Eyeing the keys, I step forward, toward the warehouse, toward the man who seemed anything but my friend. What kind of friend sends gunmen to accost you, to shove you in a car, to slap your face?
I need to get out of here. The evidence at the lab awaits. It’s night already, and pretty soon they’ll shut the lab for the night. The keys are just at my feet. I kneel and tighten my shoelace, slipping the key into my palm as I do so. At least I have a way to escape if things go south, which I’m sure they will.
Running to catch up, I walk up the crumbling concrete steps with Mr. Grigory.
Truth be told, I’m expecting a bunch of gun-wielding Russians to tie me to a wooden chair in the center of the room, to gag me, and to start hitting me with 2x4s.
What I am not expecting is a zoo.
I walk into what seems to be a reconstruction of Noah’s ark. The most shocking is that we couldn’t notice this pungent smell outside. Most of the people in this… menagerie of animal cells wear white coats. Are they doctors? Others sitting at a cafe-looking place are dreamy-faced goons like the guy who sat next to me in the car.
This makes no sense.
Grigory takes me up some stairs and into an office. He closes the door and flips a switch that filters the smell out and exchanges it with fresh air.
The room is a typical businessman’s office. Along the edges are file cabinets and a bookshelf of thick binders. Behind his large leather chair is a striking blue painting. Gorgeous.
“May I get a closer look at your picture?”
He tugs the chair back and welcomes me.
It’s a blue painting, multi-shades of blue in a hatch-brush style. Like Van Gogh, but not. In the foreground is a blackish brown tree, oddly shaped. In the far distance are houses and barns, drawn like a kid would draw them, but fitting with the simple, heavy-handed style. The most captivating, bewitching aspect of the picture were the bold swirls in the cobalt sky. Yellow swirls throughout the center, hatched but spirally. And a white burst, the moon no doubt.
Its frame was new, though in antique style. The canvas was also new.
“Beautiful!” I can’t hide my pleasure.
“It’s called Starry Night,” he says. “I got it as payment from one of my customers.”
“Who’s the artist?”
“They say Van Gogh.”
“They say?” I chuckle. “Who says? It’s not Van Gogh. If he’d have made something like this, it would be famous. Maybe someone trying to imitate Van Gogh’s style.”
“I guess so.”
I sit down in the chair opposite him and moisten my lips. “Now, I understand you ‘brought me’ here to report a crime.” I hold back from critiquing his method.
“Yes. I will show you when we go back downstairs. I first would like to discuss my terms.”
“Yes. I will show you the crime. You will not implicate me in any of my… business.”
“I don’t have authority to do that, Mr. Grigory. What kind of business are you running? An illegal zoo? That’s not my jurisdiction. I do murder investigation, primarily.”
“Yes, well. If I tell you the criminal is Nick Black, you maybe will listen and agree.”
I sit up straight. “Is this about the death this afternoon?”
“I do not know about that. All I know is that you were with Nick Black, who is the one I wish to report.”
“What did he do?”
“I will show you. But first, I need a promise of immunity.”
“I cannot give you that… Look, Mr. Grigory, I’ll take your statement about Nick Black, then leave your zoo without looking around. Is that enough?”
“No. I must show you the crime he did.”
I scratch my eyebrow. “You want me to ignore some crime you are doing in this ‘electronics’ warehouse? Unless your animal farm is all electronic toys, you have already proven yourself an unreliable informant. I can’t make a deal sight unseen.”
“Hmm.” His lips twitch. “Does anyone know where you are?”
I refuse to answer him.
“If you… don’t return, when will they look for you?”
My sim card has to still be attempting to make connections, unless that goon’s stomp wiped out the battery?
“I did not bring you here to kill you or to hurt you, Detective Reynolds. I brought you here only to report a crime. But, I will do what I need to protect my interests. For example, you have a gun on your ankle, do you not?”
“I allow that. You are no threat to me. But Nick Black is a threat. He is harming my animals.”
“Nick Black is… was… a veterinarian involved in my… business. Weeks ago, I begin to find some of my animals maimed and killed. Yes. Sabotage. But why? I do not know. Then last night I spot Nick Black on the security camera. In his hand is a syringe and he is injecting one of my animals to torture and kill it.”
I consider the crime here. If Grigory speaks true, I could charge Nick Black for torturing an animal. A mere misdemeanor. If I avoid asking what the business is, and keep my mind on the case at hand, I can get out of here and hopefully to the lab before it closes.
“Okay, Mr. Grigory. I will look at the animal and I will ignore your business, as long as your crime remains out of my jurisdiction.”
“Agreed.” He pushes his chair back and I look again at his painting.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to sell that painting.”
He looks at the painting, then back at me.
“I’ll make you a deal, Mr. Reynolds. If you stop Nick Black from killing my animals, and if I stay out of the attention of the police—and I do apologize for my men accidentally breaking your car windows in their eagerness—but if you do that for me, that painting will be yours. As my gift.”
I smile as I imagine that hanging in my living room. Mercy, if… when… she recovers, catching her breath the second she sees it. Forget the fact that I just made a bargain with a crimi—no, he’s no criminal, because I will not look at his business license or whatever he’s doing here. It’s not my jurisdiction.
My eyes say Goodbye. See you soon, to the painting, and I follow the Russian out of his office, into the fetor of beasts, down the stairs, and along the stalls.
I try not to look, but I see zebras, tigers, elephants, and I think even a capybara. I promised not to ask, so I restrain myself. We enter a small glass-windowed room along the side of the warehouse. In here, there are small cages with—I look closely—rats and weasels and ferrets and other rodents in them.
He walks me to a large glass cage and points to three blobs of fur on the bottom of the cage.
“Lucy, please show the detective these rats.”
She eyes me with trepidation, and I assume it’s because of her illicit activities combined with my law enforcement status, until her face cringes painfully as she lifts up a creature.
I’ve seen many dead animals. Mice caught in mousetraps, rabbits torn by dogs, roadkill opossums stiff from rigor mortis. But until now, I’ve never seen such a disgusting thing as she places on the tray now. She carries it over to a table, disgust morphing her young face, then she steps back for us.
“Initially, we thought the ferrets had gotten out and eaten the insides out of the rats,” the vet says. “But when we took them out, we realized something was up. They were intact.”
Next to the creature is a metal stick. I pull on some rubber gloves she offers, then I poke at the skin-bound object. It rolls in response to my prod, as if it’s a water balloon, rolling until its hands and feet slow its movement as the inner liquid shifts and sways, forcing momentum to bump over the hinderance.
“Have you figured out what he did to these?”
Lucy shakes her head. “The injection pulverized every single bone inside.”
Just like poor Jamie Lewis. And Noah’s arm and skull. “But how?”
“All I saw was a needle. He had some sort of biological agent—a disease he was infecting them with.”
“That’s my guess,” says Lucy. “I can’t imagine Nick doing this. I thought he loved the animals. But I guess he’s researching something at home.”
I need to check Nick Black’s home. But without exposing the name and address—and business—of my confidential informant, I have no grounds for a search warrant. If I check without a search warrant, the court will dismiss anything I find. I must have a search warrant.
“Yes, but three rats is nothing, Mr. Grigory. I know it’s important to you, but it’s hardly a crime.”
“And what if he injects a person with it? I haven’t shown you what he did to my Mancoons.”
“Mancoons? You mean cats?”
“Yes. Huge cats. He tortured ten of my animals like this. I had to bury the others. Two of my best cats, these Brazilian rats, some Australian lops, a turtle, and an African grey.”
“But why? What motive would he have for killing your animals? Did you… I don’t know, did you owe him money? Would it be for revenge? For love?” The trilogy of intent.
“I pay my employees well, as they know the danger.” He doesn’t elaborate. “I had no qualms with him. But I do not know of his loves.”
I turn to Lucy. “Do you know if he had a girlfriend here?”
“No, not here. He had a girl, that was clear. But she wasn’t associated with our”—she glances at Mr. Grigory — “our work here.”
I thank the vet, then leave the small animal room.
The owner walks me to another side of the warehouse, which opens to an active shipping area with boxes being loaded onto a backed-in delievery truck. Down some steps nearby is a driveway where a BMW waits. He sends a man to the car, then grabs my shoulder and turns me toward him.
“Detective Reynolds, ten animals are nothing. I agree. In the large picture of life, they are mere beasts. Animals are precious creatures given to man by God for our enjoyment, to be awed by, to interact with, to love, to be loved by. Even rats and cats and ferrets. Rare or expensive, it matters not. But malice matters. And torture matters. No creature should have to die like that. And I have heard that mental illness, and psychopathic behavior, begin with the torture of animals. After animals, it is always humans. Therefore, I call you, Mr. Reynolds. So you must keep Nick Black from hurting any more animals, and God forbid, from hurting any people.”
He walks me to the car and opens the door for me. “As soon as Nick Black goes to trial, I will celebrate by sending that lovely blue painting to you. Hugo here will take you whereever you desire to go.” He shuts the car door.
I still need to talk with the banker. But with this additional information, it seems prudent to get my sergeant to persuade the DA for a search warrant to Nick Black’s house, based on evidence from a CI— I lift my phone—which is nothing without a picture of the rats. I would have taken one, if my phone had been functional.
But if the sergeant asks for more details, and if he learns about my abduction, and Grigory’s criminal enterprise, this is going to get messy. I don’t want to check Nick Black’s house without a warrant. That evidence must be registered.
Someone knocks on the window. It’s Grigory.
I roll the glass down.
“May I have our car keys, please?”
I grin and drop them into his hand.
“Take me to the police station,” I tell the driver.
A few minutes later, I’m in the lobby. I can still smell the animal feces in my sinuses and on my shoulders. But work is work, and it’s about time for the night shift.
I have enough time to either check in at the crime lab for a report, or to persuade my sergeant for a confidential-source search warrant.
Copyright 2021, Darlene N. Böcek