Pashazade By Jon Courtenay Grimwood Essay, Research Paper
Pashazade by Jon Courtenay GrimwoodThe sound of fountains came in stereo. A deep splash from the courtyard below and a lighter trickle from the next room, where open arches cut in a wall that over-looked the courtyard had marble balustrades stretched between supporting pillars. It was that kind of house. Old, historic, near derelict in places. ‘Ambient temp 81 Fahrenheit, humidity sixty-two percent…’ The American spoke clearly, reading the data from the face of his watch, then glanced through a smashed window to what little he could see of the sky outside. ‘Passing cloud, no direct sunlight.’ Dropping clumsily onto to one knee, Felix Abrinsky touched the marble floor with nicotine-stained fingers, confirming to himself that this statement was correct. The tiles were warm but not hot. No latent heat had been stored up from that morning’s sunshine to radiate back into the afternoon air. Bizarrely, it took Felix less effort to stand than it had done to kneel, though he needed to pause to get his breath all the same. And the silver-ringed hand that came up to wipe sweat from his forehead only succeeded in smearing grease across his scalp and down his thinning ponytail. Police regulations demanded he wear a face mask, surgical gloves and – in his case – a sweat band to stop himself from accidentally polluting biological evidence. But Felix was Chief of Detectives and so far as he was concerned that meant he could approach the crime scene how he liked, which was loose, casual and lateral. Not to mention semi-drunk. All the virtues that first got him thrown out of the police in Los Angeles. Besides, if you wanted to talk about should have been, he should have been on holiday and would have managed it too if this particular buck hadn’t been bumped up the line so fast it practically hit the wall parking itself right outside his office door. The body in the chair was fresh, still warm to his touch. Stiffness had set in to the arms but then rigor happened fast when the victim was border-line anorexic. And even without the woman’s thinness there was the North African heat to factor into the equation. Heat always upped the rate at which rigor gripped a corpse. On his arrival Felix had considered obtaining an immediate body temperature but habit made him do the crime scene grabs first, then work a grid through the victim’s office, tweezering up clues. And technically, since she was obviously dead, he’d already broken his own regulations by checking under her jaw for a carotid pulse. ‘Covering the body prior to site shots.’ Some cities used electronic observers, 360 degree fish-eye vids, wired for movement and sound. El Iskandryia used the human kind, when it bothered to use observers at all. The silksuit Felix had chosen stood in the doorway, doing exactly what he’d been told, which was shut up and stay out of the way. From a foil packet Felix extracted a sheet of tissue-thin gauze designed to protected the woman’s modesty in death as surely as a scarf around her head would have hidden her hair on the streets in life. Except there was no scarf because the woman had been stabbed in her own house, at her own desk, in her own office… ‘Starting location shots,’ said the fat man and lifted an old Speed Graphic. The camera was linked to his even more ancient LAPD-issue Chronograph, which would back up each shot as it was taken, just as the camera would automatically stamp time, date and orientation across the bottom edge of each new shot. 15.30: July 5: SouthSouthWest. All the same, Felix dictated what he was doing, working fast to photograph the little office from every angle. Only when this was done could he start work on the body. ‘Exposure five. Al-Mansur madersa. Upstairs. Interior. West wall and corner of office taken from door. Speed Graphic Digilux. 50mm lens. K400-equivalence.’ The dictation did no more than tell the court what camera had been used, what the shot showed and what the light was like: something the camera told them anyway. But he’d learnt his craft back when Speed Graphics still took acetate and defence attorneys jumped on any conflict of technical information, no matter how small. And besides he spoke not to his camera or watch but to himself. These days defence attorneys weren’t an issue. If the Chief of Detectives said someone had committed a crime that was usually good enough for a judge. The suspect went down. Unfortunately it had take Felix a few months to realise this and there were three cases from his early days in El Iskandryia which still gave him sleepless nights – four, if he was being unusually hard on himself. ‘Exposure eleven. Al-Mansur madersa. Upstairs. Interior. Open door to office, taken from broken mashrabiya window in south wall adjacent to Rue Sherif…’ Mashrabiyas were originally shaded balconies were water jugs could be left to cool. But the term had long since come to signify both the balcony and the ornately-carved screen that hid those in the balcony from the street below. Marble was commonplace for the screen, as was gilded or painted wood. The smashed mashrabiya at the al-Mansur madersa had been carved two hundred years before from a single slab of alabaster and now lay in shards on the floor, apparently kicked in from outside. That the balcony was fifteen foot above a busy street only made the break-in more unlikely. Until one factored in the Thiergarten who apparently could move unseen, kill silently and climb walls like flies. Felix sighed. Whatever else Berlin had to buy for its agents abroad, their deadly reputation come free. Officially, of course, Berlin was El Iaskandryia’a ally. Merely an equal partner in a bigger, three-way alliance with Stambul and Paris. Unofficially, French influence kept itself to Morocco, while Berlin’s advisors flooded the rest of the littoral and Stambul banked the takings from the Suez Canal and did pretty much what it was told. Politics – now there was one subject Felix spent a lot of time trying to avoid. Grunting crossly, the fat man wiped a fresh crop of sweat from his face and grabbed two shots of a ridiculous rag dog, quite out of keeping with the cold elegance of the Khedivian desk on which it sat. And then, having put off what came next for long enough, Felix turned his camera to the body. ‘Exposure thirteen. Al-Mansur madersa. Upstairs. Interior. The body, taken from front of desk …’ Felix whipped off the modesty cloth and took his second close look at the dead woman’s wounds. They were no more pleasant than first time round. Once started, he worked swiftly on the crime grabs, moving in close to get specific shots of her ripped-open blouse, the broken nails on one hand, the trickle of blood that had dried to a stark black ribbon down her side. The woman was early forties. Middling height. Brown eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. Black hair cut short and expensive, elegant obviously. The very fact her eyes were clear and the cornea unclouded told Felix that she was less than six hours dead, but he knew that anyway and put her death at two hours ago at the most. One of her elbows had flopped across the arm of her chair and her head was tipped right back, the muscle relaxation that precedes rigor having smoothed her face until it looked more serene in death than it ever had in life: infinitely more serene than it did glaring up from that afternoon’s Iskandryian open on the desk in front of her. ‘Berlin furious as society widow slams RenSchmiss.’ And those in El Iskandryia’s German community who believed in the legal right to bear weapons and fight formal duels had slammed right back from the look of things… Punching a button on the side of his Speed Graphic, Felix reduced the depth of field until it showed only what he wanted the judge to see. The injuries in sharp focus. To him the victim was no longer human, that was where he differed to his boss and underlings – and from Madame Milla, the coroner, who would already be on her way. To them, what slumped in that chair was still a woman. Deserving all the respect and modesty that the law allowed. That was why Felix had put the rest of his day on hold to make it first to the scene of the crime. Back in the city of angels where Felix had trained, he’d have grabbed a few more corpse shots, lifted dabs, collected up handleable bio like hair with tweezers and stashed it in evidence bags and then vacuumed the victim’s clothes, one at a time, again putting the dust into separate sachets. And then, with her original position recorded beyond all possible doubt, he’ d have had some medical technician take the body some place near but non critical and remove the clothes so Felix could photograph the corpse, wound by wound and bruise by bruise. But that wasn’t the way crime against women was handled in El Iskandryia. At least not officially and this, regretfully, was unquestionably a very official crime. She’d once been married to an important man, there were rumours that she was badly in debt – to whom nobody seemed to know – and she’d been outspoken enough to upset the young khedive’s German advisors. This was the kind of crime that required press conferences, photo opportunities and fancy political footwork, all of which would get in the way of actually solving the murder. Reaching into his pocket, Felix palmed a silver hip flask and flipped back its spring-loaded top with a single flick of his thumb. Like most things in life, practice was all it took.