A paranormal detective investigates the curious case of two million euros mysteriously disappearing from the Kosovo treasury. Does the conspiracy even include Santa?
Being a paranormal detective is not as fun as it sounds. Most of the time you come to the realization that there was no magic involved in the crime being committed, that it was just some clever ruse, typically involving technology, or some Ocean’s Eleven style misdirection. This time was different though.
The disappearance of two million euros from the Kosovo Treasury brought in all kinds of experts, from Sherlock Holmes types to human lie detectors, all the way through to cybersecurity experts. But no matter who it was, they all came to the same conclusion: The money seemed to have just disappeared in a puff of smoke.
“It’s as if it was done by some kind of magic,” one high-ranking government official declared. And that’s how, after a row of witch doctors, old crones, shamans and the like, they came knocking at my door.
“You’re our last hope,” said the same government official. “What d’ya say? Will you help us?” He was tall, an impressive one metre eighty-three. The kind of guy who exudes authority and charisma just through his smile and the look in his puppy dog eyes.
It’s not like I didn’t have my doubts. Was I the right person for the job? After all, I was still suffering from a similar kind of robbery. Every month, over a period of two years, my bank account had slowly shrunk until I calculated that I was missing a total of 4,400 euros: services rendered, invoices paid, but money missing. All of the signs indicated that the treasury job used some of the same magic techniques.
Now, it was personal. I took the case not only because I was starving due to the post-pandemic economic downturn – the parliament sure was taking its time to approve the much promised COVID-19 economic recovery package – but because I believed that the investigation might reveal some fresh clues that would help me recover my own missing money.
“Ah, one more thing,” said the tall government official, “keep this on the down-low. No one needs to know of your involvement. You report directly to me.”
This request was not unusual in my line of work and I was used to keeping a low profile. People are embarrassed to employ a paranormal investigator, and cases usually involve a family drama that people, understandably, prefer to keep quiet. There’s always some old fart who doesn’t want his sisters to know he’s gathering evidence in the afterlife to scam them out of their inheritance.
I am not particularly proud of the sorts of cases I take – the sadness of them all – but a guy’s gotta eat, and I can’t say I wasn’t flattered to be on a secret mission from the government. I always saw myself in some kind of James Bond role, this one just involved a bit of magic.
My first step involved getting to know who I’m dealing with. Maybe it was all one big misunderstanding – the guy they arrested claimed to be innocent. Heck, even I wonder if he really knew how to create the usernames and passwords required to do the job. Everybody knows that many of the people working for the government nowadays got their jobs through political connections.
This part, at least, is no big secret, check anywhere, from the lowest levels of administration all the way to the diplomatic corps, not to mention board members at publicly owned companies. As my auntie says: “The most efficient thing they know how to do is to slowly drain our taxes while slowly extending their lunch and coffee breaks.”
I think that’s a bit harsh, especially considering my aunt suffers from frequent possessions by a djinn who, under the pretext of speaking the truth, spews all kinds of nonsense through her mouth.
I do pity the poor Brits and Americans, though. All that money and time and energy spent trying to set up proper systems and procedures, all those memos and reports – tidy documents piling up trying to implement transparency and fairness. The whole time they were forgetting the magical nature of this land, and that the best spells are chanted and can’t be contained by mere paperwork.
Nonetheless, I myself tried to deploy the humble piece of paper in the next stage of my investigation. I wrote a stern official letter to the company that the two million had been transferred to. After all, ‘the LDA Group’ was a very professional sounding name, and I had to ascertain if perhaps the Government had got it wrong.
It would not be the first time they messed something up because of someone else’s trickery – or, more likely, the incompetence of one of those nepotistic appointees. Just look at all the international agreements and documents they signed without reading, only to return home claiming they won’t implement this or that because they were deceived.
The same magic tricks also seemed to take place at publicly owned companies – whatever profit they turn goes to paying some breach of contract to some corporation they didn’t even need to do business with in the first place. Note to self: Put them in touch with my good old friend Doc F. Deals with the Devil are his specialty, and if he could tell you one thing it’s that contracts are binding, even in Hell. Besa, the given word, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be as obligatory, not even here on Earth.
The fact that the LDA Group didn’t respond to my letter didn’t surprise me, but it sure got me worried. Two of its founders were missing, which is weird for a construction company.
Kosovo is the most fertile ground for erecting new buildings, since its architecture is based not on urbanism but libertarian economics. Plus, you never know when the Kosovo Privatisation Agency might come up with some surprise auction: If you’re two businessmen in construction, you’d want to be there. I mean, I wish I could spare €3.75 per acre for a decent plot of land.
I could sense some strong magic in the works. Two businessmen would not evaporate just like that, especially not with all the money to be milked from the Government.
I figured I’d check in with some of my acquaintances from the old days, a couple of former street urchins who were now respectable businessmen. You’d barely recognize them behind their thick sunglasses, their expensive clothes, the refined way they walked, the luxurious cars they drove…
We used to practice the same kind of magic tricks on the streets, until my idealist naivete set me in pursuit of different goals. In a different future, perhaps, I would’ve been one of the partners in their firm. It would’ve been hard work, but what isn’t nowadays?
I entered through the revolving door, and walked through the spacious lobby with my arms outstretched to greet my old friend Zhileti (the razorblade). Back then if he caught you skimming off the top, it was more than just his unsettling stare that would cut you, but these days they all go by their proper, respectable names.
Before I could greet Zhileti, a loud bang came from the main gates. “Everyone freeze! This is the police!”
I stood still with my arms open, like that statue of Jesus in Rio. Zhileti gave me one of his old looks, as if I’d brought the evil eye upon them, as if the mësysh that had just befallen them was all my fault.
“Everyone against the wall!”
I closed my eyes, trying to avoid Zhileti’s accusatory gaze. Boots marched behind me, and loud yelling filled the air. Finding myself in the middle of a police raid was the last thing on my agenda, and even worse, I might be confused for one of Zhileti’s associates.
“Shut up. No talking. Eyes front.”
It was as though just by thinking about the success of my old friends, and their hard work, and the wealth they had accumulated, I had brought trouble upon them. I should’ve known better. I should’ve taken precautions. Against the evil eye, against everything.
And then, Magic. Again. This time in the form of a loud cell phone ringing.
“Yes, sir. Yes. Yes. Affirmative. Yes, sir. Understood.”
The handcuffs around my wrists were removed as swiftly as they were applied. When I opened my eyes, the SWAT team was already leaving.
“It’s your lucky day, you evil-eye-invoking bastard,” said Zhileti as he massaged his wrist where the cold metal of the handcuffs had been just seconds prior. “It’s the Prime Minister. He just disbanded the Anti-Corruption Task Force. Whatever business brought you here, it’s over now.”
This was some strong magic indeed. How could I even compete with forces of this magnitude? I started to run out of ideas, so I did what any paranormal detective of sound mind does – I went to consult and seek help from one of my old mentors.
It was not difficult to find the Great Burdushi. If you expected to find him behind bars, lounging cosily in his jail cell, you’d be disappointed. He was back, enjoying the comforts of freedom until proven guilty. On top of that, he was even a serious pretender for the Nobel Prize – truly some great magic! An act of seamless escapism that not even Houdini could muster.
I dreaded the awkwardness of the encounter, especially since I was the one who initially helped put him in jail. But desperate times… you know.
“Look who it is. My arch-enemy,” Burdushi said from the comforts of his Prishtina-branch office – despite the economic downturn the Magic business seemed to be booming. He put down the phone that was illuminating his face, stood up from his mahogany desk, and stepped closer to me. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
If anyone knew anything about the magical nature of money it would be him. It was through magic that he had been able to manipulate people into giving him around a million euros over the years.
It was not the first time he had been charged with fraud and the use of Magic in unauthorized medical practices, but it was the first time he had been sent to jail for it, albeit briefly. The investigations and the court procedures were still ongoing, but he didn’t seem troubled by it one bit.
“What’s with the weird look?” he said. “You never seen a man fresh out of jail before? Burgu është për burra!”
True, I could think of many great men currently doing jail time, at home and abroad. Some had amazing magical powers, others were just ordinary men, some had links to politics, others were just free agents of the market economy, some had loud and flamboyant tendencies, while others were keeping low profiles. Regardless, none were anything like the Great Burdushi.
“You must be desperate to have come asking for my help.” And that’s how good he was, able to read my mind without me even saying a word. Some people find it creepy.
“You can’t be this naive, can you?” Burdushi asked. “I always said your honesty and idealism will be the end of you. And that end seems closer than you realize…”
Was he insinuating that the people who hired me might be the ones hoping for my failure? Was it an inside job? Are they trying to cover something up? How deep does this conspiracy go?
“You’ve begun to lose your way. You’re forgetting your readings. About the source of all this magic. About the nature of reality.”
Perhaps he was right. When’s the last time I read the philosophers? It’s all in there, from Plato’s cave all the way to Baudrillard: It’s all a simulacrum, this appearance of the world we live in – that’s what makes all this magic possible, especially economic magic. From the way the government works all the way to how we live our lives… and it’s a bad simulacrum at best.
“Don’t get carried away now. Focus. Follow the money.”
“I am,” I said, speaking for the first time.
“Not the two million, dummy. The other one. The heist. The safe.”
Of course. How could I not see the pattern? How could I not make the crucial connection? It happened just a day or two later! The robbery of the safe from the Veterinary Institute!
And what about all the other heists? From banks to ATMs, no connection is too small, no coincidence too insignificant. Suddenly it all became clear. Everything made sense. The pattern had come together, and now I saw the full picture. In the frenzy caused by my sudden lucidity of vision, I left in a hurry. There was too much to be done.
“Bring me some cookies next time, you jackass. Where are your manners?”
I walked the Prishtina streets in a hurried step. The sun had now set, and festive lights illuminated the boulevard. I kept dodging the crowds, rushing to get home before the 7 p.m. curfew.
Despite the biting cold, people took leisurely steps. Cafes were full and bustling with patrons breathing into each other’s mouths as they talked and laughed and hugged and kissed. No masks, no worries, just happiness filling the same air as the virus. On the street, people’s masks warmed their faces from the biting wind.
A perfect simulacrum, I thought, albeit an inverted one, but one full of magic nonetheless. Maybe it was the twinkling lights on the tree, or the refractions of light on the frozen surfaces, or the fact that Santa Claus was coming my way, but there was magic in the air. And Santa kept coming closer.
“Here,” he said as he handed me a thick envelope. “Count it. It’s all in there – your missing 4.4, and a little extra something, for being a good sport about it.”
And it was true. My mysteriously missing 4,400 euros were right there, and a considerable bonus.
“You came quite close, almost lifted the whole veil. My friends up top send their best wishes. Happy holidays!”