The Beast in the Red Forest(8)
Author:Sam Eastland


    Kirov’s jaw muscles clenched. ‘If we could just get started,’ he said.

    ‘Certainly,’ replied Linsky. Opening a drawer in the counter, he pulled out a black box and rifled through the crumpled documents inside. A moment later, he withdrew a letter and handed it to Kirov.

    ‘What’s this?’ he asked.

    ‘The real reason you are here,’ replied Linsky.

    ‘The real reason? I don’t understand.’

    ‘But you are about to, Major Kirov.’

    Cautiously, Kirov took hold of the envelope, opened it and removed the piece of paper it contained. As he read, his head tilted to one side, like a man who has suddenly lost his balance.

    The typed letter was an order for a new set of clothes, specifically two pairs of brown corduroy trousers made of 21-ounce cotton, three white collarless shirts made of linen with mother-of-pearl buttons, two waistcoats made of dark grey Bedford cord and one black double-breasted coat made of Crombie wool and lined with navy blue silk. At the bottom of the page was a date, specifying when the clothes should be ready.

    The breath snagged in Kirov’s throat as he recognised the familiar patterns and materials. ‘Are these clothes for Pekkala?’

    ‘It would appear so,’ answered Linsky.

    ‘And this is from two weeks ago!’

    ‘Yes.’

    ‘So you have seen him!’

    Linsky shook his head.

    Kirov held up the piece of paper. ‘Then where did this come from? Was it mailed to you?

    ‘Somebody slid it under the door.’

    ‘So how can you be certain that these are for the Inspector? I admit I don’t know anyone else who dresses like this, but . . .’

    ‘It’s not just the clothing,’ explained Linsky. ‘It’s the cloth. No one but Pekkala would have requested Crombie wool or Bedford cord. Those are English fabrics, of which I just happen to have a small quantity. And the only person who knows that I have them is the person who brought them to me before the Revolution, when I ran my business out of the Gosciny Dvor in Petrograd! He left the cloth with me so that I could use it to make the clothes he wanted. And that is what I have done for many years, for Pekkala and for no one else. The measurements are his, Major. There can be no doubt about who placed the order. They are exactly the same as he has always ordered from me. Well, almost exactly.’

    ‘What do you mean by ‘almost’?’ asked Kirov.

    ‘The coat had some modifications.’

    ‘What kind of modifications?’

    ‘Little pockets, two dozen of them, built into the left inside flap.’

    ‘What was the exact size of these pockets?’

    ‘Four centimetres long and two centimetres wide.’

    Too wide for a bullet, thought Kirov.

    ‘And there was more,’ continued Linsky. ‘He also ordered several straps to be fitted into the right inside flap.’

    ‘For what purpose? Was it clear?’

    Linsky shrugged. ‘The specifications were for double-thick canvas straps so whatever things he intended to carry with them must have been quite heavy. It required reinforcement of the coat’s entire right flap.’

    ‘More than one strap, you say?’

    ‘Yes. Three of them.’

    ‘Did they correspond to any particular shape?’

    ‘Not that I could tell. I puzzled over them for quite some time.’

    ‘And did you make the clothes?’

    ‘Of course, exactly as instructed.’

    Kirov turned his attention back to the piece of paper in his hand. ‘According to this, everything should have been picked up by now.’

    ‘Yes, Major.’

    ‘But you say you haven’t seen Pekkala.’

    ‘No.’

    ‘Then where is the clothing? May I see it?’

    ‘No, Major. It’s all gone.’

    ‘Gone?’ Kirov’s forehead creased. ‘You mean somebody stole the clothes?’

    ‘Not exactly, Major.’ Linsky pulled back a dark blue curtain directly behind him, revealing a grey metal bar, on which hung several sets of newly finished clothes, waiting to be picked up by their owners. ‘On the day before everything was due to be picked up I placed the garments here, as I always do with outgoing orders. But when I arrived here for work on the following day, the clothes were missing. The lock had been picked.’

    ‘Did you report the break-in?’

    ‘No. Nothing was stolen.’

    ‘But you just told me you were robbed!’

    ‘The clothing was gone, but payment for the order was left in a small leather bag, hanging from the bar where the clothes had been hanging.’

    ‘And there were no messages inside?’

    ‘Just the money.’

    ‘Do you still have that leather bag?’

    ‘Yes, somewhere here.’ He rummaged in the drawer and pulled out a bag of the type normally used by Russian soldiers to carry their rations of machorka tobacco. The bags were made from circles of leather, which then had holes punched around the edges. A leather cord was threaded through the holes and drawn tight, forming the shape of the bag. The bag Linsky held out to Kirov was, like most bags of this type, made from soft, suede leather, since it was intended to be worn around the neck of the soldier, where the tobacco stood the best chance of staying dry.

    ‘What type of payment was used?’ asked Kirov. ‘Gold? Silver?’

    ‘Nothing so exotic, I’m afraid. Just paper notes. That’s all.’

    ‘Was anything written on them? There might have been a message.’

    ‘I thought of that,’ Linsky replied, ‘but it was just a fistful of money, the likes of which you’d find inside the pocket of every person walking past this shop.’

    ‘And all of this happened almost a week ago.’

    ‘Five days, to be precise.’

    ‘And why didn’t you tell anyone until now?’

    ‘I did,’ answered Linsky. ‘I told Comrade Poskrebychev the day after the clothes disappeared, when he came in to pick up a new tunic for himself.’

    ‘Let me get this straight, Linsky. You don’t trust me enough to let me know that Pekkala himself, with whom I have worked for over a decade, was, in all probability, standing right here in this shop when the whole world thinks he is dead and yet the only person in whom you choose to confide is Poskrebychev?’

    Now Linsky leaned across the counter. For a moment, he did not speak, but only stared at Kirov, his pupils the colour of old glacier ice. ‘Would you mind if I spoke plainly, Major?’

    ‘I imagine that you’re going to, whether I mind it or not.’

    ‘There have only ever been a handful of people I trusted in this world,’ said Linsky, ‘and you and your Internal Security thugs killed most of them a long time ago. I do not question your loyalty, Major, only I find myself wondering with whom that loyalty ultimately rests. As for Poskrebychev, he and I have spoken about Pekkala many times before and I know he would do anything, just as I would, to help the Emerald Eye. I can only hope his instincts are correct and that you will use whatever help we can offer to guarantee Pekkala’s safe return.’

    ‘That much, at least, we can agree upon,’ said Kirov, as he handed Linsky the leather tobacco bag.

    Linsky held up his hands in refusal. ‘Hold on to that, Major. Perhaps, one day soon, you can return it to our mutual friend. Now,’ he gestured towards the platform on the other side of the room, ‘if you would not mind standing over there, we can get you fitted for your new uniform.’

Most Read
Top Books