Monday, March 22, 2010

Mag 6: A Whiff of Brinestone Part 5

Words: 738

Chapter 2

With that it was the weekend. The first coffee became a second - with just a drop of slivovitz – to wash away the taste of the week’s frustrations. It had been a long week, but the boys decided to be responsible. After the second round of fiery plum brandy, Josep headed off to his newly purchased semi in the suburbs, his tired wife and their three-year-old twin boys.

Marek stopped at Sanford Music on his way to his apartment in Bratislava’s old town. Pavel, the owner was am old friend who often saved unusual new recordings for him. On this balmy almost summer evening he was sitting in front of his shop with a very nice Austrian Poire William by his elbow.

“Evening Marek, care for a drop?” were his welcoming words.

“I could be tempted…”

Soon both were happily seated watching the early strollers.

“It’s such a change from the old days – no?”

Mark nodded; remembering the old days when there had been so few possibilities for entertainment that becoming a priest had seemed like a good career move.

“The girls are prettier.”

“Is that what you left the seminary for – the girls?”

“You know why I left the seminary – Mozart made me do it.”

“That would have done for me,” Pavel agreed, taking a sip. “I guess being a priest didn’t allow much time to play the violin.”

“Not enough, anyway.”

“You have a rehearsal tonight?”

“Always on Fridays. The next concert’s only two weeks away.”

“You’ll save me a ticket?”

“No, I plan to forget this time.”

“Funny man. Want a top up?”

“Why not; but only the one. Remember I have to make beautiful music later on.”

The sun eased lower and lower in the sky, the changing angle of its rays bathing the old stone buildings in a monochrome rainbow of scarlet and amber, Marek did feel the frustrations of the week, if not disappearing entirely, at least removing to a place far enough away that he could anticipate with pleasure the coming rehearsal The group was playing Mozart and Sibelius this time, each the foremost romantic of his age.

He had told Pavel the truth. With the fall of Communism and arrival of freedom of choice, the need to fill at least a part of his life with making music had been a powerful impetus pushing him out of the cloister and into the real world. His desire to serve humanity was supposed to be covered by joining the police force. Ah well, you can’t have everything.

The start of Josep’s evening had not been so idyllic. An all-mighty crash and his wife, Anya’s screech heralded his entrance into the family home.

“What happened? What’s the matter? Are you all right?”

“No Josep, I’m not all right. One of those boys of yours got into the garage and pulled a full box of nails off the counter you left it on.”

“Oh, Anya, kitten, I’m so sorry,” trying to wrap his arms around her.

“Don’t kitten me. If you would put things away properly like I ask, this wouldn’t happen so often.”

“Which one is responsible, this time?”

“How should I know? When they’re guilty they blame each other. I can’t tell them apart when they’re running and shouting like crazy boys.”

“All right. I’ll make them both help me clear up the mess. You go sit down and have a cup of tea. Do you want me to go and get a couple of pizzas for supper?”

“Yes…. No, isn’t that rewarding them?”

“Never mind. You need a break.”

After supper, Josep played catch in the backyard with Karel and Mikel until dark. His plan – get then tired enough to sleep early so he and Anya could spend some quiet time together. For once they had been lucky. Now his sated wife asleep beside him, Josep stared at the shadows on the ceiling and turned over the events of the past week.

‘What a mess,’ he thought. ‘Not one, but two unidentified bodies stinking up the city morgue. Are they related? How? However are we going to identify them? Hopefully Massan’s husband or brother-in-law will return on Sunday?’

Something she had said about how alike the brothers were, disturbed Josep. It reminded him of his boys. ‘Even if one Massan does turn up, how can we be sure which brother is in our morgue?’

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Magpie Tales: A Whiff of Brimstone Part 4

Words: 411

The next morning Marek and Josep were waiting for Mrs Massan in the coroner’s office was located in the basement of the Medical faculty at Comenius University, in a building which had been new when the Hapsburgs were still in power.

A wooden jointed model of the human body stood in a corner. Its outstretched hand offering a small pile of business cards. Beautifully carved, it looked as if it would be more at home in an art studio than a dissection room.

Leila Massan arrived wearing the full body abayah of a traditional Arabic woman – as if she had pre-empted the worst.

‘Does she expect to leave this visit a widow,’ Marek wondered.

“Thank you for coming Mrs Massan,” Marek said. “ I know this can’t be easy for you.”

“When the law requires, the law must be obeyed. Shall we get on with it?”

Entering the mortuary room, where the putrefying body was laid out on a table, she stumbled but shrugged off Josep’s offer of support. Walking closer to the body under it’s covering, her eyes closed briefly, her lips moving without sound.

‘Was that a prayer or a curse?’ This contradictory woman confused and fascinated Marek.

Opening her eyes, “I am ready.”

The coroner’s assistant pulled back the cloth revealing a face so badly de-composed it’s own mother might have difficulty recognising it. Leila studied it for a full minute, her face an unreadable mask.

“I don’t know. It could be. I can’t tell.”

“Please look again. Is there anything that distinguishes your husband, a birthmark or….”

“No, nothing like that. Bahir and Abu were as alike as twins. They wore each other’s clothing. Many people had trouble telling them apart. They…ah… used to use that – sometimes.”

“So what you’re saying is – it could be either one?” Josep asked.

“Yes, I think so. But I can’t tell you which one. I’m sorry.”

Marek let out the long sigh of a frustrated copper faced with an apparent dead end. “Thank you very much for your help. If you hear from your husband or his brother would you ask him to contact us as soon as possible?”

“Yes, of course.” She turned to leave.

“Would you like someone to drive you home?” Josep asked an expanse of black cloth.

“No thank you. I have my own car.”

“Now what?”

“Damned if I know. I need a coffee. Let’s go to Grosse Karol’s and see if something suggests itself. ”

The photograph is copyright of Willow of Willow Manor, who has put it forth as a writing prompt. Join the writing fun at Magpie Tales.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Magpie Tales - A Whiff of Brimstone Part 3

Words: 956

An hour later, with no apparent movement on any front, Marek and Josep were sharing a cigarette and a coffee.

“Soon we won’t even to be able to do this,” Josep groused, flicking his ash into a discarded coffee container. “The Eurocrats are going to make us all stand outside in the rain to poison ourselves.”

“I’m thinking of quitting.”

“You? Three pack a-day Holzt. The cigarette companies’ll go bankrupt.”

“That’s part of it. This shit costs far too much. Every time I buy a carton, I think about how many better, more interesting things I could do with the money.”

“Like down an extra three or four slivovitz on Friday. That’s a real improvement.”

“Well… but soon we won’t be able to smoke even in Grosse Charlie’s. Maybe I wont go there so much anymore.” Marek’s bloodhound eyes looked even more downcast than usual. He rested his shiny bald head the desk. “I don’t know why I bother any more.”

“Hey partner, don’t say that. We just need to be more active, more proactive. Why don’t we see if there are any Abou A. Massan’s in the phone book? That’s not such a common Syrian name. Maybe somebody in the community knows him or is related?”

“Probably a waste of time, but it beats sitting here plotting suicide or a return to the seminary.”

“Don’t even go there. I’ll get the books.”

Bratislava is not a big city and a few minutes searching turned up the information that there were only three families listed with the surname, ‘Massan’.

“We going to call them all?”

“Maybe. Let’s start with this one, Massan, Bahir Ahmed.”

A pleasant woman’s voice answered after two rings, “Treasures of the Seven Seas, may I help you?”

“I’m trying to locate a man name Abou Ahmed Massan,” Marek began. “Perhaps you know him?”

“I think you need to speak with my husband. He’s not here right now.”

“She hung up on me.”

“Interesting… Maybe we should go for a walk?”

“Bit far to walk. It’s a shop in Stare Mesto. But your heart’s in the right place.”

“I think I remember a decent kebab place near there. We could get some lunch too. It’s after one. I’m starving.” Josep was as short and square as his partner was tall and lean. Marek was convinced he knew the location and menu of every good fast food joint in the city. “You’re always starving,” he said putting on his jacket.

An hour later, after a pair of very good kebabs, they pushed through the door of Seven Seas’ Treasures to enter an incontinent hoarder’s cave crammed floor to ceiling with the most disparate collection of third-world artefacts either detective had ever seen. Handcrafted Indonesian wooden boxes jostled for space with leering funeral masks; plastic jointed snakes - made in India – coiled listlessly in heaps on the tops of stacked tribal drums. The tops of intricately carved tables displayed tsunamis of carved animals, netsuke and ornate ceramic statuettes. The exquisite mingling in carefree abandon with outright junk.

An elegant dark-haired woman dressed in a simple smart western skirt and jacket emerged from behind the requisite bamboo curtain.

“How may I help you?”

“Mrs Massan,” Marek began, displaying his badge. “We spoke earlier…about your brother-in-law…”

“I told you he wasn’t here… I never said he was my brother-in-law.”

“I know, but when you said we should speak to your husband, we assumed they must be related. Where is your husband by the way?”

“He’s out, away. They’re both away.”

“Away where?” asked Josep, who had been admiring a tiny, elegant carved elephant.

“I don’t know.”

The look on Josep’s face told her this wasn’t going to cut it.

“Romania, I think, on a buying trip.”

“Buying what? Something like this?” Josep held out his palm with the elephant nestling comfortably in it.”

“No, no. That came from Africa, I think.”

“It’s beautiful. Ivory – is it?”

“Yes…no…plastic, I think, probably.”

“I don’t think so, Mrs Massan. I’m pretty sure it’s ivory, and new. How did you get it?”

“Abou brought them… it… when he came from Germany.”

“Them? Where did he get them and where are the rest of them?”

“I don’t know. Gone. Sold, as soon as he got here.”

“Sold? To whom?” Face bleached pale, excepting two spots of bright red on her cheeks and dark brown eyes wide as plates, Leila Massan had begun to resemble an animal trapped by a car’s headlights.

“I don’t know. Men. Ukrainians, I think.”

“Do you have any more like this?”

“No, the Ukrainians took the whole suitcase.

“So you don’t know where your brother-in-law got them and you don’t know the names of the men who bought them.”

That’s right. My husband handles these things. I just work in the shop.”

“When will your husband be home, Mrs Massan? We would like to ask him some questions about his brother.”

“I…I expect him on Sunday.”

“Please have your husband get in touch with us as soon as he returns or you hear from him.” Marek handed her his card. “Oh and we’d like to borrow this for awhile.”

Back at the station, Marek remarked, “It seems Abou Ahmed was into something a little less than kosher.”

“Seems that way.”

“Have we any news on the rest of the body belonging to the foot?”

“Got it right here. Says, the divers recovered the body of a middle-aged male, possibly of Middle Eastern origin. It had been in the water at least a week, maybe two.”

“Abou Ahmed?”

“Could be – or his brother. We’d better ask Mrs Massan to come and have a look at the body.”

“After two weeks in the water that’s not going to be pleasant.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Magpie Tales 3 - A Whiff of Brinstone

Section 2 Words: 413

“Ah, Marek, don’t we need to find out who he is as well?” Josep asked.

“I think the hotel clerk can probably help us there. I’ll talk to him while you get those sent off.”

Detective Holtz was in luck. The dead man had only checked in the night before and the clerk still had his passport in the hotel safe. He was going through it as he headed back up to room 411, where the Medical Examiner was just finishing his preliminary exam.

“Poison, I’d say. Inhaled somehow.”

“That was my guess, too. So, the passport says he is a Syrian national, Abou Ahmed Massan. Seems to have a German resident permit. Guest worker or refugee?”

“Can’t help you there. But I don’t think he’s spent much time in Syria.”

“How so.”

“Look at his teeth. He’s got Hollywood teeth. Didn’t get a mouthful like that growing up in the Middle East.”

Marek leaned over to get a better look at the dead man’s face. Sure enough a double row of pearly whites twinkled up at him. Even in death, his teeth recalled the world famous sign that blinged down over Los Angeles.

“Doesn’t look very Syrian either.”

No, I’d say he’s definitely American and young, maybe early twenties.”

“Says here that Abou Ahmed is forty-five. If this isn’t him dead there, what’s our boy doing with his passport?”

“You’re the detective. I’m just a doctor.”

“Damn, now I’ve got four questions to get answers to.”

The next morning, Marek was sitting at his desk wondering how he was going to answer even one of the questions this case had thrown up, when Josep walked in holding a standard crime report folder. “Please tell me that’s got the name of our dead kid in it.”

“Sorry,” Josep smiled ruefully. “It’s another one.”

“What the….. Now what?”

“Some guy fishing in the Danube out near Petr┼żalka got his line snagged on something.”

“Don’t tell me he was going to eat a fish from that river.”

“I don’t know. Someone’s hungry enough they’ll eat anything. The line was brand new so he pulled on it very carefully – came up with a rusted old weight.”


“There was a foot tied to the weight with a piece of old rope.”