Ilze Berzins


Looking much like refugees from a noir crime movie, two dudes huddled close together on a café patio in central Riga. The same question ping-ponged between them: where is Vika? They both wanted an answer, but for different reasons.  

The men had locked eyes on each other, waiting to see who would blink first. Eggy finally did and had even considered walking away. But he just couldn’t. This guy (who had introduced himself as Alex) had important information. He knew about Vika’s gold Rolex and there could be more to get out of him. Better to refresh his coffee and try to build some rapport.

Eggy sucked in some smoke and looked around. “By the way, do you happen to know the owner of this place?”

Alex nodded. “Sure, but what does he have to do with your lady friend?”

“Well…” Eggy paused. Wondered how much he should disclose. If he gave a little something maybe this Alex would open up a bit more.

“I believe Misha was the last person to see Vika before she went missing. If we  find him we might find our lady.”

Alex gave Eggy a long pensive look. Then he motioned to the waiter who was adjusting the heat lamp.

“We’d like some fresh coffee. And we have a question for the owner.”

Eggy counted the seconds of silence. Four. Five.

“Coffee coming right up,” the waiter finally replied, turning away.

Alex frowned and repeated in a louder voice. “Please ask Misha to come over to our table. We have a business question.”

The waiter reddened. “Sorry. I’m new here,” he mumbled. “I’ll ask the bartender to speak with you.”

Moments later the waiter was back with the coffee but the bartender was unavailable.

Alex and Eggy looked at each other as if they were on the same team—which they were when it came to Misha. Eggy snorted while Alex gave a brief bark of laughter. Someone was clearly covering up something. A new question arose: where is Misha?   

For the time being, there wasn’t much they could do about Misha. Eggy had run out of cigarettes and was now bumming from Alex—not a bad thing since it was  great way to get close to someone.

They sat in silence for a few beats, smoking away, sipping on coffee and staring into space—until they spotted a stray dog which was shyly approaching their table. Alex smiled. He took the unused cream for the coffee and poured it into his saucer. He placed the saucer carefully down near his chair and made a soft coaxing sound with his lips. The dog lapped up the cream and wandered off. But not far. Eggy could see him curled up just outside the patio. Waiting?

Alex was still smiling when he turned to Eggy. “ I just love dogs. I have two myself. Now, getting back to our conversation, do you think your friend, Mrs Zito, has been honest with you?”

Eggy’s eyes widened. He thought for a moment. “Well, she’s a bit naïve, of course but I think she’s been pretty open with me.”

It was Alex’s turn to let out a derisive snort. “Naïve? Really? With a husband like New York mob boss Bernie?”

Eggy sat up in his chair. He had wondered about Vika’s husband.

“She must have been abused. They talk about battered woman’s syndrome or something like that. It must have been horrific.”

Alex couldn’t hold back laughter. “You’re the one who is naïve. She had a pretty luxurious lifestyle. Did she tell you why she had come to Latvia?”

Eggy frowned. This was confusing. He wasn’t going to tell Alex about his plans to rip her off. But things had certainly changed.

“Well, her mother is Latvian. She must have been looking for her roots, her ancestors—something like that.”

Alex shook his head. “Not true, my friend. She was a mule. Delivering secret documents from Bernie to our own crime boss, Juris Lapins. Now listen. This is interesting. Some people, and I won’t mention names, say that there was stuff missing from the packet of documents Mrs Zito had given to the police. And you know what was missing?”

Eggy had been listening in stunned silence. Was his friend Vika a criminal?

“What?” he croaked. “What was missing?”

Alex gave a sardonic half smile. “The password to the bitcoin account.”


A numbness sloshed through Eggy’s thoughts. What the hell is bitcoins? He didn’t say anything. Didn’t want to look like an ignoramus.

Alex continued. “So we just have to find her and ask her for the password. The reason she’s not in jail is because she cooperated with the police. Which is a great opportunity for us. We need that password.”

And what then? Eggy thought but didn’t say.

“Listen, I’m going to follow up with Misha. I’ll do some digging around and I’ll let you know what I find. Here’s my cell number. And let me take yours.”

Eggy hesitated. Playing for time, he asked Alex for a fresh cigarette. Should he walk away from all this? Alex was clearly a criminal. And what about Vika? How well did he really know her? He sifted quickly through his memories of Vika—her gusto, her vitality. She had made everything a celebration and had helped him when his father was ill.

Exhaling a large plume of smoke, Eggy  made an effort to shrug his doubts aside as Alex broke into his thoughts by offering his phone number. Eggy reluctantly followed suit.

* * *

Eggy couldn’t think straight. He needed to clear his head. How had he become involved with this Alex? And what was this bitcoin stuff?  Leaving Sam’s patio he just walked. Without much purpose. Walking always helped him think and calmed him. He couldn’t go home. He didn’t want this Alex following him again and finding out where he lived.

Earlier that day, he had decided to go to Vika’s apartment house. Perhaps the concierge knew something. Had seen something. But now he didn’t dare. The strange thing was that he again felt as if he was being followed. Several times he had looked back over his shoulder but saw no one suspicious.

To distract himself he glanced into shop windows as he marched along, his long legs serving him well. Before crossing Barona Street, he suddenly stopped. A familiar figure was coming towards him. It was Irena, Vika’s mother. Eggy hailed her. He had met Irena at his father’s memorial service and they had chatted amicably.

Irena looked puzzled for a moment but it quickly became clear to her who Eggy was. He seemed to be Vika’s only friend in Riga. She liked him but, under these circumstances, she didn’t trust anyone.

Irena granted Eggy the smallest of smiles. “It’s nice to see you,” she said politely.

Eggy was eager for news. “I’ve been looking for Vika. We speak on the phone regularly but now I can’t reach her. Where is she?”

Irena blinked at him. “She’s okay,” is all she had to say.

Eggy realized that Vika’s mother was being cautious. Regretfully he had to accept that.

“Please have her call me. I have some important news for her.”

Irena nodded, turned away and continued on her journey.

Eggy gnawed on his lower lip. She doesn’t trust me. For some reason this really troubled him. He was still mourning the death of his father and Irena had been so kind to him at the service. Had he lost her friendship?

He stopped at a corner store to buy cigarettes. Leaving the store, his eyes were caught by something familiar. It was the stray dog from the patio. Had the dog been following him? Was he waiting for him? Eggy had nothing against dogs. Growing up, his family had a cat. There had been no way to keep a dog in a small fifth floor apartment.

Eggy didn’t speak to the dog. Didn’t reach out a hand to pet him. There were many strays in Riga. There was a time people could no longer afford to keep their dogs and abandoned them out on the streets. Eggy sighed. How cruel life was. Sadly, not much had changed since the first chaotic years of Latvia’s second independence.

He lit up a cigarette and continued strolling aimlessly. He’d go to Vermane’s Park. Just sit on a bench and mull over all he’d heard from Alex. He’d go over his encounter with Irena and try to make sense of it all. But he was hungry. Luckily there were many decent eateries in central Riga. He stopped in at the Lido on Elizabetes Street and bought pork cutlets and potato salad to go.

Exiting the restaurant, what did he find? Yes, it was the familiar black and white patio dog.  This time Eggy couldn’t hide his smile. Could this be Fate?  

He approached, bent down and held out his hand to be sniffed.

In a soft voice he spoke to the dog. “Good boy! I think I’ll call you Sam.” 

The dog knew he had found a master. His tail started to wag and Eggy was glad that he had bought a double order of cutlets.