By Iain Muir
Nightwatch created by Jeff Williams
Developed by Jeff Williams and Robert Moriyama
Vrchni Inspektor Frantisek Capek glared at the man seated across the desk from him. It was close to eight in the evening, the last three days had not been good to Franta Capek, and the last thing he needed was this. His head ached, and he was dying for a cigarette. He chewed the end of his pen instead. The patches helped with the cravings, but were nowhere near as satisfying. Franta often did not know what to do with his hands, these days, and some of his colleagues claimed they could not understand him if he did not have something hanging from the corner of his mouth. Smart arses, the lot of them! Franta reached into his desk for the bottle of painkillers he kept there, and favoured his visitor with another glower. The man’s neatly creased tan suit only made Franta more aware that his own grey suit had more wrinkles than elephant-hide, and that there was a ring of grime around the collar of his blue shirt. Well, this Amerikanski had not been at work for the last seventy-two hours solid, had he? Oh no: he’d been staying in a five star hotel with scented sheets and room service, the smug bastard. Franta took the pen from his mouth with his left hand as his right popped the top of the pill bottle with the ease of long practice, and addressed his visitor.
“I am sorry, Doctor,” he said, making the title almost a sneer, “but I do not see what involvement your institute can have in this matter.”
Simon Litchfield cleared his throat, leaning forward slightly as he
spoke. “Inspektor, you must understand
that we have an interest in the success of the peace talks going on in
“As has half of the world, Doctor,” interrupted Capek. “I have already had visits today from
Interpol, the FBI, Mossad, and an oh-so-polite Angielski from MI5. I will tell you what I told them: these
murders are a matter for the Criminal Division of the
Litchfield blinked. “What makes you think I’m from the CIA?” he asked.
“Please, Doctor, do not insult my intelligence. You arrived in Praha eight days ago aboard a military aircraft which claims to belong to a ‘non-governmental organisation’ dedicated to ‘strategic studies.’ You are accompanying an Arab named Nabil Safian and a woman named Wilcox, who are delegates to the peace talks, but no one quite seems to know how or why they were invited. You yourself claim to be a civil engineer, yet here you sit in my office trying to involve yourself in the investigation of the deaths of two delegates to the peace talks. What else could you be but a spook?”
Simon pursed his lips. “When you put it that way,” he said, “I can see how that would be the conclusion to which you would come. All I can do is assure you that I am not with the American military, nor any of my country’s intelligence services. I am a concerned member of the global community attempting to help bring a halt to a string of suspicious deaths…”
“You call two deaths a ‘string’?” asked Franta contemptuously.
“Not at all, but there have been at least four deaths following the same pattern, Inspektor.”
“What? Are you telling me that there are more dead? And that the police have not been informed?”
Litchfield smiled. “Not at all, Inspector. Merely that you do not have all of the pieces of the puzzle. The deaths of which I speak occurred in the last few weeks, but are not directly tied to the peace talks. On June 15th, a young Syrian backpacker named Abul Nazir was found dead in his hostel. He had been bludgeoned to death with a blunt instrument while he kneeled for his evening prayers. Your colleagues wrote it off as a robbery gone badly, even though he still had several thousand korona in his wallet.”
“On June 27th, the body of a still-unidentified man of
middle-eastern appearance was pulled out of the Vitava just below the
Franta Capek showed his identification to the uniformed Strazmistr standing at the door of room 1516. The officer looked from the photo on the ID to the man carrying it. The man in the photograph had black hair, and rather more of it, and the bristling moustache was black, not iron grey. The man handed the ID back with a nod, and Capek pushed past him. It was not the first time he had been called to the Marriott to look into a death, but normally they were fairly simple to decipher: a tourist overdosing on heroin, over-indulging in absinthe, or killed by the girl (or boy) they had met in a bar for the meagre cash that they had on them. He did not think it would be so easy this time. He could probably rule out the prostitute angle for a start.
As he entered the room, he looked around, carefully observing what he could of the scene around the scene-of-crime technicians swarming everywhere, photographing, cataloguing, and bagging various and sundry items from around the room. It was a standard hotel room: a small lounge area with a settee and a single chair both focussed on the television in one corner, a double bed dominating the room, a small shower and bath cubicle off to one side. The bed currently had a single occupant, and it was fairly obvious that he was not asleep. A bearded man lay on his back on top of the covers, which had not yet been turned down for the night. He looked terrified, or at least the one side of his face not caved in by a crushing blow did. A reddish stain spread from the side of the man’s head across the yellow bedspread, turning it a ruddy brown. A tall, thin man in a cheap blue suit stood next to the bed, writing in a note-pad. He looked up as Capek entered the room and moved towards him.
“What have we got, Drobl?” asked Capek.
Vrchni Strazmistr Viktor Drobl consulted his notepad. “Mahmoud Ali bin Daoud, Inspektor, one of the European Jihad delegates to the middle-east peace talks. Last seen alive about 17.30 this evening when he retired to his room for evening prayers. His body was found by housekeeping at 19.00 when they came to turn down the covers. The coroner has not arrived yet, but between you and me I would say the cause of death was standard blunt force trauma.”
“What, just because half of his head’s caved in, you mean?” asked Capek, leaning forward to peer at the body. “Anyone see anything unusual? People hanging about in the corridors, things like that?”
The sergeant consulted his notebook again. “Nothing so far, Inspektor. We’re interviewing hotel staff at the moment. The last person to see him alive appears to have been one of the cleaning staff, who says that he came up in the elevator about five thirty and went straight to his room.”
Capek took a pen out of his pocket and used it to open the mini-bar. Small bottles rattled in their place, but none appeared to have been opened. Well, the victim was a Moslem. Capek straightened up.
“Who has access to this floor?” he asked.
The oracular notebook was once more consulted. “European Jihad delegates and hotel staff only. Elevator access is controlled by the room key cards; unless you have one keyed to this floor you can’t even program the elevator to stop here. The victim’s key card was found on the night stand over there.” Drobl indicated with his pen. Evidently the card had already been collected in evidence.
“I want background checks on all of the staff,” said Capek. “How long they’ve worked here, previous employment history, the lot. I also want backgrounds on all of the other delegates. If this was something factional within his own group, we need to know about it sooner rather than later. I also want whatever the hotel surveillance systems can show us. What else have we got?”
Drobl nodded, his dark hair falling down over his forehead. “I’ve already started on the background checks, Inspector,” he said, obviously proud to have anticipated this request. “We should have results back tomorrow.”
He was interrupted by the door opening to admit a gurney pushed by a man wearing dark blue overalls, and followed by an overweight, balding man whose beard these days was more white than red. Capek looked up.
“Czest, Hanta!” he said, “Since when do pathologists make house calls?”
Hanta Gradys made a sour face. “Since I got a call from your lord and master to ‘get my fat arse over to the Marriott’,” he said. “It seems that there’s an almighty stink over this one – which you already know, or you’d be at your dinner, same as I was.” He sighed. “My dinner will be long cold before I get back to it,” he grumbled. He leaned over the body where it lay on the bed, then looked up at Capek.
“He’s dead, all right,” he said.
It was one in the morning, and Capek and Drobl were now standing
next to a stainless steel table in the autopsy room of the morgue of the
“Cause of death is blunt force trauma, as you would expect,” he said. “Something caved his head in with extreme force. There were at least three, possibly four, blows.”
“Any clues as to the weapon?” asked Drobl. Gradys gave him a weary look.
“You’ve been watching too many episodes of CSI,” he said, “there’s nothing here that would point to any specific weapon. The shape of the wounds would indicate something rounded, about an inch thick in profile. If the hotel didn’t have central heating, I’d suggest you look for a fire poker. As it is: a cane, perhaps, or a cosh?” He pointed to the mess that was the left side of the victim’s head. “The odd thing is that there are no flecks of paint or metal in the wounds themselves. Of course, a plastic cosh could make this kind of mess, but I have found something embedded in the wounds.” He held up a vial. “If I didn’t know better,” he said, “I’d swear it was sand of some kind.”
Television would have you believe that police work is glamorous and exciting. Franta Capek contemplated how nice it would be to have a nice, simple car chase to solve this case, but no. It was close to six in the morning, and he was sitting at his desk in his tiny office with a pile of files in front of him. The Criminal Division worked out of a building designed originally as a private home for nobility, not as an office building. His office was a cubicle partitioned off from an open-plan space that had once served as a ballroom. Some of the mirrors that had once lined the walls were missing, and the silver was peeling from the backs of others. Capek looked across the paper-strewn battlefield that was his desk at his sergeant, who had a similar pile of manila folders in front of him, and, he suspected, similarly bloodshot eyes. They were starting to plough through the background information on the Marriott hotel staff. True, all of this information had been made available to Mossad and to Palestinian and Syrian security before ever the location of the peace talks had been agreed, but perhaps there was something that the spooks had overlooked. He picked up the next file and looked at the title: ‘Bojanowski, Jakub.’ Oh gods, he was still only on the “B”’s. This could take days. He needed more men.
“How about some coffee, Drobl?” he asked. “I know I need it, and you look like you could use some too.”
The sergeant looked up. “Yes, Inspektor,” he said, “coffee would be good. So would about eight hours’ sleep.”
The phone on Capek’s desk rang. He looked at the incoming number displayed on the LCD and rolled his eyes. “You can forget the sleep, Strazmistr,” he said, as he reached for the receiver.
Capek put down the receiver. The conversation had been long, tiring, and mostly one-sided. Drobl looked up from the file in front of him.
“Thirty-four,” he said, “a new record.”
“Thirty-four?” asked Capek.
“You said ‘yes, Komissar’ thirty-four times in a row without saying anything else.”
“Ah. Well, the Komissar was impressing on me the importance of solving this case, the international implications of what we are doing, the fact that the eyes of the world are on the Prague police force at this time, and so on. Oh, and by the way – our jobs are on the line.”
Drobl consulted his watch. “It took him forty-five minutes to say that?”
“He said it several times. Quite forcibly. Unemployment was a recurrent theme, as was the importance of a rapid solution to the case. The number forty-eight seemed quite important to him.”
Drobl arched an eyebrow. “Forty-eight? He’s mellowing in his old age. He normally gives us thirty-six. Shall I round up the usual suspects, then?”
Capek shook his head. “No,”
he sighed, “I doubt we can blame this in some vagrant
Drobl nodded. “Are we assuming that it was political, then?” he asked.
“Was anything missing from the room?”
“Not that we can tell. We don’t have a full inventory of his possessions, of course, but there was money still on the dresser, clothes in the wardrobe, that sort of thing.”
Capek arched an eyebrow. “That would seem to indicate a political motive, then, would it not, Drobl?”
Drobl nodded again.
“So we will work on the assumption that it is political, until such time as we find another motive. Don’t suppose that the vic was messing around with one of his fellow delegates’ wives?”
Drobl consulted his notebook again. “Mahmoud Ali bin Daoud was a Mullah, it would appear. Clerics are not really given to that sort of thing, I believe.”
“Don’t you believe it. Wearing a black dress does not make any man a saint – look at the trouble we have with Catholic priests.”
“True. Anyway – it seems that the rest of the delegates are all either happily married or single.”
“And we have their word on that, do we?”
“Well, all of their testimony jibes. They all describe the Mullah as an ascetic and a holy man.”
“Who just happens to believe in the total annihilation of the state
“Well, we were dancing in the streets when the
“Well, Drobl, why are you standing there? You have an incident room to set up. Get on with it, man!”
It was , and Drobl was nursing his fourth coffee since dawn. It had the common attributes of institutional coffee everywhere: it was made from freshly ground beans; it had been brewed in a perfectly acceptable coffee percolator, and had been kept warm until it was poured. It therefore tasted vile, had the consistency of warm tar, and somehow managed to have a higher caffeine content than the beans from which it had been brewed. Viktor clung to the disposable cup, cradling it as if it held the very elixir of life for which fools and charlatans had searched in vain up on the Street of Alchemists. Who knows? Perhaps it did.
He looked out across the converted ballroom, now converted into an incident room, with images of the crime scene taped to white boards which had been wheeled in. The room hummed and bustled with life. Staff were working their way through the paperwork, answering telephone calls, attempting to screen out the relevant information from the crank calls. Any murder investigation has to deal with its share of cranks and sensation-seekers, those who crave attention and those who think they may have seen something useful. All of those calls were filtered through this room, the information noted, cross-referenced, and, all too often, discarded. In one corner a number of booths had been set up in which to interview members of the public who had come forward with information. One of the officers conducting interviews waved to attract Drobl’s attention. The Strazmistr walked over, still cradling his coffee.
“What’s up?” he asked, noting the wide eyes and dishevelled hair of the police officer.
The man ran a hand through his hair, trying to settle it into place again.
“My apologies, strazmistr,” he said. “This man, he insists on speaking to my superiors. He insists he has relevant information, but he keeps going on about some missing person…”
“Let me speak to him,” said Drobl.
The strazmistr stepped through into the cubicle. An old man sat at the interview desk, his hands crossed on the handle of a blackthorn walking stick, his back ramrod straight despite his age. He was dressed in a conservative black suit, though his white shirt was open at the neck, and he wore no tie. White locks curved in spirals on either side of his face, and a flat, broad-brimmed hat sat on one corner of the desk. The look he gave Drobl was that of a patrician addressing a tardy servant.
“Who are you?” he demanded, his thin lips set in a disapproving line.
“Vrchni strazmistr Viktor Drobl, mister…?”
“Abrahamson, Strazmistr. Werner Abrahamson.”
“Mister Abrahamson. How can I help you?”
“He’s missing,” stated Abrahamson, in a flat clipped tone.
“Who’s missing?” asked Drobl, confused.
“Adam. I have been up to the attic, and he’s not there any more.”
Drobl shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mr Abrahamson. This is a murder enquiry. Missing persons is on the third floor. Good luck with your search.” He turned away.
Abrahamson raised a hand “You don’t understand!” he said.
Drobl turned away. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t have time for this. Good luck, Mr Abrahamson.” Ignoring the old man’s protests, he walked away. He nodded to the officer who had brought Abrahamson to his attention.
“Another loony,” he said.
Capek looked up from his desk as Drobl knocked on the door.
“Progress report, sir.”
Capek looked at his watch. “Is it already, Victor? Alright, what have we got?”
“Not a lot, sir. We’ve gone through most of the hotel staff records, and found nothing out of the ordinary. We’ve had a constant stream of calls and visitors, none of them with anything relevant as far as we can tell. Any word from forensics?”
Capek waved a folder. “I’m looking at their preliminary reports right now. Nothing earth-shattering. Fingerprints in the room all belong to the victim or hotel staff. One odd thing: those granules Hanta took from the wound. They weren’t sand, they were finer – clay. There was more of it scattered around the room. Someone must have tracked it in. The Marriott is only a few hundred yards from the river.” He raised an eyebrow, and reached for the telephone. He dialled a number absently, eyes still on the folder in front of him. After a few seconds, he spoke.
“Radek? Franta Capek. What’s this notation regarding the clay from the hotel room?” He nodded, oblivious to the fact that he was invisible to the man on the other end of the phone.
“Yes, I can read. What does that mean? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Right.” He put the receiver down, shaking his head, and looked at his sergeant.
“Tell the detail watching the front of the Moulin Rouge Café that if Radek Szubanski shows up, they should stop him from buying anything. Whatever he’s on at the moment is quite enough. He claims that the clay is ‘too pure.’”
“What does that mean?” asked Drobl.
“He says,” Capek said, emphasising the verb, “he says that the clay should be contaminated by rubber, chemical run-off, petro-chemicals, acid rain, and a hundred other things, and it’s not. Wherever it came from, it was not tracked in from the Vitava!” he sighed.
“Is that important?”
Capek sighed again. “Probably not. That’s the problem with this job, Viktor. So much of what we gather is irrelevant rubbish. Oh well, time to face the Kommissar and tell him we have.”
“Another twenty-four hours to make a case before we start looking for employment as bank security guards.”
The phone on Capek’s desk rang. He snatched it up. “Capek,” he snapped. “Da, Kommissar. Da, Kommissar.” He sighed. “Da, Kommissar.” The third repetition was in a resigned tone. He hung up the phone and looked at Drobl, his lips pursed.
“What we have, Viktor,” he said, “is another body on our hands. Come on – we’re going to the Marriott again.”
Room 1523 of the Marriott was a mirror image of 1516. The bed was against the left wall rather than the right, and the television was in the right hand corner, but otherwise it was identical, right down to the bearded figure sprawled on the bed. There was less blood this time, though, and the victim’s face was not marked. Mottled and contracted in a look of abject terror, yes; marked, no.
Franta Capek leaned over the body on the bed, staring fixedly at the throat of the dead man. He straightened and turned to the overweight man standing next to him.
“Burned?” he asked.
Hanta Gradys leaned forward in turn. He used a tongue depressor to turn the man’s head. He sniffed deeply.
“Burned pork,” he muttered.
He turned the man’s head the other way. The black marks on the corpse’s neck cracked, showing angry red lines. He nodded.
“Burns,” he said, “his neck has been subjected to extreme heat. I’ll be able to tell you more when I get him back to the lab, but right now I can tell you that I’ve never seen anything like this before.” He reached out a tentative hand to the corpse’s throat, but drew it back before he touched the skin. He shook his head.
“That can’t be right,” he muttered.
“What?” asked Capek.
Gradys shook his head. “No,” he said, “I’m not saying anything until I’ve got him back to the lab.” He nodded to the technicians standing outside the room door, next to a gurney. They moved in, negotiating carefully around a pool of vomit in the corridor outside the door, and lifted the corpse onto the trolley to wheel it off.
There was a disturbance at the door. Capek turned to see what was causing the fuss. The officer on the door was blocking the attempted access of a short man dressed in a conservative business suit. He had a swarthy complexion and a prominent nose, and his black hair was slicked back. He was loudly demanding access to the room. Capek recognised Abdul Nassir, the head of the Syrian delegation to the peace talks, from the news coverage. He muttered a prayer under his breath and went to speak to the nabob. He flashed his most ingratiating smile.
“Mr Nassir,” he said, “I’m Inspektor Capek.”
“You’re an incompetent!” shouted Nassir. “How can you allow this to happen?”
Capek’s smile became somewhat strained. “Ambassador,” he said, “your hotel is subject to some of the most stringent security on this planet.” He indicated the camera in the corner of the corridor. “Any motion in this corridor starts the camera recording. Anyone who has come in and out of this room in the last twenty-four hours has been recorded. We will find the person who killed Kareem ibn Ahmet, and we will arrest them. This will end, and it will end soon.”
“And how could you not have caught him already?” screamed Nassir. “There were cameras in this hotel yesterday! How could you not have video of the filth who killed Mahmoud bin Daoud?”
“The camera in that corridor malfunctioned, Ambassador. There was a technician on his way to fix it when Mr bin Daoud’s death was discovered. All of the cameras on this floor have been tested this morning. My sergeant is collecting the tapes as we speak. We will have pictures of the killer within the next hour, and we will make an arrest. Trust me on this.”
The swarthy man made a sour face. “Trust you?” he asked, “We trusted you, and another man is dead. Do not ask me to trust you again, policeman. We will take our own precautions.”
“I would advise against that, Ambassador. You are in Praha, not
Nassir spat on the floor. He turned and stormed away down the corridor. Capek sighed and shook his head. Gods how he hated political cases. He wanted a cigarette. He reached into his pocket and unwrapped a stick of gum. He followed the technicians pushing the gurney towards the elevators. The elevator was crowded, what with Hanta Gradys’ bulk, the cloth-draped gurney, and two technicians. Capek decided to wait for the next one.
A chime sounded, and the elevator doors behind Capek slid open. He turned and got in. There was another man in the elevator
already: a tall man wearing a cream safari suit and a white open-necked
shirt. He had silver-white hair, which
gleamed brightly against his tan. It was
not the sort of tan you found in
“Inspektor,” started the man.
“I cannot comment on investigations under way,” said Capek, flatly. If the man was a journalist, he was not going to see himself misquoted in the evening papers.
“My name is Simon Litchfield,” said the man. “I’m with one of the delegations to the talks. I’d like to help if I can.”
“Thank you, Mr Litchfield,” said Capek, “but I do not need the help
of amateurs. Go back to your
delegations, go back to your talks. Go
Litchfield looked offended. “Inspektor,” he said, “I really think…”
“Do not think, Mr Litchfield,” interrupted Capek, “Just go about your own business. I’ll worry about the dead men on the fifteenth floor, you worry about world peace!”
The lift doors opened. Capek hurried out. He crossed the hotel lobby at a brisk walk and walked down the steps, trying to ignore the flashing bulbs of the paparazzi outside, and defiantly ignoring the reporters who tried to thrust cameras and microphones into his face. A figure in black broke free of the crowd and tottered toward him, leaning on a blackthorn cane.
“Inspektor!” he shouted, “Inspektor! You must listen to me! He’s missing! He’s gone! I have been into the attic, and he’s not there!”
Capek hunched his shoulders, thrust his left hand into his overcoat pocket, and signalled a taxi with his right. The driver popped a door, and Capek slipped inside. The old man flapped an ineffectual hand at him as the door closed behind him.
“Inspektor!” he wailed as the taxi pulled away. As he looked back, he saw the silver-haired man with the improbable tan talking to the old man in black. Excellent, he thought, they can waste each other’s time!
Werner Abrahamson straightened his shoulders and sighed deeply. Goyim! he thought. Why can they never pay attention? Then again, maybe he’s just young… A hand touched his shoulder. He looked around to see a man in his late forties or early fifties, his hair already silvering, wearing a cream safari suit and an open-necked white shirt.
“Can I help you?” the man asked.
Abrahamson pursed his lips and made a small noise.
“Nu,” he said, “that depends, my boy. Can you get that young idiot of a policeman to stop and listen to me?”
“Maybe I can,” said the silver-haired man. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Simon Litchfield. I’m here with the Nightwatch Institute for Strategic Studies. We’re observing the talks, advising to some of the delegates.”
Abrahamson looked up.
“Advising?” he asked sharply. “Who are you advising?”
Litchfield grinned. “Both sides,” he said. “We’ve got an Arab to talk to the Jihad and a woman who can talk to the Hebrews.”
Abrahamson nodded in approval.
“People who think like that,” he said, “Maybe you can help, at that. Come, my boy, let’s have some coffee and talk.”
Abrahamson turned and lead the way down the pavement, to a small café where a group of small tables was huddled within a roped off area. He sat down at a table and beckoned the nearest waitress imperiously. Litchfield pulled out a second chair and sat down facing him. They ordered: a double espresso for Abrahamson and mocha for Litchfield. Abrahamson looked across the table at the younger man and pursed his lips again.
“Tell me, Mr Litchfield,” he said, “do you read?”
Litchfield looked startled. “Yes,” he replied.
“Ah, but what do you read? Ever read Conan Doyle, eh?”
Litchfield nodded. “When I was younger, yes.”
“So! You would accept that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
“It’s a logical basis for argument, yes.”
“The question then, young man, is what do you consider to be impossible? Hmm?”
“I’ve seen some things that are pretty hard to explain away.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of the coffee. Abrahamson busied himself with cup and saucer for a moment and then looked up.
“What do you know about Praha, Mr Litchfield?”
“Only what I read. A little history. 1968, the Russian invasion after the ‘Prague Spring,’ the revolution at the end of the eighties.”
“Nothing older? Nothing of the legends?”
“Not really. I’ve heard of King Wenceslas, the Street of Alchemists…”
“Aaaaaah. Let me tell you, then, about a man of my
people. His name was Judah Loeb, and he
was born in 1513. Praha was a different
place in those days, Mr Litchfield. The
gentiles mostly lived up there, in Mala Strana and around the castle. Down here, in Stare Mesto, the Hassidim lived
and worked. They needed our skills as
metalsmiths, they needed our money, but they did not love us.
“Fascinating,” said Litchfield, “but what has this to do with what’s going on now?”
Abrahamson waved a hand placatingly. “Think about it, Mr Litchfield. This weapon was powered by the Name of God Himself. You think something like that just goes away?” He finished his coffee in a mouthful and stood.
“Walk with me, Mr Litchfield,” he said, “and I will show you one of the secrets of Praha…”
Capek sighed deeply as he hung his coat on the rack next to his door. He’d gone from the Marriott across the river to the Palace. The Minister had been asking for explanations. He had not liked the ones he had received. He had expressed some strong opinions regarding the Inspektor’s competence. Also his ancestry, his personal hygiene, and his future prospects. Capek stood hunched for a few moments, then drew back his shoulders.
“Drobl!” he roared.
Victor’s head appeared around the door. “Inspektor?” he asked.
“I want three things, Drobl,” said Capek. He counted items of on his fingers as he spoke.
“First, I want a summary of all of the witness interviews. Second, I want to know what forensics has found at the new crime scene. I don’t care if it’s not final – I want what they have now. Third, I want to see the security camera footage from just before the first murder, and I want the current footage. Alright, that’s four things.”
“Right away, Inspektor,” Drobl nodded, and bobbed back out the door.
“Drobl!” Capek shouted again.
“Five things. Get me some coffee. Not that road paving they make in the canteen. Send someone down to the café.”
“Inspektor,” the nod, the bob back out of the door.
Capek massaged the bridge of his nose. He trudged over to his desk and sat down, cradling his head in his hands. The coffee arrived first. He really ought to recommend Drobl for a citation: he always got his priorities straight.
Drobl appeared, pushing a two-tiered trolley with a small television perched on top of it and a battered VCR on the lower tray. He busied himself at the power outlet, plugging the four-outlet power board into the wall. He walked over to Capek’s desk, and dropped two remote controls onto the desk blotter.
“The surveillance tape’s in the player,” he said, “queued to eight this morning.”
Capek grunted and turned on the television. He pressed the “play” button on the VCR control. The screen lit up, showing a view of the corridor outside room 1523. The elevator doors were visible at the far end of the corridor, and there was a clear view of eight room doors. A time stamp in the bottom right of the picture showed ‘08.00.53’. The corridor was empty. Capek pressed the fast forward button, and lines appeared on the screen as the tape ran forward in double time. At 08.05, the door of room 1523 opened. Capek rewound and pressed ‘play.’ The door of 1523 opened, and a bearded man in a dark robe and a white turban emerged. He pulled the door closed behind him. He rattled the knob, patted his pockets, nodded as if satisfied, and walked toward the elevator. He pressed the button to summon an elevator going down, waited until a light flashed above the elevator, got in when the door opened, and was obscured by the closing doors.
“Kareem ibn Ahmet,” said Capek, “off to make the world a safer place. Now, let’s see who else was along there.” He pressed fast forward again.
They watched as a procession of people came out of other rooms and made for the elevator at the high-speed waddle of accelerated tape, then stared at an empty corridor for several minutes as the time counter ticked forward. At just after eleven, the elevator opened, and a trolley carrying towels, rolls of toilet paper, small bottles of shampoo shower gel, and individually wrapped bars of soap emerged. It seemed to move forward under its own power for a couple of seconds, until the stooped figure of a middle-aged woman in a purple maid’s uniform became visible behind it. She stopped at each door in turn, was seen to knock, and then go in. The time counter indicated that she spent an average of fifteen minutes in each room, fourteen and a half in 1523, before she trundled her trolley out of range of the camera. At 13.35 by the counter the elevator opened and a huge man, built like a refugee from the WWE, emerged wearing purple overalls with the hotel name embroidered on them. A cylinder was strapped to his back, a hose snaking from it leading to a stiff tube and a nozzle. He could be seen reaching over his shoulder, then started vacuuming the carpets in the corridor. He too, knocked on each door before using a pass card to enter each room. He spent less than five minutes in each room, and soon passed out of sight, coming back out into the picture forty-five minutes later, the vacuum hose racked neatly next to the cylinder. He got into the elevator and vanished. Roughly an hour after that the room service trolley appeared again, pushed by its middle-aged custodian, trundled into the elevator, and vanished. The corridor remained stubbornly empty until 17.37, when the elevator doors opened to show ibn Ahmet again. He walked to his room and opened the door. It closed behind him, and the tape went black. Capek sat up straight in his chair.
“What the?” he exclaimed.
The image remained black for several minutes, and then blinked back on. The time counter now read ‘18.02’. The tape continued to roll, showing various people coming out of the lifts and going into their rooms. At 18.43 by the time code, a bearded man came out of room 1519 and stopped at the door of ibn Ahmet’s room. He could be seen to knock, becoming increasingly agitated and knocking more frantically. After ten minutes, he moved off in a state of high agitation, and vanished into the elevator. Fifteen minutes later, the elevator doors re-opened, and the same man came out, shepherding a man in a suit and gesticulating wildly. The man in the suit knocked on the door of 1523, endured an earful of commentary from the bearded man, could be seen to call out, knocked again, and reached into his pocket for a pass-card. He opened the door and stepped in. Seconds later he reappeared and threw up on the carpet in the corridor. Capek looked at Drobl.
“I would estimate time of death at between 17.37 and 18.43,” he said. “I also do not believe that the tape was ‘accidentally’ wiped, or that the system ‘just happened’ to malfunction.”
Movement on the television screen caught his attention. A silver-haired man in a grey safari suit came into the frame, and could be seen in conversation with the bearded man who had raised the alarm. Capek pressed the freeze frame button.
“Czest, Mr Litchfield. Drobl, find out what you can about this man, will you? He was snooping around the crime scene earlier. Said his name was ‘Litchfield.’ Then get the security staff in for interrogation. And get the elevator records – and the door records. They may have blanked the tapes, but let’s see if they erased all trace of their movements.”
Drobl nodded, and left. Capek picked up a folder from his in-tray and opened it. He read for a few minutes, and picked up the phone. He dialled a numbered and waited while it rang. On the fourth ring, it was picked up at the other end.
“Radek?” he asked, “What the fuck have you been smoking?”
Capek opened the door of examining room three at the
“Hanta?” he asked.
“Over here!” Hanta Gradys boomed, coming out from behind the door.
“What can you tell me?” asked Capek.
“Come and have a look,” said Gradys. “This one’s weird.”
He moved over to the steel examining table, and flipped the institutional green sheet off the figure lying there. At some point in the last several hours, bin Daoud had been shaved, and the top of a “Y” incision was visible above the turned-down sheet. Gradys reached into the box sitting next to the table and pulled out a pair of latex gloves. Pulling them on, he reached over and lifted the left eyelid of the corpse. He gestured with his free hand.
“See the eyes?” he asked.
“Bloodshot,” muttered Capek.
“Indeed. Petechial haemorrhaging. Indicative of asphyxiation.” He gestured to the dead man’s throat. “His larynx has been crushed, which adds to the evidence that someone choked him, probably by hand. No, the strange thing is these…”
Gradys picked up a probe and pointed to the pattern of burns on the man’s neck. With the man’s beard gone, the butterfly image was evident.
“If I didn’t know better,” said Gradys, “I would swear that these burns were hand prints.”
“Why is that impossible?” asked Capek.
“Because, Inspektor,” said Gradys, “it would mean that the hands which crushed this man’s windpipe were heated to about three hundred degrees Celsius.” Gradys looked up and quirked up an eyebrow.
“Last time I checked,” he said, “the Human Torch only existed in Marvel comics and a couple of bad movies.”
Capek cursed for several minutes. Gradys listened with mounting respect for three or four minutes, then broke in.
“You’re starting to repeat yourself, Inspektor,” he said. Capek snorted.
“I owe Radek Szubanski a bottle of vodka,” he said.
“He was going on about the particles you’d extracted from the burns. Said it was more of his ‘too pure’ clay, but that it looked like it had been fired in a kiln. He was talking about some form of ceramic weapon.”
Grady’s shook his head.
“It doesn’t add up,” he said, “the way the larynx is crushed would indicate sustained pressure on a small space, say with the thumbs.” He demonstrated, fanning his hands out on either side of the throat, with his thumbs crossed at the Adam’s apple.
“If this was done with a weapon, there would be an impact point, and there isn’t. Also, there is bruising under the burns. Something or someone gripped this man’s throat and squeezed tightly, using something that strongly resembled a pair of red hot hands; and if Radek is right, then those hands were ceramic.”
“I hate this weird shit,” said Capek.
“Amen, brother,” said Gradys.
“What have we got, Viktor?” asked Capek, taking his coat off as he walked through the incident room.”
“We may have a suspect, Inspektor,” replied Drobl, looking up from his desk.
Drobl stood, and pulled a folder from his desk. He walked around his desk and indicated the door to Capek’s office. Capek nodded and followed him into the room, closing the door behind him. He raised an eyebrow.
“Well?” he asked.
Drobl positively bubbled as he laid out pieces of paper on the desk.
“This is the lift record,” he said. “You remember that we saw the cleaner coming onto the floor at just after one-thirty?”
He pointed to a line on the lift record.
“This is him,” he said. “His name is Loeb, according to the Hotel records. Adam Loeb.” He pulled a second printout from the folder and laid it on the table with a flourish. Two lines had been highlighted in fluorescent green.
“At approximately 17.35, Adam Loeb’s key card was used to open the door from the stairwell onto the fifteenth floor, and again at 18.00.” He looked at Capek expectantly.
“What… interesting timing,” said Capek, grinning.
“Isn’t it?” replied Drobl, grinning madly.
“And where is Mr Loeb now?” asked Capek.
“His home address is somewhere in the old town. I’ve sent Leski and Mihaelov to his home address, and Rustum and Cohen to the hotel to… invite Mr Loeb to come and speak to us.”
“Excellent, Viktor, eeeeeeeexcellent.” Capek sat in the swivel chair behind his desk and steepled his fingers. Things seemed to be going his way at last.
“Weirdest thing I ever saw, Strazmistr. He looked like he was going to get rough, then little Sasha Cohen steps up to him and tells him to behave, and he comes along as meekly as a kitten. It was hilarious! You know Sasha – four foot eleven of nothing, hair in a bun, scolding this huge character like a terrier yapping at a bulldog, and him just nodding and following along…”
“And then, of course, there was the business at the Marriott…” Litchfield raised an eyebrow. “You’ve arrested the cleaner, haven’t you?”
Capek shook his head wearily. “As I told the Rabbi earlier, Adam Loeb is not under arrest. He is helping us with our enquiries. He is free to go at any time.”
“More so than you know, perhaps, Inspektor,” said Litchfield.
“Do you have any information for me, Doctor Litchfield? Or are you just here to make cryptic comments?”
Litchfield reached down beside his chair and lifted up a leather briefcase. He fumbled with the clasp and pulled out a green cardboard folder. He opened it, took out a photograph, and placed it on the desk between himself and Capek. He flipped it around so that Capek could see better. The photograph had been taken on the steps of the Marriott and showed a tall, bulky man with reddish-brown hair wearing a pair of maroon overalls with the Marriott logo embroidered on the breast in white.
“This is Adam Loeb,” Litchfield said.
“I know that, Doctor,” said Capek, “he’s sitting down the hallway in an interview room. He came willingly, and the door is not locked.”
“Bear with me,” said Litchfield, reaching into the folder. He pulled out another photograph and placed it next to the first. This photograph was faded, and showed signs of wear. It showed a view of the old town square, a Soviet tank in the foreground and a cordon of Russian troops in the background holding back a crowd. Litchfield pointed to a man in the crowd, his hair a pinkish russet in the faded picture.
“This is Adam Loeb,” he said.
Capek picked up the photo and looked at it. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a magnifying glass. He examined the photograph more closely. He put it down, shaking his head.
“His father, maybe,” he said. He turned the picture over and looked at the back. He placed it image-down on the desk, and pointed to a blurred ink notation on the back. “Adam Loeb is maybe thirty. Thirty-five at most. He could not have been born in 1968, never mind standing in that crowd.”
Litchfield pulled out a third photograph. This one was black and white, and showed a group of men and women standing on the platform of a railway-station, a pathetic collection of luggage around them. They were surrounded by armed men wearing distinctive black uniforms. Any schoolboy could have identified them. The group were staring at the ground with apathy, with one exception. In the centre a man in a pin-striped suit was glaring at the photographer. Litchfield pointed to him.
“And this,” he said, “is Adam Loeb.”
Capek picked up his magnifying glass again.
“A remarkable family resemblance,” he said, tossing it back on the table. “So what? It doesn’t give me any more evidence against my suspect, nor does it give him an alibi. In fact if his grandfather was sent to the camps, it adds to the probable motive. A lot of the Israeli activists are third-generation, self-righteous zealots who use the suffering of their grandparents as a rallying cry.”
Litchfield shook his head. “That’s not his grandfather,” he said, “that is the same man you have down in your interrogation room now. He is older than he looks. Much older.” He pulled a stiff cardboard square from the folder. He put it down to show that it was a mounted lithograph, turn-of-the-century, sepia toned. It showed a man in a high collar and a dark suit, his hair greased down and parted on one side.
“Look familiar?” he asked.
Capek’s frown was becoming thunderous. “Two questions, Doctor,” he said, “What is the point in showing me this man’s family photographs, and where did you come by them?”
“I keep telling you, Inspektor. They’re not his family album – they’re his mementos. As for where I got them, I found them in his home.”
“”His home? The address on his employment records denied all knowledge of him. How did you find his home? And where is it?” Capek reached for a pen and paper.
“I was taken there, by a man named Werner Abrahamson.”
“The Rabbi you were speaking to earlier. I can give you the address, but I don’t think it’s going to help you much. Adam Loeb lives in the attic of the Altneuschul in the Stare Mesto. He’s lived there for quite a while.”
“The synagogue? But no-one lives in the synagogue.”
“Adam Loeb does.” Litchfield pulled a final document from his folder and held it up. Capek goggled.
“You’re mad!” he said. “You and that insane old Kabbalist both!”
“Possibly,” Litchfield said. “However, the Institute has enough influence to arrange me an interview with your… guest.”
Capek muttered under his breath in guttural
“I assure you, Inspektor, they were married,” said Litchfield, his bland expression not changing.
Capek snorted, and half-smiled. “I was referring to the Komissar, actually, Doctor. Come on, then. Let’s go and talk to our cleaner, shall we?”
Capek stood, and gestured towards the door, the courteous gesture of a footman ushering a noble through ahead of him. Litchfield ignored the implied sarcasm, and walked through ahead of him. He nodded to the black-clad figure sitting stiff-backed in an office chair in front of Drobl’s desk. Werner Abramson levered himself to his feet, hands clasped on the head of his blackthorn cane. Capek eyed him darkly, but said nothing. The written orders sitting on his desk were quite specific.
“Come on then,” he grunted, “Drobl, you as well.”
The small procession trooped through the open-plan incident room and out into a narrow uncarpeted corridor. Capek turned left and proceeded down it to a plain wooden doorway. The group’s footsteps echoed hollowly on the floorboards. The wood of the door was old, and stained a dark colour. The varnish showed signs of having been chipped and painted over several times. The handle was a simple brass knob. Capek grasped the knob and opened the door.
“Through here, gentlemen,” he said.
The room was rectangular, and they were coming in close to one end. The only furniture was a stained wooden table, around which were four straight-backed wooden chairs. At the narrow end of the table farthest from the door sat a massive man, wearing maroon overalls, his hands folded on the table in front of him.. His hair was a rich russet, and his skin an even brown that looked to owe more to genetics than to tanning. Even seated, he gave the impression of looming over them. Litchfield had a momentary image of him in tights standing in the centre of a wrestling ring roaring insults. He shook his head to clear the idea from his mind.
As he entered the room, Abrahamson spoke: a fluid lilting stream of Hebrew syllables. The man at the table looked up, and a small smile curled the ends of his mouth. He shook his head.
“That won’t work, old friend,” he said, in a voice like two rocks grinding together.
Abrahamson chanted something else in Hebrew, and the man at the table shook his head again.
“Your purpose is not pure, Werner,” he said.
“Would the two of you mind including the rest of us in the conversation?” asked Capek acidly. He moved over to the table and pulled out a chair, sitting down opposite the man in the purple overalls. Litchfield moved to one side of the table and took another. Abrahamson took the fourth seat, and Drobl moved to lean in one corner of the room, kinking his left leg up so that his foot rested on the wall by his right knee. He casually brushed his jacket back behind him. The man in the overalls spoke.
“Werner was attempting to… I suppose you could say he was attempting to exorcise me.” He said.
Capek scowled at him, and at Abrahamson. “Enough of this nonsense,” he said. “Mr Loeb, you are here of your own volition. My superiors have ordered me to allow Mr Litchfield and Rabbi Abrahamson to speak to you. No-one is forcing you to speak to them.”
The red-haired man nodded solemnly. “I thank you, Inspektor,” he said, “but there is no need to protect me. I have known Werner for years – all of his life in fact.”
“All of your life, you mean?” asked Capek.
“Oh no,” Loeb smiled, “I am quite a bit older than Werner. I remember him as a young boy. I stopped the Gestapo from taking him and his mother to the camps.”
“This is nonsense!” said Capek. “You can’t be more than forty.”
Loeb smiled again, and rolled up the sleeve on his right arm. A series of blue marks were barely visible on his forearm. They might have been numbers, but were blurred beyond recognition.
“They took me,” he said calmly. “I went with them to the camp. I killed twenty guards, and I freed those of my people that were there. I avenged the rest.”
Capek shook his head in disbelief. “No,” he said.
“What have you been doing now, Adam?” asked Abrahamson.
“I have been doing what I was created to do, Werner. I have been killing the enemies of our people.”
“So you admit that you killed bin Daoud and Ahmet?” asked Capek, seizing on something in the conversation that made sense to him.
Loeb nodded calmly. “Yes,” he said, as if this were perfectly obvious, “they were the enemies of my people.”
Abrahamson leaned forward.
“They were here to discuss peace, Adam,” he said, his tone earnest and beseeching. “They were here to stop the killing of Hebrew children.”
Loeb shook his head, a condescending smile on his face.
“They were enemies of our people, Werner,” he said, as if explaining to a child that there were no sweets left in the jar.
Capek looked to his sergeant in the corner. “Is this conversation being recorded, Drobl?” he asked.
“Yes, Inspektor,” Drobl replied. “We have Mr Loeb’s confession on tape.”
Abrahamson ignored them, intent on his conversation with the man at the end of the table.
“Adam, Adam,” he pleaded. “These are not the days of your youth. Your actions have wider consequences now.”
“Consequences?” asked Loeb, “I have killed our enemies, Werner. They can do us no further harm.”
“But you have done us
harm, Adam,” said Abrahamson. “You
killed this man Ahmet, and as a direct response, his people have done a
terrible thing. They have set a bomb,
Adam. A bomb in the centre of the
memorial service at Birkenau. Fifty
“Created?” asked Capek.
Loeb shook his head, frowning slightly. “Our enemies did this, Werner, not I,” he said.
“Wait a minute,” said Capek, “What do you mean, ‘created,’?”
“Please, Inspektor,” said Litchfield, “let them speak. We can discuss this later.”
Capek grunted and leaned back, folding his arms across his chest. Abrahamson spoke again.
“Adam,” he said, “you must let this end. The world is no longer a simple place. You have fought long and hard for our people, but it must end. Our enemies are no longer gathered in one place, where you can fight them one-on-one. You kill one here, and his allies take a manifold revenge. You are killing us, Adam, as surely as if you put your hands around the necks of each child they kill.”
Loeb sighed and shook his head. “I do not understand all of this, Werner. My father was a good man. He gave me a simple mission, which I have done to the best of my abilities.”
“Adam, Adam,” said Abrahamson. “Even your father asked you to stop, don’t you remember? That is why you slept.”
“His purpose was not pure. He tried to change things, tried to stop my mission.”
“Your mission was over, Adam.”
“But it wasn’t over. There were still enemies. There are still enemies!” Loeb raised his chin and stared at Abrahamson.
“Yes, Adam, there are still enemies out there, but your mission is over. You do more harm than good. Come, Adam. Rest. Let others take up the fight.”
The big man shook his head wearily. “I do not understand,” he said, “It was all so simple. When the Bosch came, it was easy. The Ivans were a simple foe. I do not understand all of this fuss over a few Mohammedans.”
“Let it go, Adam,” said Abrahamson soothingly. “You have fought long and hard. Rest now. Let it go.”
Loeb nodded. “All right, Werner. Let it be so. I have done well, though? I have fought for our people?”
“Yes, Adam, you have. You have been a tower of strength, and a great defender of our people. Rest now.” Abrahamson began to sing, high, melodic liquid syllables of Hebrew.
“Goodbye, Werner,” said Loeb, and he slumped forward over the table. As Abrahamson continued to sing, a transformation came over the big man. His hair lost its lustre, and his skin became redder. The pores of the skin became larger, coarser, and his hands seemed to lose their definition somehow. The nails of lost their shine and were re-absorbed. Soon, it seemed a statue had been placed in his seat, then even that lost its cohesion, and he crumbled, leaving a pile of soil in the seat, spilling out of the overalls and onto the floor. Abrahamson reached forward and stirred a finger through the clay on the table. He picked out a small slip of paper. Reaching into the pocket of his coat, he produced a disposable plastic lighter and put a flame to the corner of the paper. It flared, and curled into ash.
“It is over,” he said.
Capek goggled. “But… But…” he stammered.
Abrahamson stood, and nodded to Litchfield. “Thank you, my friend,” he said. “You have helped to bring peace to a troubled soul, and who knows? Perhaps, to a troubled land.” He turned, and walked from the room, leaning on his cane as he went.
Capek was turning an alarming shade of purple.
“But, the… the prisoner!” he said.
“We have his confession on tape!
I cannot bring… that to
trial!” He pointed vaguely at the pile
of soil at the end of the table. “And if
I cannot bring him to trial, how can we satisfy that arrogant arsehole
Litchfield pushed his chair back from the table.
“You could always say that he died in custody,” he said, standing. “It would not be so far from the truth.”
“Thank you so much, Doctor Litchfield,” said Capek, “I really want to explain that to the Komissar and the President of the Police.”
“I’m sure that the Institute can have a quiet word in the right ears, Inspektor,” said Litchfield. “There won’t be too much of a problem.”
“But what do I tell the press? They’ll crucify me!”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something, Inspektor,” said Litchfield. He turned and walked out of the door.
Capek sat glaring at the empty overalls at the end of the table.
“Drobl!” he said, after a minute.
“Two things, Drobl.”
“First, I want that bottle of Vodka out of your bottom drawer. Second, get someone in here to clean that mess up.”
“Yes, Inspektor.” Drobl straightened up and headed for the door.
“Oh, and Drobl?”
“Get me a pack of cigarettes. The paperwork on this is going to be a nightmare.”
© 2006 by Iain Muir. Iain Muir was born in British West Hampstead in 1969 and is
not yet dead, twenty years of falling off motorcycles notwithstanding. Iain
pays rent on a flat with a view of Sydney Opera House, having given up the cold