things settle down.’
Lom folded the telegram and put it in his pocket. A trip might be good. A change of scene. There was nothing here he would miss. Maybe, just possibly, in Mirgorod they had a job for him. A proper job. He was tired of harassing students and checking residence permits while the vicious stuff went on in this very building, and they fucked you over if you did anything about it. He looked at his watch. There was time: an hour to pack, and he could still catch the overnight boat to Yislovsk.
‘You can take the Schama Bezhin file,’ he said to Ziller. ‘Call it temporary promotion.’
Ziller grinned. ‘And I thought you didn’t appreciate me,’ he said.
‘Don’t rush back.’