Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
15 March 1994
The bomb didn’t him. It had dismembered him certainly, but it did not kill him. The man’s torso and head—as well as his right arm—were found in a pile of debris on the side of Radićeva Street opposite the bombed-out cinema. His feet and legs had come to rest a few hundred feet away. The rest of him was never found.
As Police Inspector Nikola Gavrilović stood over the mostly reassembled body in the overcrowded city morgue, a question nagged at him.
Where was the blood?
There was none to be found. Not one drop. Impossible, unless the man was dead before the shell hit the cinema, killed in such a way that he bled out completely. It was the third such body found that year—not that anyone paid attention. Not with death raining from above every day. The Yugoslav army had laid siege to the city for almost two years, and from their positions in the hills outside Sarajevo, they pelted the city with shells almost daily. Nikola had already lost friends and family. Everyone had. As perverted an idea as it seemed, it was difficult to find the motivation to investigate murder on such a small scale when the mere act of venturing out of one’s house to buy bread could mean death.
It didn’t help matters that of the other two apparent victims, the first was a homeless man and the second an abusive drunk whose own wife refused to claim his body. Nikola’s superiors would close this case, insisting the man had died in the blast, and he wasn’t in a position to challenge them. He was only half-Serbian, through his mother, but because the Serbs were the ones trying to strangle the city, no one would completely trust anything he said. It didn’t matter that he wanted what almost everyone else in Sarajevo wanted—a free Bosnia.
Besides, he couldn’t exactly tell the truth. All the signs were there, if one knew how to see them. An old threat had returned to the city, and just as certainly as the Yugoslav army brought death from above, this threat brought death from below. Placing the sheet back over the man’s body and then turning to leave the morgue, Nikola resolved to do whatever he had to do to stop it, even if he had to stand alone.
After all, the Serbs invented the word vampire.
6 October 1999
Clara barely dodged the bicycle as she turned the corner. She didn’t understand the stream of Greek the rider yelled as he pedaled past her, but based on his expressive hand gestures, she guessed his general meaning. She gritted her teeth and kept going, pushing her way through the crowded market.
Sounds, colors, aromas swirled around her, everything as incomprehensible as … well, Greek. Laughter and shouting reverberated off the buildings over the noise of the traffic on the nearby streets. A musician had attracted a small crowd with the frantic strains of his violin. Grey business suits mingled with traditional costumes of bright blue, red, and green amid stalls set up by vendors selling everything Clara could imagine—and a few things she couldn’t.
Car exhaust mixed with the smell of concentrated humanity tickled her nose, but as she walked, one scent called to her like a Pied Piper. The sweet and spicy aroma led her to a stall where a young boy was roasting lamb. Her stomach rumbled, and it occurred to her she hadn’t eaten anything since the thin cup of coffee and the small pastry at her hotel that morning.
The boy looked up at her and smiled. She reached into her bag, and a wave of nausea pushed the thought of lunch out of her mind—her wallet wasn’t there. Panic rose as she probed every corner of the bag. Her gaze darted around the market, thinking maybe she’d see someone acting suspiciously or she’d spot a policeman, and when that failed, maybe she’d see someone—anyone—who looked like they might speak English. All her money, her credit cards, her ID—all of it was gone, but what brought her to the verge of tears was the thought of losing the creased and tattered photo that had been lodged in her wallet for the better part of five years.
She needed that picture.
A hand on her shoulder made her jump. She turned around to find a man smiling at her. Maybe a few years older than she was, he had short black hair and a goatee and blue eyes so pale they were almost grey.
He held up her wallet. “Madame, I believe this is yours.”
He spoke English with an accent Clara couldn’t quite place, though she didn’t think it was Greek.
Stunned, she took back the wallet. “How did …? Was it …? I guess it must have fallen out of my purse.”
The man chuckled. “Not exactly.” He motioned over his shoulder, back toward where the bicyclist had nearly hit her. The rider sat on the ground with his back to the wall of a building, a package of ice held to his forehead. His bicycle lay next to him, and a surly-looking policeman, nowhere to be found moments before, stood over him.
“I watched him slip your wallet out of your purse as he passed by you,” the man continued. “I chased him down.”
Clara raised an eyebrow. “You chased down a bicycle? On foot?”
The man shrugged. “The market is crowded. He could only go so fast.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Mr. …”
He shook his head. “No need for thanks. I’m just a Good Samaritan. Please, have a pleasant stay in Thessaloniki.”
With a nod, he walked away and melted into the crowd.
She turned back to the boy roasting the lamb. He smiled and held up a piece of freshly shaved meat, rich and hearty smelling. She glanced down at her watch and realized, regrettably, that she didn’t have time for lunch. She shook her head and continued on her way through the market.
When Clara came to the end of the stalls, an old stucco building loomed in front of her, its arched windows dark, even with the afternoon sun shining. The road forked to either side, confronting her with a choice. She knew the address where she was going and had traced the route on a map that morning, but now she wasn’t so confident she could remember the way. She wished she had thought to bring a guidebook. Having one certainly would have helped in the market. She was lucky the man who had retrieved her wallet spoke English, though it didn’t occur to her until that moment to question how he knew she did. Maybe he had opened her wallet and seen her driver’s license.
In truth, that she had managed to make it to Greece with anything more than her toothbrush was a small miracle. Only a week earlier she had come home from work to discover the blinking red light on her answering machine. The message was terse. A man’s voice stated that Adam was seen in Thessaloniki in August. He left no name and no contact information, but after two frustrating months of fruitless phone calls, unanswered letters, and pleas to State Department employees in a half-dozen countries, the message was the first news of Adam since he disappeared.
A hastily booked plane ticket later, Clara was walking amid the ancient city’s sun-bleached buildings set against the electric-blue Aegean Sea.
Yet for three days door after door shut in Clara’s face. Smiles vanished and mouths closed every time she mentioned Adam’s name, so she was shocked when Arion Tsakalidis, a Romanian language professor from Aristotle University, had contacted her and asked to meet.
Clara chose the road to the left. As she passed by the old building, she glanced up at the once-white façade, grey now from years of dirt and city grime. The building seemed abandoned, but something about it sent a chill up her spine. She wondered what it had been used for.
A flicker caught her eye from one of the shadow-draped windows on the second floor, and a whispered voice drifted down, saying words too low to understand. Her heart all but stopped. Clara gazed at the window, expecting to find some dark figure standing there, only to watch a pigeon emerge to strut along the sill. She looked around, embarrassed for letting her imagination get the best of her. Still, she doubled her pace.
When Clara finally reached the campus of the university, a wave of relief washed over her. Gone were the narrow, clogged streets and noise of the city; she stared now at the open, manicured lawns and broad walkways of a modern university.
Thanks to Adam she knew a lot about universities. Memories came to her of bringing him dinner in his office when he stayed late grading exams, of walking through the fall leaves holding hands, of picnics on the lawn. The corners of her mouth turned up in a faint smile. She thought she had found someone she could spend the rest of her life with.
Professor Tsakalidis’ office was on the second floor of a nondescript building that housed the Department of Romance Languages. She almost missed it. Adam always made a big deal about how his office was in the only building that predated the university. That would be difficult to do in a country like Greece.
A lanky man with round glasses perched on the end of his nose answered the door when she knocked.
“Professor Tsakalidis?” she asked.
He smiled. “You must be Clara MacIntosh.”
“It’s good to meet you face-to-face.” She held out her hand, which he took.
“And you as well. Please, come in. Pardon the mess.”
Stacks of books took up most of the space on the floor of his office. A computer screen provided the only light in the room apart from the narrow slits of sunlight seeping through the blinds. A coffee cup occupied the only spot on the desk clear of papers.
It could have been Adam’s office.
Clara sat in the chair Professor Tsakalidis gestured toward. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”
He walked behind his desk and opened the blinds to allow the sun into the room. “It is the least I could do, given the circumstances.”
Clara brushed a lock of hair behind her ear and cleared her throat. “That’s what I’m hoping you can help me with, Professor Tsakalidis.”
“Please, call me Arion.”
“Arion then. The problem is that I don’t know what circumstances you mean, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who will talk to me. Adam was supposed to be on sabbatical in Budapest. He was scheduled to come back to the States in July, but he never did. I only just learned he was in Thessaloniki in August, but I can’t imagine what he was doing here. I haven’t had any contact with him in months. No one has.”
“His family must be worried sick.”
“He doesn’t have any family. Just me.”
“You’ve been together a while?”
She blushed. “We’re not together, not anymore, but we’ve stayed friends. It just didn’t … We weren’t …”
It was Arion’s turn to blush. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep.”
“No. It’s okay. I just want to find him.”
Arion sighed. “I’m afraid that may be difficult.”
“Why?” Clara asked.
He drew his mouth into a grim line. “Because Dr. Mire may have been involved in a murder.”
If there had been anything in Clara’s stomach, she would have had to reach for the nearest trash can. “Murder?”
“A colleague in the history department, Marina Dimitriou, was stabbed to death in her office. Dr. Mire was the last person seen with her. He ran from the police when they tried to question him.”
Clara frowned. “He would never do something like that.”
Arion shrugged. “I wasn’t there, but multiple eyewitnesses have all told the same story.”
“I still don’t understand. Where is he? Was he arrested? Is he rotting in some jail somewhere waiting for trial?”
“What do you mean?”
“The details are little hazy. I can tell you that Dr. Mire was arrested by the local authorities, but then the Hellenic Police took him into their custody.”
“The Hellenic Police?”
“Like your FBI.”
“So do they have him?”
Arion shook his head. “The car he was in was ambushed. The two Hellenic Police with him were shot and killed.”
“Nowhere to be found. He simply vanished.”
Clara was silent for a moment, struggling to retain her composure. “Do you know why he was here?”
The professor pursed his lips. “The reason others have been reluctant to talk to you is that they are afraid of the consequences. I myself am
taking a risk by meeting with you.”
“So why are you meeting with me?”
“After having come all this way, you deserve to know the truth, or at least as much as we can piece together.”
“What is the truth?”
He leaned closer. “I think Dr. Mire stumbled upon something dangerous.”
“Something people were willing to kill over?”
“You don’t believe he murdered your colleague.”
“But whoever killed her is trying to kill Adam, too.”
“If they have not already succeeded.”
Clara bit her lip.
He placed a hand on top of hers. “I’m sorry. I know it’s hard to hear, but I don’t want to give you false hope.”
“Do you have any idea what this ‘something dangerous’ might be?” she asked.
Arion opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a stack of loose papers. He handed them to Clara. “A few weeks before Dr. Mire’s visit, Marina showed me something, a handwritten journal. She said a friend had sent it to her, but it was all in Romanian. She asked me to translate part of it.”
Clara glanced through the pages of neat, precise handwriting. Arion had translated it into English. “What does it have to do with Adam?”
“Marina told me the day before she was killed that she wanted a colleague who was visiting from the States to look at it as well. I can only assume she meant Dr. Mire.”
“That still doesn’t explain why he was here to begin with.”
“Maybe Marina contacted him about the journal, wanting him to see it.”
“Who did the journal belong to?”
“A Romanian army officer during World War II.”
“Allied with the Nazis? Yes, it was, but the entries that filled this journal, they weren’t about the war. They were about monsters.”
“Monsters? Like from the movies?”
“From what I could understand.”
Clara placed a hand on her temple. “Couldn’t he have been talking about the war, though? After all, there were a lot of people who acted like monsters.”
Arion shook his head. “That’s the curious part. I didn’t get the sense it was meant to be metaphorical. ‘Monster’ is my translation, but the Romanian word he chose to use was bală.” He pointed to a line on one of the pages spread out in front of Clara. “The word has several other meanings, though, ones steeped in the folklore of this part of the world.”
“And these other meanings? What are they?”
He didn’t answer. His gaze went to a small red dot dancing across the papers strewn over his desk. It reminded Clara of the inane laser pointer that Adam had used at one time in his lectures until she laughed at him and told him his students weren’t cats. But then an alarm went off inside her brain.
The little red dot wasn’t a pointer.
It was a target.
Arion turned toward the window as Clara shouted for him to stop. The glass exploded, and he lurched backward onto the desk, sending a flurry of papers into the air. A bright red flower of blood bloomed across his chest. His head lolled to one side, his unseeing gaze falling on her, his eyes already beginning to glaze over.