She often called at this underworld hangout.
The place was a celebrated haunt of gangsters no matter what innocent name it bore. Innocuously named Doli, it was one of a hundred Sofia dives whose patrons slaughtered each other night after night to gain prestige or partake of simple pleasure.
She went there not just for the adrenalin rush she loved since she was but a few years old (at five, she chopped off the head of one of her granny’s chickens with a kitchen knife and boasted of it to all her nursery school mates), but also to earn in a couple of hours what your average Bulgarian earned in a couple of months. The hoodlums here fell over each other to throw wads of cash at the ladies, especially after a few lines of coke.
She was a freelance prostitute with recourse to the services of several policemen for her personal safety. She called these minders “my bodyguards” and plied them with whisky and upmarket drugs, though they were happy enough just to be allowed to sit at her table. Her presence made them feel like real men; they never regarded her as a prostitute—she made them feel special. For she was not only smart, but also good-looking. The combination of good looks, depravity, and brains smote the Organized Crime Squad officers, rendering them ready to do anything in return for a mere smile
Though all manner of strangers kept falling for her all the time, she invariably managed to disentangle herself without occasioning slight or, God forbid, turning infatuation into hatred. So ably and judiciously did she tread the slippery slope, her handful of female friends likened her to an Asian panther.
The former landlord of the bar idolized her so much, he named not only the bar but also his dog after her. The dog—a self-willed, thickset Rottweiler bitch—got shot on the street in front of the establishment, with two bullets in the chest and one in the head to make sure. The new landlord left the joint’s name unchanged.
Doli was reading for her master’s degree and did not care a hoot if anyone knew of her extracurricular activities. Quite the opposite: she saw her bargirl experience as exceptionally valuable fieldwork, all the more so since her master’s was in civil law. What better place to study the character of one’s future clientele?
Convinced the world was headed toward the abyss sooner or later, she wanted to be among the first to get to know the demons. “Just to get used to them,” she quipped.
With time, she found that the humbler hoodlums who dwelt in the underworld’s valleys were more generous and easy-going than those who occupied the summits. She called the latter “bigheads” and despised their vanity. This did not sate her thirst for knowledge of either type.
She experimented boldly while waiting for the stroke of luck that would bring her great romance and great riches.
Whenever she had a spare moment, Doli would go to church, light a votive candle to Our Lady, and pray most humbly for her intercession before the Lord. If He saw something amiss with her life, prayed she, may He forgive her and hold back His punishment. Fearing He might give her short shrift, she dared not pray to Him directly, preferring the intercession of His Mother.
Education, to her, was a big scam used by people mainly to score silly points. Art, on the other hand, emanated from God. She therefore kept a diary, intending to publish it one day and turn it into a bestseller. Abroad, naturally. She had heard good things about author-publisher relationships in England, the rapidity of recouping one’s investment and a number of other matters essential for a writer’s success and confidence. Nevertheless, her undoubted preference was for Holland. Visiting it some time ago, she was enchanted by its tall fair people amid its low, flat land. She liked their spirit, their easy and untrammeled humor, the way they smoked marijuana whenever and wherever they wanted, their terrific cheeses, their two-story houses with tiny flower-decked gardens, the proper motorways that had nothing in common with Bulgarian motorways, the way they had a sex museum as well as a Bible museum, the way they tolerated no smug vanity, and the way their lives were ordered in a manner even Germans could only dream of (she liked order, and her clients were made very aware of that).
The Belle statue in Amsterdam with its inscription “Respect Sex Workers all over the World” reduced her to tears. That it stood right outside the Oude Kerk troubled her not in the slightest. Both institutions alleviated the human condition—prostitution through the flesh and the church through the spirit—so it was logical for them to be side by side. This was her view and it was good enough for her.
But most of all, she admired the perfectionism of the Dutch system that enabled any publisher to forecast how many copies of Doli’s diary they would sell before they had even printed it. Not to mention the punctilious remittance of royalties.
All in all, Doli was a remarkable woman and this was apparent even at first encounter.
A little after midnight, a bearded type strode into the bar with the gait of a Michael Corleone, closely followed by four tough guys who wore shades and kept their hands in their pockets. They clustered by a booth occupied by other bearded, though less tough guys and told them to scram because this was a private booth. The guys in the booth offered various excuses, but those facing them took their hands from their pockets and, a brief but dramatic episode of physical contact later, the booth lay vacant.
Corleone stood to one side, monitoring the actions of his chaperones without getting involved, until at length he lifted his shades onto his forehead and moved into the empty booth with a broad, forgiving smile.
“Right, guys! Pick your poison!” said he with a castrato voice that stood in stark contrast with his shades and bristly beard.
Michael Corelone, whose real name was Miko, longed to be recognized as a tough guy. This persistent longing had driven him to become first a boxer, then a boxing coach. When it had soon transpired that he had neither the courage real boxers needed, nor the talent real coaches needed, he had switched vocations and his new calling of contract man had suited him from head to toe. By ambushing his victims, he avoided having to confront men that were tougher than he was.
Another aspect of Miko’s personality was that he adored power in all its forms and was ready to part with anything to possess it. Little could rival the sweetness of the shiver he felt down his spine when reading the exploits of hoodlums mistreating their victims in the crime columns. Descriptions of torture excited him most, prompting him to elaborate on them in his fantasies to the tiniest detail, invariably casting himself as the main character.
To boost his public standing, he acquired a doctorate in acupuncture and pulse diagnosis. Purchasing the degree cost him a small fortune, but its value as cover for his true occupation was worth every penny.
Though a PhD, Miko remained semiliterate: something that didn’t trouble him in the least. He loved to quote his father, who had trained school kids in Defense of the People and had always said that too much literacy led to sedition and that only a good beating and a good shag could sort seditious people out. His father had also authored the remarkable historical assertion that the Russians had crossed the Danube using inflatable timber assault craft.
Are the Sicilian Mafiosi literate? You can bet they aren’t! And are they successful beyond belief? What’s the good of literacy when you are shooting someone in the back? None! All you need is cunning—and an expensive silenced pistol. Add to that a PhD and never look back, reasoned Miko.
In short, Miko was one of those men who were born villains and whose every undertaking inexorably led to criminality. He was aware of his odd Balkan macho charm and projected it in front of women with persistence, without compunction, and in pursuit of clear objectives. His glassy, vicious eyes reflected his character well.
None of the bar regulars knew much about him. All that was known was that he minded the millions of a major Russian mafioso who lived in America and that he had done time in a Hungarian jail as an accomplice to murder. He, on the other hand, knew all about the regulars, and also all about Doli—in terms of both academic and pecuniary pursuits.
“That’s the sort of bitch you need! Money of her own, friends in high places, keeps her eyes peeled, bound to get far, could become a prosecutor or a beak and not only get you out of trouble, but have enough readies to look after you, dress you up nice . . . ” droned a friend he was working with on some urgent foreign business.
“If you say so!,” cackled Miko, his castrato voice ringing around the establishment.
Doli fell head over heels for him. It happened quickly and out of the blue. The instant Miko Corleone took out a chunky pen with an 18-karat solid gold tip and began drawing hearts and daisies on her hands, she felt a heaviness in her solar plexus and shivers creeping down her spine. She said he was romantic. Some time later, the same romantic was all over her in the hallway of her tiny flat, tearing pieces of her clothing and dropping them on the floor while she emitted gurgling sounds, legs clasped tightly around his waist.
“I’m a self-made man, my girl.”
The macho man trained his coyote eyes on her while she served coffee. He spread out his arms demonstratively: “Everything I have, I owe to this pair of hands. And to this head here,” and he patted his forehead. “To make a killing, you’ve got to be ready to kill. Me, I’m ready! You, if you want to live with me, have to be ready to rescue me. You ready for that?”
“You’ll teach me,” said she, looking devotedly into his eyes as she took his hands to kiss each finger in turn.
Glowing references from businessmen and judges, all of them eminent fraudsters and regular clients of hers from the Doli Bar, got her appointed junior prosecutor at the Metropolitan Prosecutor’s Office. Further such references propelled her to full-fledged prosecutor.
Miko moved in with her. He would be away for days on end before returning unannounced and launching into lengthy nighttime binges. One day he disappeared without a word.
That evening Herr and Frau Zimmermann were holding a reception for Vienna’s crème de la crème. The Zimmermanns’ receptions were one of their ways of staying abreast of everything worth knowing. They held them several times a year, and each was enthusiastically discussed for weeks afterward.
It would be no exaggeration to say that most of this glittering city’s social intercourse revolved around the salons of the Zimmermanns’ vast residence. Much of the credit for this went to Frau Zimmermann, who was a tireless organizer and able entertainer to her numerous guests. The thirty-odd-year age difference between her and her husband only heightened conjecture about the multi-millionaire family.
Conjecture about Herr Zimmermann, a businessman and conservative liberal, was indeed widespread, its content differing depending on its source. His tenants (renting rooms and apartments in Vienna and other European centers was among Herr Zimmermann’s numerous business interests) called him an arrogant swine and wished to see him dead. Understandably so, for just a day’s delay in remitting rent meant that Herr Zimmermann, deaf to all pleas, would have the unfortunate tenants’ possessions thrown out of the windows and their power and water cut off. Pensioners, cripples, single mothers—all were fair game to him. He paraded his contempt for public opinion, singling it out as a reason for his success.
Others saw him as an example to follow. They admired the ruthless manner in which he ran his business and marshaled his young wife and hoped to become like him one day.
“You look so healthy and happy, darling,” bitched his former wife as she entered. “You know, that doesn’t bode well at all!” She was a lady of a certain age who gravitated around artistic circles.
“I’m healthy and happy because I’m just and upright, and honest people have always been healthier and happier than all others,” he cooed with a broad Hollywood smile.
“You con man!” said she, patting imaginary flecks of dust off the lapels of his smoking jacket with the back of her hand, “The only place you’ll ever get to be just and upright is a coffin.” Little did she suspect how apt her words would turn out to be.
A short distance away, the current Frau Zimmermann, in a killer white dress topped with a blue diamond choker, was charming a handful of politicians and bankers. Seeing her predecessor, she gave her a cheery wave that was returned in kind.
“I see the little vixen is making spirited use of your money,” continued the former Frau Zimmermann with a voice in which a trained ear could detect no mean measure of venom.
“Well, she’s young, she’s loving, so why shouldn’t I treat her! Money’s there to be spent, surely!” said Herr Zimmermann, stretching his smile to the utmost.
“Is it really you saying this?! Why, you’ve never even tipped a waiter! I take it you are aware she’s putting horns the size of a Siberian elk’s on you . . . ”
This was the last reception Herr Zimmermann held for Vienna society. Some weeks later, they found him in the street with a bullet through the back of his neck. The facts the police inquiry established shook even the most indifferent of his acquaintances.
It turned out to have been a contract killing commissioned by his loving wife, who also happened to be sole heir to his estate. Reckoning that life was too short to wait for her husband’s natural death, the young thing decided to hasten events. She asked her paramour, a private detective, to find a suitable contractor. That contractor turned out to be the Bulgarian Miko.
All details came to light when the widow made a full confession. The main contributor to the investigation’s rapidity and success, however, was the dead man’s former wife, who aired her suspicions as to the possible beneficiary of the killing before the police.
Frau Zimmermann and her private eye accomplice were sentenced and jailed, while an international arrest warrant was put out for Miko. Doli convinced him it would be best if he handed himself over to the Bulgarian authorities, which he duly did. She then left her job as metropolitan prosecutor, turned barrister, and took up his defense.
“I’ll get you acquitted, darling. I’m as certain of it as I’m certain my name’s Doli,” she whispered into his ear while they screwed in the prison visiting room.
“Just you fail and I’ll have your guts for garters,” whispered the macho man back in her ear.
He appeared in court as if dressed for a wedding. The white Armani suit, the white Berluti shoes, the shirt, the tie, the socks—all he wore had been bought for him by Doli.
They charged him with murder and the prosecutor asked for a twenty-year sentence. Doli pleaded that her client was innocent, declaring Frau Zimmermann’s confession (which named the Bulgarian as the contract man) tendentious and untenable in view of the lack of any evidence linking her client with the victim.
“Your Honor, we are being asked to lend credence to statements made by an unstable woman, and moreover statements that—if believed—would destroy my client’s life,” Doli argued fervently to the judge. An old Communist Party nomenklatura cadre, he was a steady client of Doli’s in her other line of work. Though some of his colleagues guessed at his proclivities, they preferred not to upset his carefully wrought image as caring husband and father of two.
“I submit, Your Honor, that the correct verdict on your part would be that my client is entirely innocent. In delivering such a verdict, you will prove that Bulgarian courts are instruments of justice and justice alone,” continued Doli before moving on to expound her lover’s great contribution to the development of national sport.
One day, the prosecutor was unexpectedly replaced by a lady known in legal circles as The Leggy Prosecutrix. Mile Thigh, as she was also known, was Doli’s age. The two had not met. When they encountered each other in court, it was hatred at first sight. This might have been helped by the defendant, who immediately directed a lewd gaze to the prosecutor’s legs and refused to move it from there for the remainder of the case.
White as innocence itself, Miko kept fingering the knot of his necktie, shifting his shoulders, and tugging his shirtsleeves in an attempt to imitate the act of screwing the ass off the prosecutor.
For her part, Mile Thigh sensed a pleasant quiver descending from her neck all the way down to the shapely calves of her mile-long legs. The impudent (and promising) stare of the bearded Balkan brave awoke her feminine curiosity and prompted her to withdraw the criminal charge because of a lack of evidence and Miko’s lack of prior convictions.
The barrister and the prosecutor now proceeded to vie for Miko’s favours, inflating his confidence and making him play them against each other through frequent calls on both.
Until one day Doli decided to set things to rights.
“It’s time you decide: me, or that whore!”
“What’s your problem, babe?”
“And stop calling me babe. You know I hate it.”
“And I hate your poking your nose where it’s got no business!”
“Poke my nose, eh? You mean I shouldn’t have poked my nose into saving your ass and should have left you wearing prison garb instead of Armani? You mean . . . ,” and her eyes filled with tears of anger and outrage.
Miko pulled out a fat Havana cigar, lit it, puffed a couple of times, crossed his legs, and donned a mocking grimace.
“Calm down! You did all that because you love me and because you like the way I shag you. You do like me shagging you, don’t you, eh? You just love the way I shag you, eh, babe?” he kept on, puffing away at his cigar. “Yeah, you love it! I know you love it! It’s no good your keeping your mouth shut like a jealous bitch. You are a jealous bitch, ain’t you, eh?”
Doli instinctively grabbed the heavy cigar box and hurled it at him. It hit him in the face, splitting an eyebrow. Blood filled his eye and trickled down his cheek.
“You’re dead!” roared the contract killer, pressing his eyebrow with one hand and slicing the air with his cigar with the other, “I’ll kill you, so I will, and I’ll love doing my time for it! Bitch!”
“Make your mind up! Bitch, or babe? I wasn’t a bitch when I bought you a new wardrobe, was I? You ingrate! You’re no man! You’re a dastardly, murdering nobody. Can’t imagine what I ever saw in you!”
“Can’t imagine, eh? Well, let me tell you. You saw yourself in me. Like goes with like,” said he, mopping the blood from his face with the tablecloth before pulling out his gun and pointing it at her head. “Get ready to be shot. But first, strip! Come on, strip, you bitch! Off with everything!”
Something in his eyes told her she had better obey. She undressed slowly, leaving only her pants on, and glowered at him unblinkingly.
“Take it all off!”
She obeyed again.
He pulled up a chair and stretched out on it, gun on his knee.
“You’re not bad. Not bad at all, for a barrister. Better than that prosecutor woman, any day. She’s only any good at blowjobs. You, you’re good at the full works!”
“If you’re going to shoot, shoot! If not, go!” said Doli with a forthrightness that surprised her as she began to put her clothes back on.
Scarcely believing his ears, Miko could only contemplate her wide-eyed for a moment, before switching to an unctuous drawl:
“Only kidding, babe! Me, shoot you, the most precious thing I’ve got? Where would I be without you, eh? You’re my good luck charm. I haven’t told you because I was keeping it a surprise, but I want us to get married. No kidding! Already ordered the rings, was going to pay for them one of these days. Even made a guest list for the reception. Just promise you won’t throw things at me any more. Promise, go on!”
“I promise,” said she, looking away from him.
“That’s my girl! We two make a terrific pair and you know it, don’t you!?
“I know that. But does that whore know it?”
“Who? That prosecutor woman? Don’t you waste another thought on her!”
Several days later, Doli asked Miko to take her up into the mountains. She wanted them to go to the remote rocks where they had once picnicked and he had taught her to shoot. She said she had loved it and had rarely felt better in all her life.
Miko was only too pleased to grant her wish, all the more so since he was planning to ask her for yet another large loan to add to others that he never repaid.
She shot him with his own gun. As they stood side by side with her aiming at a tree some distance ahead, she turned smartly and shot him in the right temple.
She carefully wiped her fingerprints from the pistol grip with a snow-white handkerchief and placed the weapon in his hands. From the inside pocket of the sports jacket she had bought him, she retrieved as a memento the 18-karat gold-tip pen the erstwhile romantic had used to draw daisies on her hands.
She left the scene unhurriedly, looking serenely self-absorbed.
At the funeral, barrister and prosecutor stood on either side of the grave, facing each other, in identical black outfits and identical dark glasses.
Politicians, judges, underworld supremos, and a sprinkling of Organized Crime Squad officers all expressed sincerest condolences.
A light drizzle began to fall.
The Lufthansa jet departed on schedule. In Doli’s handbag was a manuscript entitled The Barrister from the Bar Doli. She would add final touches to it on the flight to Amsterdam.
Taking a break, Doli set the manuscript to one side to rehearse her coming meeting. Knowing that first impressions mattered most, she carefully coined phrases that would impress her literary agent as soon as he greeted her at the airport. How flattering it felt to have a real representative, like real writers do!
The agent was in fact a Bulgarian man who had emigrated to Holland some thirty years earlier and had gone on to acquire a solid reputation in literary circles. He accepted her commission, describing her writing as “intelligent, intriguing, and likely to appeal to a European readership” in the letters they exchanged.
The real reason was far simpler: an enthusiastic admirer of hers, formerly a piccolo and petty smuggler and currently a member of the European Parliament, arranged things. “To succeed in any situation, you have to play va banque and make use of connections. I’ve spoken with the man. Now it’s your move. Go for it!” he said, handing her the agent’s card.
In the glass of the approaching Schiphol terminal, Doli saw the approach of new debauchery in the world that awaited her, eager to extract its price. She was ready to bow to its demands.
From Куци ангели—2. © 2015 by Vlado Trifonov. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2015 by Peter Skipp. All rights reserved.