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Story Excerpt

The Barguzin Sable
by Sam Wiebe

Art from 123RF

“You know I don’t ask you for much, David,” my adoptive mother said. Never a good sign when she started calling in markers. “The Kozaks up the street need a hand with some detective work.”

She said this as if it were any other household chore, like steadying a ladder while her neighbors cleaned out their gutters. The car’s making that noise again. And by the way, could you be a dear and locate a missing person or two?

Wakeland and Chen Investigations had all the work a two-person agency could want. My first day off after a ten-day stretch, and I wasn’t inclined to give it up. I’d just uncapped a bottle of Buffalo Trace and was flipping through my Apple TV.

“I’m pretty busy, Ma,” I told her. “There’s a show on the History Channel about ancient astronauts, how they maybe helped write the Constitution.”

“That stuff is utter nonsense, David.”

“Probably so, but I’d like to hear them out.”

As a police widow who adopted her hippie sister’s child, Agnes Wakeland was not one for jokes.

“You get over there right now,” she said. “Ronny Kozak is cleaning up all by himself. He lost his mother, for Pete’s sake.”

“Lost how?” I asked, already putting the stopper in the Buffalo Trace.

“The police said it was a robbery, a—what do you call it?—home invasion. Poor Carol Grace got in the way.”

v v v

The Kozak home was on West Twenty-First, a block from my mother’s house on Laurel Street. The fourth Saturday of every month, Carol Grace Kozak would make perogies and holubtsi for the luncheon at the Ukrainian Church. The warm smells of starch and cabbage would permeate the block. It smelled like home. Not mine, but as someone who spends most of his life on the outside looking in, I’d always taken comfort from that smell.

Like his mother, Ronny Kozak was stout, fair-haired, and had a perpetual sheen of sweat on his forehead. They both chain-smoked Sobranies and preferred Crown Royal over clear spirits. Unlike his mother, Ronny had sleeved out his arms with tattoos of barbed wire and three-barred crosses, logos for Pantera and Danzig. His latest addition, across his left bicep, read One Day at a Damn Time.

Ronny was seven years older than me. I’d once seen him knock a kid’s teeth out for insulting his sister Melanie. Teeth as in plural—one skittered out during the pull-apart brawl, the other spat into the hand of the parent who stopped the fight.

The door of the house was open. Ronny was on his knees in the middle of the living room, scrubbing the carpet and sobbing. Ropes of mucous joined the suds on the pink shag.

“Hey, Ronny,” I said gently, from the doorway.

He wiped his face on the front of his shirt and snorted. “Dave. Your mom said you’d be over.”

“What happened?”

Last Thursday afternoon Carol Grace had been home alone. Ronny, who had moved back into his old bedroom after his second DUI, was at the Hastings Park Racecourse. “Just to have coffee with the guys and go over the sheet for the Breeder’s Cup.”

From what the police told him, a very brief struggle had occurred in the living room. Carol Grace had been struck once with a blunt object. She’d fallen, clipping the glass coffee table on the way down. Subdural hematoma.

“Least it was quick,” Ronny said.

He told me this while he smoked, leaning against the wall, as I took a turn scrubbing at the bloodstain. Between the dust and suds and the carpet’s salmon color, it was hard to know if I was making any headway.

Squirting more stain remover onto the brush, I asked him what the killer had taken.

“Some jewelry and Mom’s sable. I wrote down a list for the cops.”

“Give me a copy. I’ll try the pawn shops.”

“The jewelry doesn’t matter,” Ronny said. “The coat, though. That was her treasure. Smuggled out of the Old Country way back when. Genuine Barguzin sable. Those go for forty or fifty grand. Sometimes more.”

He drew on his Sobranie, lost in thought.

“How’s Melanie taking this?” I asked.

“You know Mel. She and Mom weren’t close.”

I nodded. “Did Carol Grace have any enemies?”

“Not a one, Dave.”

I worked at the carpet. Ronny Kozak gave a sharp, heartsick moan, and started bawling again.

“Dave, you got to find that coat,” he said. “It’s all we have of her. And the person who killed her took it.”


The Kozak murder had fallen to the new guy in Homicide. Nik Nair didn’t smoke or drink, which made plying him for information difficult. He also didn’t melt at the dulcet sound of my voice.

But where there’s a will, there’s usually a vice. Nair’s was for fine dining. On a cop’s schedule, with a pandemic raging on, indulging the palate was difficult. I told him I’d meet him after his shift, with the best French meal in town. That was fine by him.

In the meantime, I hit the pawn shops. Pat Trevino was busy behind the counter at Pat’s Gold ’N Pawn, showing a teenage customer an array of used cell phones. I browsed the garden tools until the teen had made her choice.

“Good to see you, Dave,” Pat said. Going on seventy, he’d been running the shop since my father had patrolled the Commercial Drive beat. The neighborhood had grown up around him, but Pat and his cluttered cubbyhole remained, a thumb in the eye of the gentrification crowd.

“What do you know about Barguzin sable?” I asked.

Pat whistled beneath his mask. “Sable’s not something you want to mess with, not unless you got stars tattooed on your shoulders. Like that movie with Viggo Whatshislastname. Morganstern.”

“You haven’t seen any furs recently?”

Pat pointed at a Metallica T-shirt and a replica Canucks jersey hanging behind the counter. “You want, search my extensive clothing section.”

“Who knows about this stuff?” I asked.

Pat scratched his ear, then immediately slapped the dispenser of hand sanitizer. He rubbed his palms together.

“Furriers are weird folks, Dave. Their clients are the super elite. You got fifteen, twenty grand to blow on a used Barguzin sable, you prob’ly got forty to shell out for a new one.”

“They really go for that much?”

Pat shrugged. “You can’t expect common sense from folks who wear weasel.”


“A sable is a marten, not a weasel,” Leda Yuan said with irritation. She stood on the sidewalk at a distance from me, smoking a thin black cigar. Her narrow Robson Street shopfront was closed while she was outside. Fiftyish, tall and slender, with a hint of the English school system in her voice, Leda was a one-woman business.

“A fur isn’t something you can toss into a garment bag for twenty years and expect it to hold its value,” she said. “They need to be stored correctly. Maintained. The qualities that make a good sable make it somewhat delicate.”

“Is it true they can go for north of fifty grand?”

Leda smiled at my naiveté. “Mr. Wakeland, a true Barguzin sable can fetch several times that.”

“For a skin.”

“For the right skin. The Russian government controls the sable trade, maintaining a virtual monopoly. It’s always been so. In pre-Revolutionary Russia, only the Czar and Czarina could wear sable.”

“So someone buying this today, it’s kind of a form of dress-up.”

If we’d been closer, no doubt she would have exhaled cigar smoke in my face. “You must have been told before that you can be rather annoying.”

“Lots, but can’t listen to your critics. You don’t have a Barguzin sable in stock?”

“Nobody in Vancouver does.”

“Say one became available. You’d be the person to contact?”

“I’d be at the top of a very exclusive list,” Leda said.


At seven o’clock I drove one of the Wakeland and Chen work vans to the police lot under the Cambie Bridge. When Nik Nair appeared in his civilian clothes, I waved him over. He sat in the passenger’s seat while I passed him the warming dishes from St. Lawrence.

“Vol-au-vent aux champignons to start,” I said. “Cuisse de lapin braisé with Hunter sauce. Sugar pie for dessert.”

“This is better than SkipTheDishes,” Nair said, digging in. “The P.I. thing doesn’t pan out, you could be a food driver.”

As he ate, I quizzed him about Carol Grace Kozak’s homicide. I was hoping for a clue. A large, multi-stranded, neon-lit clue, like the Christmas decorations already going up in mid November. No luck. The lightweight metal object Carol Grace had been struck with was still unidentified.

“Going off the carpet fibers,” Nair said between bites, “the scuffle happened first. She hit the ground, then the killer went upstairs for the jewels.”

“And the sable,” I said.

“Right. There’s no receipt or anything for that, so it’s hard to know its value. Other than the sentimental kind.”

“How’d the killer get inside?” I asked.

“Front door. No forced entry, so either she let him in or left it unlocked. Her son says she did that sometimes.”

“Used to be that kind of neighborhood. So no break-in, and the killer went straight to the bedroom?”

“From what I can tell. They didn’t leave breadcrumbs.”

“The blow that killed Mrs. Kozak,” I said. “Tall person, short, strong? How hard did they swing?”

“Hard enough.” Nair disposed of the entrée and moved on to the pie. “She was struck on the crown of the head, so the killer must’ve been tall. Taller than her, in any case. You knew the lady, huh?”

“My mother’s neighbor,” I said.

“Her son’s had his problems.”

“Ronny’s a recovering alcoholic.”

“So no doubt he knows a few skells.”

Nair forked a piece of pie into his mouth and made an orgasmic face. “The crust on this. Anyway, we didn’t get much out of the daughter, Melanie. Not a real warm relationship. You know what their beef was about?”

“Her sex life,” I said.

“What aspect?”

“Her mother didn’t like her having one.”

Nair nodded. “I got one of those too. Mom and Dad think I’m saving it for marriage.”

“Hard having parents,” I said.

I was thinking of Melanie Kozak, trying to remember how tall she was. Six feet? Six one? Tall enough to swing something down on her mother’s head. . . .

Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2024 The Barguzin Sable by Sam Wiebe

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