A Pete Zolo Short Story
This story was originally published in issue #8 of Switchblade Magazine.
Jet streams whirred around the tub. I begin each morning with a bath. My second wife and I split up two months ago and I’ve been staying on the 31st floor of the downtown Westin. My name is Pete Zolochevskaya (Pete Zolo if you aren’t good with long Russian names) and I’m a Detective Lieutenant Grade Three in the LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division. I’ve got fifteen years on the job, nine in RHD.
How can a city detective afford to stay in the Westin, you ask? Well, I’m what they call a “celebrity cop.” I get royalties from books, movies, and TV shows based on my past cases, as well as consistent technical advisor gigs from the Industry. That accounts for much of my added income.
As for the rest: Sometimes I’m willing to use the job as an ATM. If you’d seen what I’ve seen, this wouldn’t concern you as much as it probably does. Men in rare positions like mine must make troubling choices and I’ve sacrificed too much for this department to just hand all this extra income over to charity. I also know too much to ever have the full breadth of my finances examined closely. L.A. needs me doing my job with my mouth shut.
During my bath I read a history book called Winston and Joseph. It was about the alliance Churchill made with Stalin to defeat Hitler. Histories about moral compromises for the greater good have always fascinated me. It’s the good you do in the long run that counts. I never forget that in my heart.
I always expect breakfast to be waiting as soon as I step out of the bath. Room service knows it must require two things: A full plate of bacon and a half-sized bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut or champagne of comparable quality. Churchill also started each morning with champagne. It’s where I got the idea. I am that rare Russian who doesn’t drink vodka.
This morning, as I ate and drank, I scanned through the Times. On the bottom corner of the front page there was an update about the Anna Safarian jewelry heist. What happened was this:
Anna Safarian, the reality TV and social media megastar, recently separated from her rapper husband Mahad Southern, was staying in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills hotel with her three-year old daughter Spirit.
At two in the morning, when Anna’s security was thin, three armed and masked men invaded her suite. While Spirit slept in the next room, they zip tied her and a bodyguard and made off with a gold and diamond Jacob necklace, two Cartier diamond bracelets, a gold Rolex that was Mahad’s, and Anna’s 20-carat diamond engagement ring, as well as many other expensive pieces of jewelry. Their full haul was ten million. It was a bold job.
To me the case screamed inside man. The crew knew Anna’s routines. It was very possibly someone from L.A., a player I could have crossed paths with at some point. I wanted in. But my lieutenant assigned Ron Palmer and Jim Devery. Neither of these guys are bad detectives. They’re just not aggressive or creative enough for a case this important. I was shut out. You see, Anna and I have a history. But I’ll elaborate on that later.
I was finishing the bottle when I got a call from the bureau: A jewelry storeowner had been shot dead in West Hollywood.
Instead of showing up for morning roll call I got dressed and drove straight there, planning to meet my partner Sergeant Joe Ancell at the scene.
The dead jeweler was a heavyset Russian named Nikolai Karpov. He was face down on the floor of his office, in back of a small store in an upscale mall complex. He looked to be about seventy, with one of those rough, frowning, vodka-weathered faces that had likely survived Soviet Russia. Many of the old Russians in this part of town look this way.
The MEs were finishing up with the body. Karpov’s son Gary, the head manager of the store, discovered the body. The store cameras, we heard, had been turned off.
“We need to talk to the son again,” Joe said.
Joe Ancell and I have been partners for six months. He’s a solid investigator, but we haven’t hit our stride yet. I don’t trust him in the way a partner needs to and I don’t think he trusts me either. I know that in his private life, Joe is a Buddhist. He meditates, goes on retreat, does yoga, the whole nine. I heard that becoming a Buddhist is what got him off the sauce. With me, Joe has never gotten personal.
We pulled Gary to a quiet corner on the sales floor.
“Did you confirm about the cameras?” I asked.
“Someone turned them off last night. Yes.”
“Who?” Joe asked.
“My father, my wife and my brother are the only ones who can.”
“Do you think your father turned them off?”
Gary’s lip twitched. “Why would he?”
“You tell us. Did he have any meetings planned? Did he say what he might have been doing at the store here tonight?”
He thought for too long. “No.”
Gary was genuinely grieving, but he was withholding something.
A West Hollywood sheriff that had been the first responder approached Joe and I. “Two guys from your bureau want you outside,” he said.
Palmer and Devery.
Joe and I walked out to their van. Palmer and Devery were all over the news these days. They limited exposure if they stayed in the van.
Inside, Devery drank coffee. Palmer scratched his crotch. Both looked sleep-deprived.
“I had a feeling this was connected to your case,” I said with a thirsty smile.
“We’ve been looking at European crews for the job,” Devery said. “In the past few years there were major jewel heists in Venice, Paris, and London. We know that old man Karpov had connections to the European black market for jewelry and has connections to the ROC here in L.A.”
“I had a feeling something was dirty about him,” I said.
Devery nodded. “We were considering him, only we didn’t look to hard because we got the word Karpov went legit years ago.”
“Give us some details about what happened here,” Palmer said. “Let us see if anything clicks with what we know.”
“The old man turned off his cameras so he could meet with someone overnight,” Joe said. “Whoever he met probably killed him. If you think your guys could be trying to unload this stuff somewhere in town — ”
“What we’ve got is thin but that’s possible,” Palmer said.
“Then yes, we might be after the same guy,” Joe said.
“We need to share information,” Palmer said.
“I’ll do you one better,” I said. “Being in the special relationship I have with your victim . . .”
“Anna Safarian,” Devery said.
“Yes. I’ll give her a call and see if I can’t jog her memory.”
“We can call her,” Devery said. “We talked to her already.”
“Now that she’s single, you want to chase your old girlfriend when you’re supposed to be working a case?” Palmer asked.
Before the robbery, the tabloid chronicling of Anna’s recent separation with Mahad Southern had been the entertainment media’s biggest story. They were the Hollywood power couple of the moment. No one knew for sure what caused the split. But everyone knew she was playing the field again.
“What I want is to solve both of our cases, something I can do. Is that something you want me to do Palmer?”
Palmer huffed, annoyed but passive.
“Fuckin’ Zolo,” Devery said, shaking his head.
I met my long time snitch Halfa Dollar at his mansion in Long Beach. “I need to bump into Anna,” I said.
Halfa Dollar was a famous gangster rapper turned actor and TV producer. Over a long career, he had cultivated a dangerous, anti-police image. Most people did not know that in private he was an LAPD ass-kisser, someone born to please the blue. The last black celebrity as pro-cop as him was O.J. Simpson, pre “Trial Of The Century.”
“Ahhh, the bitch that makes us Eskimo brothers.”
Yes, Halfa Dollar had dated Anna too. “Find out where she’s going to be tonight for me,” I said. Halfa Dollar was also a long time friend and collaborator of Mahad Southern.
“Can you believe baby girl was posting about all the jewelry on Instagram before the heist?” he asked. “Wait, is the heist your case?”
“No. I just need you to find out where she’ll be so I can surprise her.” I went to his bar and popped a bottle of his Moet while he sent out texts and made calls. He looked determined to cooperate as usual.
Halfa and I had first met seven years ago when I arrested him for carrying a gun on parole. I offered to bury the charge if he became my snitch. Ever since he’s become a great source of intelligence, and a sort of friend as well, as long as the doors are closed and none of the brothers who know his rep can see us. If they’re around, I let him play like he’s Tony Montana and I’m some pushover he’s paid for. It’s kind of cute how much this boosts his self-esteem.
“Anna’s going to be at a record release party tonight,” he told me, fifteen minutes later. “The label people are friends. I got you on the list.”
“Thanks, pal,” I said and finished my glass.
Anna was alone at a table on the balcony, flanked by her security. All of SoHo House watched her drink. When I got close, her bodyguard put a hand on me.
“LAPD,” I said and flashed my shield.
He removed his hand and looked at Anna. She nodded. The bodyguard moved to the side, clearing my path to her. I sat down.
“You thought you would surprise me?” Anna said.
I shrugged. “Halfa Dollar can’t keep his mouth shut.”
“He’s in love with me, still.” She sipped her vodka soda. She looked good. Her world famous ass hung off both sides of her seat. “The last time I actually came to the phone when he called Halfa said he was going to commit suicide.”
Halfa said it was the other way around. Of course he was lying.
“I’ve been reading about the separation,” I said.
“I haven’t spoken to Mahad in weeks.”
I ordered a glass of Veuve from the server. “You’ve been too busy posting pictures of expensive jewelry.”
“You came to give me shit?”
“Your caption should have said ‘Rob me.’”
“I’m trying to revamp my brand to be more classy and respectable, like I’ve grown up. That was why I posted them.” She watched me. “You came when you could have just called.”
I smiled. “I wasn’t going to just call, not for this.”
Anna Safarian is seen across the world as ditzy and self-centered. That, of course, is accurate. But what most don’t see that she is great at using the emotional weakness of others as a weapon. The only person I can think of who is better at sniffing out this vulnerability in people is President Trump. It’s a peculiar quality in many reality TV stars and makes me consider how far Anna will go in life if she doesn’t self-destruct when she is still young.
She was on the phone, telling her nanny that she would be home for breakfast with Spirit. She got back into bed with me.
“So they put you on my case?”
“A jewelry store owner got killed. That’s my case. He could have been the kind of guy who would buy stolen jewels. The guys who robbed you may be my killers. I’m here for that, but mainly to make sure you’re okay.”
“You could have said that before the sex.”
Like I twisted her arm. “Going through what you did is no joke.” She looked at my ring finger, once again bare. “The heist guys, who were they?” I asked.
“I already told the detectives I don’t know.”
“You held out or you haven’t thought hard enough. Nothing was off?”
“You don’t have any suspicions about the people who knew you would be in that hotel with jewels? You won’t get in trouble if you remember now.”
She waited. “All right. Yes.” She waited again. “I know who it was.”
Just like I thought. “Who?”
“Thibault Lemoine. Mahad and I split because he caught me and Thibault together.”
“Who is Thibault Lemoine?”
“He’s a French bad boy, splits his time between Paris and L.A. He’s been to prison. Mahad walked in on us when I thought he would be gone.”
TMZ would have paid a lot to know what Anna just told me. If it hadn’t been her, I might have called them.
“Thibault’s been to prison for what?”
“Robbing people at gunpoint. He threatened me.”
She sounded scared. Anna never sounded scared.
“Walk me through everything that happened,” I said.
“He stormed into my room. His two friends were with him — ”
“You know who the friends were?”
“I think they were his brother Henri and a guy named Rene. They wore masks but I don’t know what the point was. On the way out, Thibault took his mask off and told me he was going to release all the sex tapes we made together.”
Anna had two sex tapes online already. I had seen them both before we ever met. She later told me that she had been the one who released them. “Something like that out there in the world would scandalize you.”
“I’ve got Spirit now, Pete.” I watched her face closely. She seemed sincere. “She was in the other room when it happened. I can’t have another tape come out after this. It would piss Mahad off and I still want to get back together with him. Plus, I’m trying to change my act. I don’t mean just another re-vamping of my brand, I want to behave more responsibly for all the girls everywhere who look up to me.”
I waited for the punch line but it never came. A reformed Anna Safarian. What do you know?
“I had a feeling you were holding out, but why? Why keep this from Palmer and Devery?”
“The whole thing was scary. I’d like the jewels back but loosing them is no tragedy. They were insured. It’s that the things I did with this guy, I shouldn’t have recorded. I really don’t want the tape out there,” she said. “He’ll do it. If they bust him, his buddies will put it out. They’re twisted.”
Joe met me by our desks at New Parker Center. He handed me a book called Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein. I read the back cover. It was about how to be a Buddhist meditator.
“I know you’re curious,” he said. “And you said you like to read.”
I looked at the cover. “I figured you didn’t talk about this stuff at work.”
“I try not to evangelize but I’ve got no problem talking about it.”
I flipped through the pages “So you sit crossed-legged and become enlightened? Does it make you a better detective?”
I put the book down and waited.
“Where were you last night?” Joe asked.
“With Anna Safarian.”
Joe raised an eyebrow.
“Yes. We had a relationship,” I said. “But you already knew that. I know her well enough to suspect she was holding out on Palmer and Devery. I thought I could get it out of her.”
“Get it out of her how?”
I pointed at the Buddhism book. “You think outside the box with this stuff. I think outside the box too.”
“On the job I follow SOPs.” Joe watched me. He rubbed his bald head. “What did she tell you?”
I told him what Anna told me. Then I said, “Also, Lemoine’s got a record, including an old warrant for assault on an ex when he lived in L.A. five years ago. He’s got a crew of two other guys: his brother Henri and a guy named Rene Leroux. It really was a three-man team that did the heist. That part of her story was legit.”
Joe thought about it. “What did she say about Nikolai Karpov?”
“She doesn’t know anything about him.”
Joe and I put out BOLO’s on Thibault, Henri and Rene. We agreed to give it a few hours before giving Palmer and Devery an update. Joe and I were clearing theirs for them. Giving us a shot to clear ours first was only reasonable.
A patrol car spotted Thibault. He was at an outdoor restaurant on Melrose, a hundred yards from his parked Mustang, having a mimosa brunch with a woman. I thanked the unis who found him. Joe and I stayed and watched. Joe was in his Cavalier. I was in my Challenger.
The meal wrapped up. Thibault got in his Mustang and cut east, back to Hollywood. We followed. At La Brea he went up to Franklin and eventually pulled into the lot of a house just east of Cherokee. It was an old house with 20’s-style architecture. I remembered it from calls in my patrol days.
A light green Maserati was parked at a meter on Franklin. I pointed at it. “That’s Rene Leroux’s ride,” I said.
“I’ll bet Henri is in there too. We’ve got Thibault on the assault warrant. We can take him off the street now. We should call tactical.”
I shook my head. “We wait.”
“At least let’s call Palmer and Devery.”
“Palmer and Devery want their cases solved. I want to solve ours. Let’s wait and watch these mopes.”
Joe and I waited in our separate cars, watching the house.
Rene walked out to his Maserati. He looked jittery, like he was high.
“Follow Rene,” I told Joe over the radio.
“What about you?”
“I’ll stay on the house.”
I could sense Joe’s disapproval, but I was ranking officer. I watched him in my rearview start his car and follow Rene east down Franklin.
Next, I went to the trunk for my gear and put on my Kevlar. Then I walked around the building to the back, toward the fence where I remembered that the pool was. It was difficult to climb over the fence, but I made it, and removed my Sig. There was a doorway with glass panels. It was closed. I raised the butt of my Sig to a panel and smashed it in. Then I reached through, unlocked the back door from the inside, and entered.
The hallway before me was empty. A TV played somewhere. I walked forward. Henri Lemoine appeared in the hallway. He had a gun.
I aimed for his heart and fired twice.
Henri dropped. I stepped closer. This gave me a view of the room Henri just came from. Thibault was there. I made him raise his hands. He looked down at his brother’s body.
“The jewels and the tape,” I said.
Thibault was frozen. A Glock .380 was on the table in front of him. The same gun Nikolai Karpov was killed with. I reached forward, grabbed it and jammed it into my waistband.
“Listen up. I’m here for two things: The jewels you stole from Anna and the sex tape you threatened her with. Every copy.”
Thibault regained the power of speech: “How do you know about the tape?”
“Anna has friends. I’m here for her.”
“I want my attorney.”
“That’s what you say after you get arrested. I haven’t arrested you.” I stepped closer. “I’m LAPD and it’s nothing to me to make you as dead as your brother. Where are the jewels?”
Thibault gulped. He looked ready to shit himself. “Upstairs.”
“And the tape?”
“There too. In a lockbox.”
He led me up to a bedroom. The lockbox was on the floor of the closet.
“Open it,” I said.
He took the keys and opened it. Inside there was a bag of jewelry and a camera disc. He handed them both to me. With my Sig on him, I looked into the bag.
Anna’s jewels were there, all ten million worth.
I held up the disc.
“There’s one on my laptop, another on my external hard drive. They’re both in my car outside.”
“Other copies besides those?”
“That’s all.” He looked too scared to be lying.
“Who killed Nikolai Karpov?”
He closed his eyes.
“Why’d you do it?” I asked.
“He was supposed to buy the jewels. Said he needed the money. But he changed his mind. He was too scared. We couldn’t trust him to keep quiet.”
I pointed at the .380 at my side. “This the gun you used?”
He said nothing. It was.
“You know, Anna and I dated too,” I said.
“So she’s got you here, trying to scare me?”
“She wanted the tape back,” I said.
“She’s a dumb whore with too much money.”
“Not anymore,” I said. “She’s trying to be a good mother.”
I raised my Sig and fired twice into his forehead. He tipped over backwards. I kneeled over his corpse and put his own .380 in his hand and then used his dead finger to squeeze the trigger on one shot that I sent to the wall by the door. I went to Thibault’s car, got his laptop and external hard drive, and hid them in my car.
Then I called it in.
Night fell in West Hollywood. Masha Karpov, Nikolai’s widow, lived on Fuller near Plummer Park. The house she’d shared with her late husband was decorated with Catholic art and there was a picture of Ronald Regan on the wall by where we sat. He smiled down on us.
“How have you been holding up, ma’am?”
She looked at my card. “Zolochevskaya,” she said in her thick accent.
“I’m from Los Angeles, born and raised. I’ve never even been to Russia.”
She shook her head.
“I came with news. We found who killed your husband.”
Masha shook her head again. “He used to do business with these people. He stopped. Nikolai good man for years.”
Ballistics confirmed that the .380, in fact, turned out to be the murder weapon. Thibault hadn’t bothered to get rid of it. He’d also sent Nikolai numerous texts in the days and hours leading up to the murder. Nikolai’s son admitted that the old man had gone off the wagon with his gambling addiction and racked up debts to the ROC that he’d been struggling to pay off.
“I think that’s what got him killed,” I told Masha. “Telling them no.”
“These men, it was you who shot them?”
Masha made a slight grunt. “We will drink vodka,” she said, and went to the kitchen. I didn’t ask her if she had any champagne.
If you asked most guys in IA, I’m sure they’d tell you what a sleaze I am. Sure, I’ve made myself appear that way sometimes while trying to make cases, and I’ve already admitted to taking money, but personally I consider myself a romantic, like Winston Churchill. And as crazy it sounds, my time with Anna meant a lot to me. The day after I killed the Lemoine brothers, I called her up, hoping to reassure her that the tapes weren’t going to pop up. She changed her number. I called Halfa Dollar. Anna hadn’t given him the new one. I touched base with a few Hollywood contacts and none of them could help either.
Joe came by the Westin at breakfast time.
“I’m halfway through Insight Meditation,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” He looked at the opulent meal I began each day with.
“I suppose my champagne and bacon is my form of meditation. Every morning this is what I do. My head would be a mess if I didn’t.”
“If it makes you a better person, that counts.”
The deaths of Thibault and the others had been in the media, but Anna’s lawyer asked us to keep the connection to the heist quiet. Her jewelry was back. There was no reason to advertise what really happened. Rene Leroux, after Joe arrested him, ended up taking a deal and confessing to his part in the heist and that he witnessed Thibault kill Nikolai. Palmer and Devery were grateful to have their case so neatly tied up. Joe was clearly upset and suspicious about it all.
“We recovered the jewels and put two bad guys underground. A third is facing years,” I said point blank.
“I can’t prove anything, but I know. You made me a part of . . .”
“You’re feeling bad about me shooting an armed murdering thief? How long have you been in RHD, Joe?” I wanted him to really understand how corrupt the whole system was. The thought that he could be wired also crossed my mind.
“I’m working the same job as you and I see lying as existing on the same continuum as violence. Karma means that your behavior creates a bill that will one day have to be paid.”
“Says who, a fat man sitting on his ass from thousands of years ago?”
“That’s a westernized stereotype. The Buddha was actually quite skinny.”
“So you’re my karmic bill collector?”
“If I’m an instrument to stop you, that’s my path.”
Then he walked out the door.
I felt jealous of a detective that could be idealistic enough, at Joe’s age, to muster anger and indignation about the suspicious shooting of a guilty suspect. Joe Ancell the Buddhist and I were not finished with each other, but I had time to mediate on how I would handle him. I sat, opened the Times, and returned to my champagne and bacon.
That weekend, Anna posted an Instagram picture of herself wearing the recovered engagement ring Mahad Southern had first given her. The media went insane. When asked about its return, Anna stayed coy and evasive, hinting about some heroic knight who had come to her rescue.
She never mentioned my name.