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.