When a Kiev video store is torched, the wife of the now-deceased ownerand primary suspect in the arson casehires private investigator Janos Nagy. As he delves into the woman’s past, Janos discovers things are far more than meets the eye, and as the case is pursued further, a human trafficking plot unfolds from Kiev across the Ukraine. With mixed involvement of Eastern European and Russian mafia, the Ukraine Secret Service, and both orthodox and nonorthodox church rivalries, the race to untangle the threads of the international trafficking ring turns quickly to a matter of life and death.
About the Author
Michael Beres is the author of "Chernobyl Murders," "Grand Traverse," and "The President's Nemesis." He lives in Freesoil, Michigan.
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By Michael Beres
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Michael Beres
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Because we two Gypsies live on separate continents, security wolves data-mine our conversations. Yet only aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews decipher our thoughts." Janos Nagy, private investigator
"The young soul denies death, performing pinball ricochets in search of sanctuary. Before resting in peace, he creates stratagems of vengeance." Ilonka Horvath, professor of mathematics
Lazlo Horvath's old legs began to cramp as he paced the threadbare pathway worn into his living room carpet, reading and rereading the two quotes in his spiral notebook. Finally, he held the notebook at his side, walked to the window, and stared down from his third-floor apartment at Chicago's Humboldt Park Ukrainian neighborhood. Afternoon traffic was frenetic with delivery vans, cars, buses, and even a passing motorcycle gang. That morning he had driven a similar obstacle course with his niece Ilonka to O'Hare Airport for her return flight to Kiev.
Ilonka had come for the funeral of her sister, Tamara, who lived with Lazlo and died of what Ukrainians, even here in Chicago a quarter century later, called Chernobyl disease. Ilonka gave the eulogy using a portable voice amplifier she brought with her from Kiev, the same one she used for university lectures.
Ilonka's voice was permanently whisper quiet as a result of complications from having her thyroid removed. To Lazlo, her voice was a violin bow barely touching strings.
"When I was a little girl before Chernobyl, you shared puzzles, beginning with the simplest ... 'A girl stands at the bank of the Pripyat River with a three-liter bucket and a five-liter bucket. Somehow she must bring home exactly four liters ...' This is life, Uncle: a personal puzzle to solve. For one to give up in the midst of his puzzle degrades the lives of those still at work on their puzzles."
Lazlo leaned forward to watch the rumbling motorcycles disappear up the street. If only he had been an irreverent young man in 1986, he might have done more to prevent tragedy: his brother Mihaly, an engineer at Chernobyl, dying shortly after the explosion; Mihaly's wife, Nina, and her daughters, Anna and Ilonka, all treated for cancer over the years; Lazlo's wife, Juli, who carried Mihaly's child in her womb out of the Chernobyl Zone, dying here in Chicago during the celebration of the 2000 New Year; and now Tamara, his stepdaughter and niece, dead because of the radiation that penetrated Juli's womb as they fled Ukraine without the aid of motorcycles.
Lazlo turned back to his notebook, where the two quotes rebuked him. The first was from a phone conversation with Janos (pronounced yah-nosh), who was on holiday, which really meant incognito because of a hornet's nest. There were plenty of hornets' nests buzzing in Ukraine, and Janos made a habit of poking them.
Because we two Gypsies live on separate continents, security wolves data-mine our conversations. Yet only aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews decipher our thoughts.
In 1985, Janos was Lazlo's apprentice, the only other Hungarian in Kiev's militia office-thus, the "we two Gypsies" reference. In 1986, after Chernobyl, KGB operatives forced Lazlo to flee. Lazlo last saw Janos in 2008 when he visited independent Ukraine. At Kiev's Casino Budapest, they danced with an energetic pair of women from the La Strada organization who said they were looking into human trafficking. Perhaps one of these women had led Janos to the hornet's nest.
The second quote was a paraphrase from Lazlo's niece Ilonka.
The young soul denies death, performing pinball ricochets in search of sanctuary. Before resting in peace, he creates stratagems of vengeance.
She'd made the comment yesterday, after witnessing the tragic death of Jermaine, an eight-year-old boy from Lazlo's building. A delivery van crushed Jermaine as he ran for a fluorescent orange Frisbee.
Lazlo did not tell Ilonka the Frisbee was his gift to Jermaine. Nor did he tell her about Jermaine deciding he would be called Gypsy in his neighborhood gang. The reason for not revealing these things boiled down to Lazlo having once killed another boy named Gypsy years earlier on the Romanian border and then relating the story to Jermaine to frighten him.
"Do you not see, Jermaine? I was no older than your gang leader. I was in Soviet Army, but we were still boys. I am sent to arrest another boy. But when gun meets gun, at least one is likely to die. Gangs create never-ending vengeance. Gangs are boys killing boys."
"Was the one you shot black like me?"
"No, he was not black. His skin was what we call olive-colored."
"He had green skin?"
"Not green ... but darker than white."
"That's me, Gypsy. Darker than white ... so dark none of this ethnic cleansing crap they do over there can wash it off."
"Another time you and I will discuss ethnic cleansing."
"Yeah, ethnic cleansing ..."
Lazlo dropped the notebook containing the quotes from Janos and Ilonka to the floor and stood closer to his window. Perhaps a sniper would shoot him and the police would make a chalk outline of him on his threadbare carpet. He spoke aloud to the imaginary sniper: "Take aim, sniper. With Ilonka back to Kiev, and both Tamara and Jermaine dead, nothing remains for me. I tell the boy about the Gypsy as a warning to avoid street gangs, and street traffic kills him. I should run into traffic where Jermaine died. Eventually, my blood stain will wear away and traffic will take me wherever old souls go."
But Lazlo knew he could not betray Ilonka, the brave Chernobyl survivor. And there was Janos, another Gypsy counting on him. Janos Nagy, who poked his nose into the human trafficker hornet's nest. The same traffickers who sent "merchandise" to so-called "employment" offices in Chicago, offices Lazlo visited when his FBI or ICE contacts needed his services.
Lazlo considered how odd human language was. The noun traffic, innocent-sounding until it became the verb in its conjugated forms trafficked and trafficking, the added k reminding Lazlo of the leading letter of KGB, as well as the leading letter of the KGB officer who tried to destroy his family-Komarov. If only, just as destruction finally came to Komarov, Lazlo could reach out and bring destruction to an obvious enemy to avenge Jermaine's death. If only life were as simple as letters: FBI for Federal Bureau of Investigation, ICE for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, KGB for Russian words meaning Special Department of the Soviet Committee of State Security, SBU for Ukrainian words meaning Security Service of Ukraine-and DON'T WALK, the warning at the intersection Jermaine might have heeded if he had used the crosswalk.
As Lazlo stood at the window, he realized his fists were clenched and he had held his breath since speaking aloud. Sounds of heavy traffic vibrated the window glass, but there were no gunshots and he turned from the window, took a deep breath, and retrieved his notebook from the floor. Perhaps someday soon there would be something he could do to even his score with God.
* * *
Whereas afternoon traffic was heavy in Chicago, it was almost nonexistent several time zones away in the Carpathian Mountains. A light breeze blew, the sun was low on the horizon, and all was silent on the mountain road in northeastern Romania near the Ukrainian and Moldavian borders. Not a soul in sight, whether Chernobyl or Cossack souls or the souls of Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs who once wandered here.
But suddenly, several deer feeding at the side of the road stood still, ears erect and open. A green Mercedes van appeared around the bend and the deer leapt into the shelter of the beech and pine forest as the van sped past, followed by a tan Zhiguli station wagon. Although the road curved back and forth as it climbed into the mountain pass, the station wagon passed the van; then the van passed the station wagon. Tempting the odds of there being no other vehicles on the desolate road, they continued passing one another as they sped up the mountain.
Eventually, after the vehicles were gone, the deer wandered back out to the side of the road, where fresh greens had emerged in soil irrigated by the mountain's runoff. With the coming of spring, new life emerges for all species, except the one taking over the world with its tricks, its so-called businesses, and its impatience.
* * *
His was a terrible business, and Ivan Babii found himself asking God's forgiveness for faking blindness. When his mother was alive, she insisted God forgave even the most abhorrent sins. He had been able to live with murder, even when forced to kill his feeble-minded and loose-tongued uncle. He had been able to live with arranging Moldavian sex holidays, pairing teenaged girls from poverty-stricken families with foreign middle-aged men. Unfortunately, guilt piled on as he aged, and he wondered if he was becoming feebleminded. Would he have felt guilt if he had stayed married to Elena? Would a wife have allowed such things?
Boys will be boys, the saying goes. But then they become men, some of them like him.
And women? A woman would never allow his current business to exist. Never!
During his younger years, Ivan Babii had been proficient at faking blindness. This afternoon he made an attempt to recapture blindness by resting his eyes. He kept his eyes closed even as he stood up from his desk. He kept them closed as he laughed, thinking of words rather than images, recalling how Andropov-Pyotr not Yuri-long ago at the beginning of the Internet age suggested the sequence T-R-A-F-F-Y-C-K instead of T-R-A-F-F-I-C-K so parental controls would not block Web sites registered in various countries.
Ivan Babii's eyes burned as he squeezed them tightly shut the way he sometimes did at the monitor when pretending to watch the handiwork of video crews. During this session he was especially nervous, unable to sleep last night. Was sleeplessness due to his boyhood dreams of brutal treatment? Or was it due to the brutal treatment of children by the pornographers? Babii opened his eyes slowly and turned from his desk to the window.
At one thousand meters, on the slopes of the northern Carpathians, it began snowing. Gypsy winds elbowed gray-white clouds through valleys, and ancient peaks worn to the shapes of pencil erasers began to whiten. Perhaps the winds originated at Pietrosu Summit, a hundred kilometers to the west, or even Mount Hoverla over the border in Ukraine. Someone had placed Orthodox crucifixes on both summits; therefore, this unusual late-spring snow could be God's work.
Sunlight shining through ice crystals put on a kaleidoscopic show. The forest needed moisture, but the snow evaporated in the mountain air. It was an earthly metaphor. In order to evolve life from ice crystals and cosmic crumbs, countless beginnings would have taken place, all but a select few sacrificed, leading to the formation of life and, ultimately, the babe in the woods called man, who immediately began wondering about the architect of it all.
In the 1970s, when Ivan was a babe in the Moldavian woods, he attended a single-room school run by a predatory male teacher named Master Ceausescu, whose claim to fame was having the same name as the brutal president of Moldova's neighbor, Romania. While Master Ceausescu prowled from girl to girl in class, stooping low to look beneath dresses, Ivan suffered barbs from older boys who discovered the similarity of his surname to the English word baby. "Ivan Babii, the baby," they whispered each year, until the day Uncle Iosif drove him to school and unsmilingly displayed various pistols and automatic rifles during Ivan's show-and-tell assignment. Apparently his uncle was also aware of Master Ceausescu's leanings, and several of Uncle Iosif's glances his way had a lasting effect. From then on, not only did the other boys leave Ivan's name alone, but Master Ceausescu's hobby, peering beneath girls' dresses and calling a certain one inside while others were in the play yard, also ended.
Because of torment caused by his name, Ivan fought back by learning words. These days, variations in spelling, especially using the Greek rather than the Cyrillic alphabet, fascinated him. He followed trends in publications and on the Internet. After the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, use of Ukrainian versus Russian became contentious. The capital could be Kiev or Kyiv or Kyiw or even Kyyiv; the river could be Dnepr or Dniepr or Dnipro.
Ivan recalled an especially interesting discussion with his business associate Pyotr Alexeyevich Andropov, a Russianized Ukrainian who enjoyed pointing out that Pyotr Alexeyevich was shared with Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov, Peter I the Great, ruler of the Russian Empire from 1682 to 1725. Andropov, descended from a hard line Marxist-Leninist family, was tall and imposing, as was Peter I. Andropov visited Romania some time back, posing as an Orthodox cleric with a beard grown for the trip, even though Peter I was known to despise beards. During their discussion, Andropov insisted Chernobyl be spelled Chornobyl because the museum in Kiev (Kyiv) was called Ukrainian National Museum "Chornobyl." During Andropov's visit, he complained of discipline among young people at his compound. Andropov mentioned a particular resident having the same given name as Babii; the young Ivan lifted weights, and many at the compound referred to him as Ivan the Terrible.
These were Ivan Babii's thoughts as he stood at his window in the lodge office. The lodge was fifty kilometers from the nearest Romanian mountain village, twenty kilometers from Ukraine's frontier, and one hundred kilometers from the border of his Moldavian homeland. The phenomenon of snow evaporating before making it to the ground was visible through a clearing cut years earlier west of the lodge to provide a view of the mountains. Although he was alone in the office, Babii said, "Beau-ti-ful," drawing out the pronunciation in English.
Babii had begun using the word after seeing the American Godfather films. Even now, staring at this marvel of nature, he thought how beau-ti-ful it would have been if, back in the old days in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, Boris Gerlak's body, with its load of bullets, could have evaporated away to nothing before hitting the marshy ground along the road to Odessa. Bullets traced back to the Makarov auto pistol Uncle Iosif failed to melt down because of his dementia. Beautiful.
Although KGB lab evidence had not convinced the drunken Moldavian judge of Babii's guilt, evidence linking him to sex holiday and drug businesses ruined him during the collapse of the Soviet Union, a time when he could have risen to prosperity in the new Moldova. He had been forced not only into exile but also into finding another business.
It had been called the Moldovenesc Camp when he bought it. Now it was called the Moldovenesc Self-Awareness Sanatorium. Business at the sanatorium was profitable. First came the Turks and their hunger for light-complexioned girls. Next came Arabs, Czechs, and Greeks, taking his girls away via the same Balkan Trail used to smuggle drugs and weapons. Some of the younger ones could be sent back to Ukraine where they originated and be redirected to Russia or Dubai. A few years ago, several U.S. strip clubs made purchases. Then, with prostitution legalized by Germany and Netherlands, the sky was the limit. His original plan had been to turn the sanatorium into a resort for sex holidays, but time and technology had passed him by. Internet filmmakers were lured to his mountain retreat by privacy, the availability of panoramic shots between takes, and, oddly enough, the presence of horseflesh, which apparently enhanced the interest of clients who used their computer monitors and their hands rather than other human beings, or other animals, for sexual satisfaction.
This year business was especially profitable because an American filmmaker named Donner had mysteriously disappeared from his Ukraine mountain retreat. Donner, the fool who'd insisted on calling him "Baby" while he was alive, had opened the underground business to Ivan Babii. This season, in the same way young horses are led up from the foothills in spring, sweet young ones had been brought up to his lodge. Three girls who spoke Ukrainian, plus a boy who spoke Russian and Ukrainian. The boy and one of the girls supposedly from Kiev with their showoff haircuts, body piercings, and clothing. Tough street demons until they arrived here.
All four were over sixteen. No more babies for Babii. Ethical standards had not caused the age limit, nor the fact Donner was American and several American law enforcement officials had visited Ukraine and Romania seeking the source of the videos. The reason Babii had moved away from children was a current trend among sexual addicts-a preference for tough teenagers brought to their knees. Babii, the man from Moldova, had become the connection for delivering tough-looking young ones to Romania and getting them out, selling them across several borders and time zones.
Excerpted from Traffyck by Michael Beres Copyright © 2009 by Michael Beres. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Chicago, adult video store owner Ukrainian expatriate Viktor Patolichev dies in an arson fire at his shop. His wife of one month, retired stripper Mariya Nemeth cannot truly grieve until she knows whether her spouse set the fire to collect insurance money or if his human trafficking activity back in the Ukraine led to him being murdered. Mariya hires private investigator Lazlo Horvath to obtain the stateside truths while he also employs Kiev-based PI Janos Nagy to learn more about her spouse's former Ukrainian partners. Two thugs beat up Mariya, making it clear they want the inquiries ended. However, the Ukrainian-American and her two detectives keep investigating which leads them inside the exclusion dead zone surrounding Chernobyl. This dark investigative tale is a well written, very heated (literally that is) but depressing thriller that takes readers on a tour inside the dead zone that will shock readers to the core. The lead trio is a fabulous teaming as they investigate the death of a person with one hell of a history. Fans will enjoy Lazlo's return home to the place where his brother died when the plant exploded (see CHERNOBYL MURDERS). Harriet Klausner