Friday, December 28, 2018
"They need your help, John. They want to kill him, but they can't find him."
Those were Diodur Fedoruk's words, pronounced as matter-of-factly as if he had been commenting on the weather, which happened to be particularly fine for Yerevan in late December -- 34 degrees, Fahrenheit, mostly sunny, with a soft breeze -- whereas it was normally colder, and often snowy, in the Armenian capital, as the New Year approached.
"You don't say," replied Robinson, who did not need to ask who "him" was. " 'Kill him'? A tall order!"
"Good, that sounds like a 'Yes.' "
Fedoruk's request would have seemed even odder if not for the fact that Robinson's long history with Geistmann had not included many episodes that were not odd. Besides, it seemed that "they" were always asking him to help them find the elusive psychopath. So he registered the bizarre request as a predictable oddity, and shrugged. An honest, straightforward answer (such as, "Are you out of your fucking mind?") would have made no sense. Besides, there was his reputation for curiosity to uphold.
Considering the atmosphere of domesticity into which it had intruded, Fedoruk's request was even more startling. When the surprise guest had arrived, a few minutes earlier, Judy, Robinson's wife, had been reading a book in an armchair across the room from her husband, who had been looking out the window. The children had been playing on the plush gray carpet. George (4) was fisting a small, colorful wooden truck his mother had bought for him at a local store whose name, translated, was "Best Toys," while Amy (3), was fussing over a traditional doll from the same store. The doll looked something like a Russian Matryoshka, but this one was taller and slimmer, and was not a nesting doll. If Matryoshkas were peasants, Amy's new doll looked ecclesiastical, or even regal.
Both truck and doll had been purchased in early December, before the holiday crush, and presented at dawn on The Big Day, soon after the children had woken their parents. Normally, Gaghant Baba (Santa) did not appear in Armenia until New Year's Eve, because Armenians had not yet forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. But John and Judy a) were not observant (anythings), and b) had not wanted to confuse the children.
Robinson and the guest, who was still wearing his brown leather jacket and red beret, were seated in an alcove across the large room from Judy and the children. There was no wood stove or fireplace in this, or any of the other, rooms of the conspicuously modern flat, which boasted forced-air central heating.
Judy's red leather armchair was the only comfortable seat in the room. Robinson and Fedoruk were scrunched into matching ergonomic metal-and-canvas horrors, the kind of chair that, back home, might have carried an endorsement from an official-sounding chiropractic organization. (Capitalism was still playing catch-up in Armenia.) In the four months during which the family had occupied this flat, Robinson had sat in the torture chairs hundreds of times, without growing used to them, but Fedoruk, who had the long, thin, rubbery body of a contortionist, did not seem to mind.
The flat was a long-term rental. Its owner, "George" from L.A., was a thirty-something with a string of properties in several major cities of southeastern Europe. Having made the rental arrangements electronically, the Robinsons had never met their landlord. Many salient details in the online prospectus had initially attracted them:
1. location: 900 meters, or a bit more than half a mile, from the Papazian Library of the American University in Armenia (AUA), where John was working; and from Judy's office, half-a-block further on. Both workplaces were a 15-minute walk from the flat, straight down Marshal Baghramyan Avenue
2. size: 1140 square meters, or 1500+ square feet
3. condition: pristine, recently renovated, starkly modern, tastefully decorated in white, gray, and light purple
4. conveniences: wi-fi, washer-dryer, etc.
5. neighborhood: parks and playgrounds, good restaurants: local cuisine (middle-eastern, French, etc.).
6. cost: $6,825, total, all taxes and fees included ($1,050 per month, for the six-and-a-half month lease from September 15th, 2018 - January 31st, 2019).
As it turned out, the flat also had two drawbacks. It was sterile (i.e. very clean and uncluttered, at least until the Robinsons moved in); and there was a tiny balcony from which the children could have plummeted six stories onto Marshal Baghramyan Avenue. John and Judy kept the door to this balcony locked at all times.
A nearby restaurant quickly became the family favorite. It was a child-friendly café called yerknayim utum ("Heavenly Eats"), on a side street 100 meters from their building. The café's slick website quoted, among others, an anonymous American reviewer who had called it "cozy and casual," but to Robinson, a truer description would have been "colorful" (décor) and "costly" (if you ordered from the full menu). The family's usual choices -- finger foods (assorted), salads (for John and Judy), and desserts (mainly for George and Amy) -- cost about 25,000 dram, or U.S. $50. But the Robinsons mostly ate at home, taking turns cooking. Both had become proficient at what Judy called "Armenian-inflected American."
Host and guest were sipping from glasses of Areni Noir, a rich local red wine. Robinson knew that, in New York, this bottle (2017 vintage) would have cost $34.99. In Yerevan, he had paid just under 3,000 dram, or $6.13.
Even on second thought, Robinson chose not to meet Fedoruk's outrageous request head-on. "You know, Diodur," he said, instead, "Armenians may have been the first people in history to make wine, 6,000 years ago.
Fedoruk's response was to sniff the product as if it were 6,000 years old. "Actually," he said, "they mostly make brandy here, John. Not quite up to our plonk from Kvint, but not bad."
" 'Plonk' is wine, not brandy, Diodur," Robinson, always the pedant, pointed out. "Moldovan sparkling wine, especially Cricova, isn't bad. Kvint, the brandy, is better, but it's made in Tiraspol." He glanced at his visitor, whose face did not register this reference to the Transnistrian capital of the Russian satellite where, in a sense, their association had been set in motion. For it was in a deserted warehouse in Tiraspol that Geistmann had tortured and executed one Stefan Donduceni, a notorious Moldovan human trafficker.
As far as anyone knew, that particular act had been Geistmann's first capital crime. It had taken place in 1999, but Robinson had not been recruited by Fedoruk's minders until nine years later, by which point the farces of law and order had pretended to realize they would never catch the arch-criminal using orthodox methods. As Robinson later realized, their apparent recourse to the improbable measure of hiring a research librarian to help catch a psychopathic serial killer had been a diversion, a red herring.
Since he was a very quick study, between smiles and sips of wine, Robinson had followed this remembered history to its logical, unflattering conclusion: the advent of Diodur Fedoruk this evening could well be another diversion. But, even if the request were genuine ... As usual with these people, there were wheels within wheels. No wonder fears of "the deep state" were bringing dangerous demagogues to power in countries across the globe, such as Hungary, Turkey and, yes, the U.S.
"Of course, Kvint is made in Tiraspol," Fedoruk agreed. But will you help us, John?"
If readers are interested in Reading Geistmann, it is available as a free PDF from the author. Please visit www.ronsinger.net for contact information.
And Geistmann in Africa (Geistman II):