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Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Problem of Rong Bridge

‘He could hit really hard, so could we, fifty years ago, maybe forty, but we were all over eighty, so he just knocked us out with one punch in the face. Heck, some cowards might have fallen just from the wind from his swings. That’s what you get for trying to board the bus first as a senior. He jumped on the bus and left as we lay there, everyone walking by, as you do. Nobody cared, nor did we, we sat down on the sidewalk, or better said, sat up there, spitting blood, talking rubbish. Literally talking rubbish, as all our dentures had broken. One of my mates said:”aaaan daaa iise” to which I replied „what you said?” but then it was something more like „aht uuu ed”. We were just laughing there, bunch of old farts. But one of us was in a lot worse shape than the rest, he was quiet all along then he suddenly fell back. I crawled next to him, still laughing with tears and blood, he was shaking as well but not for the same reasons. He managed to say a few words and from the way he said it I realised that it must be important for him. He blurted out a few words, then his head fell back and he didn’t move any more. By the time the ambulance got there all they could do was to pronounce him dead and us lucky. His last words were these, and I quote: "Aham baim he eletikiki mee no ar as em ool ohm ack it eh arinshoe am esel. Erer erer."’
And then the old man, who was telling me this story, fell silent, only his eyes were filled with eagerness, awaiting my reply.
‘I’m sorry Mr Harris but this makes absolutely no sense to me.’
‘Yes, I admit that it sounds completely gibberish, but I am 99.5 percent sure this is what he said: "Heaven may be eclectically reached, mown the grass, make the full moons rack, little Karen Schuman may tell, heaven, heaven"‘
‘That’s exactly what I asked as well, but all he said was “her, her.”‘
‘So you’re 99.5 percent sure this is what he said? Well, I’m a 110.6 percent sure I don’t know what it means. Who is this Karen Schuman?’
‘I don’t know her either. But we need to find her and we need to find out what she knows. Gary Gers, that was his name, had always been somewhat spiritual, he might have found out some secrets. I know that for you heaven is not important, you think it’s not relevant for you, yet, but I know it’s long overdue for me and I want to know. And you might need it as well, hopefully later than sooner.’
‘So, at the end of the day, you don’t actually know what he said? It seems to me that you are kind of hoping that he said this.’
The old man didn’t get perplexed by my statement, he was just nodding silently. I had spent enough time by now in Rotham: for all kinds of people to come to know me. This old man was one of my colleague’s father or grandfather, I don’t even know for sure, what I know is that he has always been very chatty, even friendly, one would say. It was a real effort recalling his name. Again he was being friendly in his gentle head-bobbing without doing anything else at all so I was forced to do the questioning, ‘And what can I do for you?’
‘Well, investigate it; you’re a journalist, aren’t you?
‘Well, I am, but why don’t you ask your grr....son?’ I was coughing to cover up that I wasn’t sure what his relationship to my colleague is.
‘I’ve asked him too of course,’ he was smiling. ‘But he’s not as ...assertive,’ he said, trying to flatter me.
‘Me? Assertive?’ I forced out a loud laugh. ‘No, I’m not like that at all.’
‘Aren’t you?’ he was still smiling, ‘and what about that time with the train?’
‘What train?’ I was acting stupid, but I couldn’t fool him.
‘You know, when you locked bicycles in front of three doors in a two-carriage train so that all the passengers had to squeeze out through just one door’
‘Ah, that one! No, that was different. I had been asked to report on the morning rush hour but I overslept and by the time I got to the station there weren’t enough people; I had to be ingenious so at least I could take one picture of a train door with the sardine-effect.’
‘You see,’ he said as if this was exactly the thing he wanted to hear, ‘this is the kind of person I need! Alright, I’ll leave you now; let me know once you’ve found something.’ He shook my hand, strictly friendly of course and off he was.  
I was heading home thinking that tomorrow morning I need to go to the police station anyway, maybe I’ll manage to find out something there, if not, so be it, at least I tried...
I didn’t even go to the newspaper the next day; I went straight to the New Rotham: Yard on Eating Broadway Street, of course this was also work, now that I come to think of it. I am working for them occasionally, doing police sketches. This was the reason why I had to go there that day actually. A middle-aged woman was waiting for me. She was clearly distressed but was trying to compose herself. Even me, who usually wouldn’t get attached emotionally to the cases at all, got affected, infuriated to be more precise. I tried to draw the person as accurately as I could; I even tried to put his crime in it.
When I finished I didn’t go home. I went out to the smoke room, hoping to meet someone I knew. There were a few people there that I had met before, I blurted out a loud, happy "hello", they looked up but there was no answer. I didn't feel like chatting anymore, so I just stood there, looking through the bluish cigarette smoke the same way as they were looking through me. On my way out I stumbled and nearly fell, they all looked up. If I were to fall they would all react, maybe even ask me if I'm alright, help me up, that sort of thing. But I didn't fall so they could carry on hiding in their smoke. My only hope now was this guy, a detective whom I talked too occasionally, better said, he was doing the talking and I was doing the listening, pretending to be interested. He was quite a cocky guy and I never liked the type. Of course, now that I wanted to bump into him he was nowhere to be found. I popped into the loo before leaving and as I was standing there facing the wall – but not because I was instructed to do so by policemen – someone came behind me.
‘Hey, Azeu, today’s your lucky day,’ he said as he stopped next to me, ‘are you in the mood of watching Sherlock Holmes in action?’, he asked me while giving me a huge pat on my shoulder with his free hand. 
It was detective Nofaught, the bloke I was after, normally I would have politely rejected this amazing offer but I thought if I go with him I could bring up the old man’s story.
‘Sure!’ I managed to show some enthusiasm, ‘what it is about?’
‘A body was found in Middle Park and it was assigned to me. You can come along,’ he added, ‘but only if you don’t interfere. Who knows maybe you’ll get a good story out of it.’
Yeah, right! I thought but I only said, ‘when are we leaving?’ This at least was an honest question.
‘Right now!’ and off he went. I followed him, jumped in to the car but he wasn’t in a chatty mood, so I didn’t bring up my case. I was expecting sirens and wheel grinding but instead we were just rolling nicely, stopping at the red, rushing on the green as everyone else.
‘It must be a serious one, we don’t just go out to any dead body, there aren’t many of us. And also they don’t just send me anywhere,’ he grinned arrogantly when he finally said something. Then he fell silent again.
I was really bored, normally I listen to music when I travel but it would have been impolite to put the headphones on, even rude. So I was just looking out but the sun was in my eyes so I turned down my head staring at the glove compartment but the light was still too bright so I had to lower my head even more. The detective was just keeping quiet; maybe talking to me would have been degrading to him. I shook my head sourly and as the sun disappeared for a while behind the clouds I raised my gaze higher again. There were a few planes lining up nicely in a row, each one a bit lower than the one behind it, readying to land at the airport. It hasn’t occurred to me before, but you cannot see planes high up in the sky in this area, each of them is flying low, maybe to get a better picture of the city. Of course this train of thought didn’t go anywhere either so I was just sitting there as if in an empty station. Suddenly the detective broke the silence.
‘And then you don’t have to play the guitar.’
Obviously I had no idea what he’s talking about, though he gave me no time to think it over as he followed up his statement.
‘I’ve been watching you Azeu. You were looking out watching the slum, then you took your eyes off it, you were looking at the glove compartment and saw the three lines on it, it reminded you of the Adidas logo and how some sportsmen get millions just to wear their shoes while these poor souls out there are running barefoot. Then you sank in yourself, you dropped your head and later you were searching the sky, possibly thinking where’s God now? Then you noticed the billboard advertising all sort of furnishing but the overall picture you got resembled a stage and then it occurred to you that a charity concert should be organised. Most likely you were thinking of musicians as well, you must have thought of your favourites, if you’re doing charity you should get something out of it as well, after all. Your eyes were caught by the DIY tools shop and naturally you started thinking about the instruments of the musicians. And when we past that dog food billboard you remembered that the dog goes woof-woof and if you hook up a wah-wah pedal to a guitar you don’t really have to play the instrument. This is when I stepped in and blurted out your thoughts before you even realised them. I do this quite often and never been wrong before.’
‘Do you play the guitar?’ I asked him.
‘No, I just heard about it. Do you play it?’
‘No, I only play the hu...’
‘It’s not important anyway,’ said he, cutting me off, ‘it’s all about the logical process.’
I’m not the one to shatter innocent illusions, even if they pop out of sheer arrogance, so all I said was:
‘Are we going to Rue Morgue by any chance?’
‘No, that’s on the other side of town. We’ve almost arrived at Middle Park now’
And he stopped. ‘We are walking from here’ he said abruptly.
He must have known where we were going as we were heading to a certain direction without thinking and soon we arrived at the stream crossing the park. Not too far there was a short stone bridge, a few constables were hanging about and a couple of other men wearing civilian clothes were also there. One of them was taking pictures, the other one was smoking, he must have been the coroner.
When we got there the detective went straight to the smoking man. ‘Hello doctor, what’s on?’
‘Not much, middle-aged woman, gunshot wound to the head, shot fired from close proximity’
‘How close?’ he asked, while lifting the black sheet to take a look at the body.
‘If it was closer we would be talking about a stab wound,’ the doctor said prosaically.
‘Time of death?’
‘Somewhere between eight and twelve last night, more precisely after the autopsy. ‘
‘All right,’ acknowledged the officer, then he turned to the constable in the uniform, ‘who found the body?’
‘A man who was jogging here. He said this was his usual route, he saw the body lying here on Rong Bridge, and called us.’ he reported dutifully.
‘Where is he now?’
‘He’s gone to work.’ He said in the same manner.
‘What??’ exploded Nofaught, ‘you let him go?! And what if he was the killer?’
‘I...I...’ the constable lost all his composure, ‘I wasn’t thinking of that, he gave me all his details and he looked like a proper jogger, slightly fit, terribly sweaty.’
‘Then in the summer everyone could be a jogger,’ the detective shook his head as if saying: amateurs. He completely forgot about me, which is good as I didn’t have to fake that I’m interested. I found all this incredibly boring, like a lunch break chit-chat, so I quietly waited for an opportunity to bring up my problem. The officer kept inquiring:
‘We haven’t found it yet,’ said the still uneasy uniformed guy.
‘Is that a fact?’ said the officer, and he raised his head like a bloodhound on the scent. ‘That changes everything.’ And he looked almost jubilant rubbing his hands together.
Now I started paying more attention as well; a woman’s body is found on a bridge, she was shot on the head at close range, missing gun, I’ve seen this before. I was sure that this self-proclaimed Sherlock Holmes is going to see the similarities soon enough.
At the moment though he just kept snooping.
‘Do we have an ID on the victim?’
‘Yes, her name is Anne Murray; she lives close by, just next to the park.’
‘Good, then I’ll go there. Has the family been notified?’
The constable quietly nodded, with reverence, as you do. Seemingly the detective considered the crime scene investigation over, he took the address from the policeman, who overzealously gave him directions as well, I think he was still bothered that he let the jogger go. Nofaught told the coroner to let him know once he finished, then he waved his hand and left the scene. This wave was probably intended to me, though he didn’t look at me, I followed him nevertheless, walked fast to catch up. He was silent again, this could have been a terrific opportunity to bring up my problem, but I was interested in something else.
‘So what is your preliminary opinion?’ I asked him in a low voice, giving him an opportunity to choose whether he wants to hear it or not. And he wanted.
‘It’s a clear cut murder. The husband did it.’
‘Clear cut?’
‘Of course. I have no doubt about it.’
‘But...doesn’t this remind you of something?’
‘Yes it does. We have many cases like this, the husband gets bored of his wife and instead of a divorce he kills her thinking that he can outsmart us. But now, the poor fellow has found his match in me,’ he smiled without a hint of modesty.
‘You are right,’ I concluded, ‘this probably happens quite often, but I wasn’t thinking about that.’
‘What then?’
‘I was thinking...’ I paused, weighing to continue or not. ‘Are you aware that there is a Sherlock Holmes story that eerily resembles our current case? A woman commits suicide on a bridge, before that she had tied the gun to a stone and thus if fell in the water after being fired, and in the absence of a gun everyone suspects murder. Have you read it?’
‘No. When do I have time to read?’
‘There is a movie version as well.’
‘I don’t have time for that either. And besides, this is not fiction and in this case the husband committed the murder.’
‘In the book the gun makes a fresh chip on the ledge of the bridge.’
‘Fresh? What do you mean by fresh?’ Asked the detective mockingly, ‘it’s still dripping? Anyway, this gun was small so it couldn’t have made any damage and so light that one should have tied a planet to it to make it sink.’
‘How do you know it was a small gun?’
‘It was a small calibre gun. The smallest calibre there is, if it were any smaller there wouldn’t have been a hole in it.’
‘And how do you know that?’
‘From the wound. I have an eye for it, you’ll see, the coroner will confirm it. No, no, it was the husband and I’ll prove it.’
We left the park and soon enough we were at the house, it wasn’t far from the bridge, maybe a ten-minutes-walk. A policeman was stationed in front of the house as well, Nofaught just nodded towards him as we entered. Another constable was sitting inside, the detective looked at him with prying eyes and he pointed towards a door. It seemed that they have quite an evolved conversation system in place. We walked towards the door, but suddenly the detective stopped me: ‘You should stay outside now. Journalists are not really allowed in and I’m afraid you couldn’t play good cop bad cop so I’ll have to play both Mutt and Jeff by myself. Don’t worry; I’ll fill you in so you could write about it in great detail.’ And he left me there, not even bothering to wait for my answer. So I stayed in the hallway, the policeman displayed a really serious expression, as if saying I’m on duty, I can’t talk. So I sat on a chair and waited. I must have sat there for a half an hour, sometimes there was a bit of a shouting coming from inside but I couldn’t make anything out. Then Nofaught came out, I followed him, journalists can do that, sometimes they even must. Once outside, he lit a cigarette and started puffing contentedly. I didn’t want to disturb his satisfaction, so I waited for him to finish. When he was done he turned towards me, ‘Come, let’s check the neighbours.’
‘The neighbours?’
‘The tabloids don’t cover the Murrays, but the neighbours do.’
Thus we went to their left hand side neighbours, surprisingly their door was wide open, with nobody in sight, we went in, looking around like in an amusement park, then we spotted a youngish lady. The officer asked her: ‘Pardon me, do you live here?’
‘Yes, yes I do, come on in, though as you see we are quite in a bad state, with the funeral and all that.’
‘You are preparing for the funeral?’
‘Yes, yes we do.’
‘I don’t really understand that, why are you preparing for the funeral here?’
‘What do you mean? Whose side are you from? Mr Gers’s or his wife’s? I’m guessing you must be from my uncle’s side, may he rest in peace.’
‘Uncle?’ Nofaught raised his eyebrows even higher. ‘What uncle?’
‘Why, my uncle Garry Gers of course, the poor soul passed away yesterday, he got in a fight with someone and at his age...you know...’ She didn’t finish the sentence, probably out of sheer piety.
But now she caught my attention as well, it seems that even if I don’t bring my case up, someone else will; and the detective couldn’t have picked a better spot to catch up on the local gossip than here. The woman repeated the question which had been left unanswered: ‘So whose side are you from? Or are you not here for the funeral?’
‘No, no, I am from the police,’ and he took his badge out. Finally. He should have started with that.
‘Finally!’ exclaimed the woman as well, although for different reasons. ‘We phoned in several times but they kept on saying that they don’t have enough officers and they can only be sent out to important cases. ‘But,’ she burst out, ‘what’s more important than a man’s life?’ And she stood there, with her hands on her hips, eyebrows raised, staring at Nofaught, I’m sure he would rather have stared down the barrel of a gun.
‘Obviously nothing, I can assure you that one of my colleagues is on his way,’ lied the inspector, though I guess many of his colleagues were on their way. Somewhere. Probably nowhere.
Another woman appeared in the back and told our conversation partner:
‘Karen, can you please come in the back when you’re finished, we need you.’
‘I’ll be there in a minute.’
Hearing her name I fired straight away: ‘Your name is Karen?’
‘Yes, yes it is,’ she replied with a big smile, ‘Karen Crow’
‘Oh, is that your maiden name by any chance?’
‘You are right again; I haven’t found the one yet.’ And she gave me a look that said:"but I’m up for it!"
Sadly for her, I lost interest; she probably was used to it anyway, so I just looked at Nofaught thus letting him know "she’s all yours". He didn’t seem too happy with my interruption. So he gave me an angry look before resuming.
‘Me on the other hand, I am investigating the murder of your neighbour.’
‘There was a murder there as well?!’ and I saw that curiosity quickly took over, which turned into pedantry; ’I always said that shrew is going to kill that poor old man.’
‘Shrew? What shrew?’ Nofaught asked.
‘Well, Mrs Murray of course!’
‘But she is the victim.’

End of part I

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