Authors: David Lee Marriner
After passing through the checkpoint at the MI5 building in
Brighton, James easily spotted McClain, the superintendent’s assistant, who
approached him in the reception area. “Would you come upstairs for a minute?
We’ve found something on the surveillance cameras,” said McLain.
James nodded and they headed towards the lift. James noticed
that the young man’s eyes were swollen and red. “You’ve had a long night, I
assume?” he asked.
“Yes, we’ve been working on the case non-stop. After the
last round of job cuts, we’ve all had to step on the pedals. Not for more money
The superintendent’s office was a small and untidy room
filled with all kinds of computer equipment.
“You’ve come just at the right time,” the superintendent
said. “McClain, start the show.”
McClain sat down and tapped on a keyboard. On the computer
screen, a surveillance camera film began to play.
“These are recordings from the surveillance cameras on
Costov’s floor,” McClain explained. He froze the film at the point where two
well-dressed men were entering the hotel Altor’s lobby.
He then pointed to another screen, and after pressing
another button on his keyboard, another surveillance film played, showing Stefan
Costov, arm in arm with a pretty brunette, coming out of the lift on the third
floor, followed by a young couple who were casually dressed in sportswear and
carrying tennis rackets.
“Those are the killers. We’ve questioned everybody caught on
camera that morning, except those five. We couldn’t find them. Everyone else
has a solid alibi,” said McClain.
“Once they’ve finished with Costov they walk quietly through
the main entrance into the street,” the superintendent added.
McClain continued, “All of them had been registered as
guests at the hotel on the previous day, but not one of them slept there. The
bookings were made using a stolen credit card’s data. Hotel reception has
confirmed that the brunette spoke English with an accent. The others were English.”
“Watch carefully; something interesting happens now,” said
the superintendent. He signalled to McClain to play another sequence, which
showed the casually dressed couple entering a door leading to the stairwell.
McClain froze the image as the woman stretched out her arm
to open the stairs door and her cropped top revealed her waist.
“Magnify,” said the superintendent.
“Pay attention to the difference in the skin tone between
her face, her arms and her midriff. The skin at the waist is darker,” said McClain.
“Normally it should be the other way around,” said the
James looked closer. “Indeed!” He was puzzled.
“We think that the killers wore flesh masks. The woman’s
hands had been treated to match the skin tone of the flesh mask she wore. It’s
clear that her waist had been missed,” said the superintendent.
“It’s strange. At first, we thought they didn’t sleep in the
hotel because they were afraid of leaving hair and skin fibres behind. Yet they
seemingly didn’t care about leaving traces in Costov’s place,” said McClain.
“I’ve got a question for you related to this.” The
superintendent looked up at James.
“What is it?” James asked.
“In Costov’s apartment, four of the killers had positioned
themselves in a pattern. We think, according to the four points of the globe.
They knelt there for some time. Does that fit in with any theory you may have?”
“The four-point positioning may be connected to the symbolic
protection of the ritual site,” said James.
“We’re dealing with complete nutcases,” said the
superintendent. Repugnance could be detected in his voice.
“The organization of the gang was very professional. Apart
from the traces in Costov’s apartment and that mistake…” McClain pointed to the
frozen still of the woman.
“Amateur lapses in a very well-organized and professionally
implemented murder. I hope we’ll soon find some further evidence,” said the
* * *
On the desk in the office that the superintendent had had
prepared for him, James found the report about the Sumerian note. He read it
carefully and then sat back in his chair thinking.
This is how the superintendent found him more than half an
hour later. He walked in holding a file and a copy of the report that James had
open on his desk. “I’ve just finished reading that report too,” he said. “Do
you mind if we talk about it, if you’ve finished reading it?”
“Sure, I’ve read it,” replied James.
The superintendent sat on the edge of James’ desk.
“According to the experts, the shape and style of the writing used in this note
resembles that used just before the middle of the third millennium BC. The
translation of the note reads: ‘The Deprived of Light is a Gift for the Wisdom
Keeper’. That, in my opinion, strengthens your hypothesis. The Wisdom Keeper
could be another name for Ningishzida.”
James nodded in agreement. “There is one thing that could be
useful for you to know. I’m certain now that the note was not part of the set
“So, it might have been a whim thought up by one of the
killers? Or could it have been meant for us?” asked the superintendent.
“I think it’s some sort of boasting. Something like: ‘We
know how to achieve our goal and we can do it.”
“Yes. It fits. Fanatics think they have monopoly of the
truth. That’s how they justify their actions.” The superintendent took a
magnified photo of a spot from the crime scene and a piece of paper out of the
file. He placed them on the desk and said, “Here’s the report about those two
symbols, as you requested. The experts can’t connect them to any known
pictogram or ideogram.
They’re considered to be non-identifiable. Do you think
they’re of some special importance?”
“I wanted a second opinion on two symbols in particular, as
they are the most unclear,” James explained.
“Maybe the drawings were bungled.”
“I thought about that. The sign on the left looks like a
stick figure of a humble man offering something. Some kind of gift, probably.
He’s facing the group of signs that symbolize Ningishzida, so the gift is being
given to the god.”
The superintendent smiled. “You’ve got a sharp eye. The gift
to the god might be the light they mentioned in the note. That’s to say, the
life of Costov is the light,” he elaborated.
“That interpretation does seem to match the message on the
note,” James pointed out.
“You’re right. It’s improbable that the killers would plant
the same message twice in the crime scene.” The superintendent paused for
“The giving man most probably symbolizes the world as they
feel it should be: a world of order and hierarchy in which people worship the
old gods. This interrelates with the V sign on the right. It depicts the world
as it is: a world of separations and individualism,” explained James.
“That sounds about right to me. That description definitely
matches the characteristics the cult has demonstrated so far. The note in the
mouth of the corpse is the only thing which stands apart.
“That’s because the note wasn’t part of the ritual.”
“An act of vanity, perhaps.”
“It could be.”
The superintendent drew nearer to the picture on the desk
and peered at it. “If this is a Sumerian cult why did they draw non-Sumerian
“You’re talking about those two symbols?”
The superintendent nodded.
“I’d define them as an afterthought of the killers’
imagination,” said James.
“This may give us clue about who they are.”
“Bear in mind that these people imitate a culture which both
we and they will never actually know about in full. This is why they may feel
compelled to make up their own additions to the ritual. They may even use their
own interpretations of the old symbolism.”
“I’ll leave it in your hands. You’re doing good job. I’ll
wait for your report,” said the superintendent.
“Let me first check my theory against the last lab tests and
the autopsy results.”
Still feeling excited from her rapid driving, Irina Bellin,
a detective from the Bulgarian Interpol Bureau, rushed into MI5’s building in
Brighton. She had covered the distance from London almost twice as fast than if
she had driven in accord with the speed limit. She was late for her meeting
with superintendent Peter Oliver and she blamed her delay on the bureaucracy of
the British security services. They needed hours to acquire extra verification
and prepare the necessary papers before she could begin the new mission she had
been assigned to by Interpol.
The police officer at the entrance of the building knew
about her arrival and directed her immediately to the second floor, where
superintendent Peter Oliver was waiting for her.
Rather than waiting for the lift, Irina quickly climbed the
back stairs, finally reaching the almost deserted office space she had been
told to report to. The standard working shift had ended two hours before and
only a skeleton staff of the scientific department remained on duty. Irina knew
that some members of staff were only working overtime because of the importance
of the Costov case. Stefan Costov had worked on some significant research
projects financed by the US government. His murder had startled a number of
high-ranking politicians and executives in Washington. She knew that officers
from the US State Secretary’s department had already contacted the British
security services about his death.
The superintendent’s office was at the end of a corridor
right next to the crime lab. As Irina walked along the corridor, two
young men dressed in suits stopped chatting and stared at her. She was aware of
the effect she had on men. She was an attractive woman with a curvaceous and
athletic body, and she also refused to conform to the usual decorous office
dress code. However, the coldness of her look as she met their eyes seemed to
embarrass the men and they soon looked away and began to chat between
She knocked on the superintendent’s door and entered without
waiting to be called in. Peter Oliver jumped up in surprise, reaching out
across his untidy desk to shake her hand. He quickly offered her a chair.
“I’m sorry you’ve had to stay late because of me,” Irina
“Not at all,” replied the superintendent. “I’ve not been
spending more than four hours a day at home recently. Just about enough time
for the kids not to forget me! I’ve not really been briefed fully about the
reason for your visit. What can I do for you?”
Irina rolled her eyes in disbelief that the superintendent
hadn’t been briefed properly in spite of the problems she had experienced
getting security clearance. “It’s not just a visit. I’ve been instructed to
work with you and your people on the Stefan Costov case.”
The superintendent cast a surprised sideways glance at her.
“With all due respect, that isn’t possible,” he replied. “The case is
completely under the jurisdiction of my department, but of course we’ll
“Well, the jurisdiction on the case has recently been
expanded. Interpol has become involved and that’s why I’m here.” She took an
envelope from her handbag and handed it to him. “Here’s the new information, as
well as a letter of authority from your State Security Cabinet outlining the
context of how we need to work together.”
The superintendent sheepishly took the papers and started
reading them. Irina waited patiently.
After a pause, but without enthusiasm, the superintendent
looked up, “Well, welcome to the team. However, I feel a bit uneasy about what
I’ve just read … It’s going to be time-consuming getting you up to speed on the
case. It will also mean I have to assign more resources to do this… Are you
sure that a similar murder took place a couple of years ago in Algeria?”
“That’s the working hypothesis. I found the Algerian case on
Interpol’s database. It was listed as a short report made by a local Interpol
officer. It’s in the file marked as appendix one. The initial resemblance
between the two cases is not to be disregarded,” Irina replied politely.
The superintendent looked up at the ceiling for a while,
thinking. “Well, we know that four of Costov’s killers were English. The report
here reads that the killers in Algeria were all locals?”
“Yes, the police caught them at the crime scene. One of them
was shot dead and the rest managed to flee. The man who was killed turned out
to be deeply religious.”
“Religious? Do you mean there may have been a religious
motive linked to this crime?” the superintendent asked thoughtfully.
“I’d rather not speculate at this stage. Let’s get more
details from my Algerian colleagues first.”
The superintendent started to examine the papers in the file
in more detail, reading the report of the Algerian Interpol officer closely.
“Have you had any word about evidence collected through operative police work?”
“We’re lucky that this case was even recorded at all,”
replied Irina. “It wasn’t really an Interpol matter. The reason it was entered
onto the database was because the victim was a foreigner.”
The superintendent frowned. He took a piece of paper out of
the file and cast a look at it. “The last month hasn’t been Mr Costov’s
luckiest one. The report states that he was victim of a burglary recently.”
“I got myself acquainted with the police investigation on
the burglary. It’s not related with his murder.”
“I see. Look …” the superintendent began, trying to restrain
his increasing annoyance about another person being unexpectedly added to his
team, “Costov’s murder was characterized by unusual circumstances. He’d been
drugged. A unique narcotic was used made partly from hashish, but its other
ingredients remain a mystery. The lab can’t identify them. Costov’s blood was
slowly drained and symbols were drawn on the carpet with it. A swastika was
carved on his chest and he was stabbed in the heart with a horn. The horn comes
from a kind of mountain goat.” He rummaged through the papers on the desk in
front of him. “A Siberian Goat –
Capra Ibex Siberica
... My point is
that we need confirmation that something similar happened in Algeria before we
can treat your case seriously.”