A MORNING RESURRECTION – CHAPTER 27
My idea of somewhere private to call Guliya Sabirova was a little unusual, but it always pays to keep everyone guessing. I was pretty sure that Guliya Sabirova wasn’t calling me to offer her help. That meant she was working for the other side, whoever they were. Which was why I was parked outside the building where she kept her office. From there, I could watch out for unexpected visitors, sudden departures, perhaps even a glimpse of the lady herself.
I parked, cracked open a window, lit a cigarette, hit redial.
‘I’d like to make an appointmenr.’
‘I really don’t think that will be necessary. A phone call should take care of everything,’ she said.
‘I don’t think so,’ I said, ended the call.
Her office was on the second floor of a nondescript office block off Sovetskaya, sandwiched between a dental surgeon and a notary. Probably a hangover from Soviet times, where we lived on a poor diet and an endless stream of official paperwork.
I arrived at her office door, didn’t bother to knock, found a young man sitting behind an empty formica-topped desk, reading a comic book. The puzzled look on his face suggested he found it hard going. As reception areas go, it was empty of seats, potted plants, copies of last year’s magazines. Perhaps they were all in the dentist’s waiting room.
‘I don’t have an appointment, and I’m not a client,’ I told him, ‘But I’m here to see Ms Sabirova.’
‘Impossible, I’m afraid,’ was what he started to say as he stood up. I pushed him back into his chair, handed him his comic book.
‘Don’t worry, I can find my own way,’ I said, gave him a reassuring smile that clearly failed to reassure, headed for the door at the back of the room. Knocking seemed over-polite, so I made my way in unannounced.
I knew Guliya Sabirova charged eye-watering fees, but none of the money had gone to an interior decorator. The faded wallpaper was beginning to peel away, and her desk was the twin of her receptionist’s, piled high with paper, bare of family photos, anything personal. The only concession to comfort was an elderly sofa pushed against one wall, next to a bookcase filled with law books.
Guliya Sabirova looked up as I entered, clearly unsurprised by my arrival.
The formalities over, I sat down uninvited on the sofa. The Superheroes fan from reception hovered in the doorway, uncertain if he was about to lose his job.
‘Shall I call the police?’ he asked.
‘I am the police,’ I said, realising it was the second time I’d had to say that in less than an hour. I obviously had to work on my scowl and threatening manner.
‘That won’t be necessary,’ Sabirova said, and the receptionist retreated back to his reassuring world of bulging muscles and too-tight lycra costumes.
I offered a cigarette, wasn’t surprised by the head shake. I looked around for an ashtray, didn’t see one, lit up regardless. I’ve always found it best with lawyers to establish the ground rules, which is that in my country police trump a law degree, no matter how skilled the lawyer.
‘You want to know about the case I’m working on?’
‘And your involvement is?’
The question hung in the air like a sour smell.
‘As I told you, I have a client who is interested in the outcome of your investigations.’
‘And more than that, you can’t tell me. Or won’t tell me,’ I said.
Sabirova simply nodded, pulling a face at the smoke drifting across her desk. I walked to the window, put my hand through the ornamental bars, wrestled with the painted-in handle to no effect. The office would just have to stay smoky.
‘The way I see it, information is always worth something?’ I said, keeping my voice neutral, ‘Wouldn’t you agree, advokat?’
‘You’re putting a monetary value on your findings, Inspector? Well, at least that’s straightforward of you. Of course, as an officer of the court, I couldn’t possibly condone such a thing,’ Sabirova said, sitting back in her chair, face impassive.
‘Not money,’ I said, ‘Information.’
Sabirova pursed her lips, looked more than ever like a particularly bad-tempered bird of prey.
‘Go on, Inspector.’
I stubbed my cigarette out in a small pot containing a miniature cactus, ignoring the venomous look she threw at me. Exactly the sort of plant I would have expected Guliya Sabirova to choose.
‘Who my client is, and why they show an interest?’
I gave my least sincere smile an airing.
‘I’ve always hoped one day I’d meet a smart lawyer.’
The bird of prey stare seemed to intensify as Sabirova sat forward, half opened one of her desk drawers. I shifted my weight, discreetly cleared my jacket to put my gun in quick reach. I wondered what the penalty for shooting a lawyer would be. A small fine, most likely.
‘A call to your boss might improve your manners,’ Sabirova said.
‘Why stop there?’ I replied, ‘Why not call Mikhail Tynaliev?’
‘Why not? He is your client, isn’t he? The one who likes to keep informed?’
Sabirova sat back, a puzzled look on her face I could have sworn was genuine.
‘What makes you think that?’ she asked.
‘He’s always taken a special interest in the cases I work on,’ I replied, not wishing to commit myself to an out and out accusation.
‘Mikhail Tynaliev wouldn’t need my services for that,’ she replied, her look clearly indicating she didn’t have much respect for my powers of deduction, ‘All he has to do is demand to see the file.’
Not if he doesn’t want people to know, I thought, kept it to myself. I wasn’t crossing Tynaliev off my list of suspects. The trouble was, I didn’t have any other names on the list.
‘I’ve been told your skills don’t come cheap, advokat,’ I said, ‘Which suggests a certain client profile.’
‘No need to dance around, Inspector. You mean, do I represent people who are mistakenly believed to be criminals? To which, the answer is yes. I assume you believe in innocent until proven guilty?’
‘I believe it’s difficult to prove guilt when all the witnesses are intimidated, paid off or deep in the ground,’ I said.
‘That’s a failing of the police force,’ she said, ‘Not the legal system.’
‘I believe you represented the late and unlamented Kenybek Aliyev,’ I said, trying another tack.
‘The victim of an unfortunate hunting accident, I believe,’ Sabirova said, her voice and face giving nothing away.
‘That’s right,’ I replied, ‘Except it was me he was hunting.’
‘I hope you reported the matter to your colleagues?’
‘Aliyev had many friends and business associates,’ I said, ‘I would hate to think of them doing anything rash in their understandable grief. I thought it best not to involve my colleagues until tempers and emotions have calmed down a little.’
‘Very wise, I’m sure.’
I looked around the cheerless room. No photographs of family, no diploma proudly displayed on the wall. Even the calendar showing scenes of Kyrgyz beauty spots, a gift from a local printer perhaps, was two years out of date. I wondered if
Sabirova had a smart villa filled with exquisite works of art, a luxury German fitted kitchen, a dacha with a view of Lake Issyk-Kul. Somehow, I doubted it.
For people like her, a spartan lifestyle, last decade’s fashion clothes, down at heel shoes, worn furniture, were all ways to tell the world that they have higher things on their mind than material trivia. They proclaim themselves to be driven by a mission, to be above the concerns that plague humble mortals like myself. Unsurprisingly, it’s usually people with healthy bank accounts who adopt that approach. It’s a lot easier to show how virtuous you are if you’ve got a safety net of five-thousand som bank notes.
‘To be frank, advokat, the matter of the Umarova murders is not my first priority at the moment,’ I said.
‘I regret to say so. Sayara Umarova has also been murdered. A clumsy attempt to make it look like suicide in the throes of grief.’
‘I’m shocked to hear that,’ she said, looking remarkably unshocked.
‘Right now, I’m more concerned about a missing persons case,’ I said.
‘Saltanat Umarova, I assume?’
I stared at the wizened woman, wondered if it would be as easy to wring her neck as it is to kill a chicken.
‘And how would you know that?’ I asked, standing up, resting my fists on the desk top.
‘It’s obvious, Inspector,’ Sabirova said, ‘Your wife is dead, you don’t have any family, and your relationship is hardly a secret, even if it is with an enemy of the state.’
‘So it’s a case of information for information, is it?’ I said, feeling my fingernails bite into my palms.
‘Let me make a few calls, Inspector. Who knows what I might be able to turn up?’
I stared at her, willing myself not to beat the information out of her. But there wasn’t anything I could do to help Saltanat if I was behind bars for having assaulted an elderly female lawyer.
‘Now, if there’s nothing more I can help you with?’
‘Time is money, advokat, I know. A lawyer’s motto if ever I heard one.’
‘Information is money as well. And I believe that’s a police motto. If ever I heard one.’
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