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Authors: Paul Sussman

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General

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BOOK: The Labyrinth of Osiris
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Oy vey
,’ murmured Angelina.

A girl was standing inside, naked, her ebony skin still glistening from the shower she had just taken. Judging from her underdeveloped physique she couldn’t have been much more than nine or ten. She was shaking, her eyes wide with terror.

There was a brief, horrified silence. Then Marilyn Monroe hurried across the room, ripping off her mask as she went, revealing a pale face and a tumble of reddish-brown hair. She snatched a towel from the bathroom rail and wrapped it around the child.

‘It’s OK,’ she whispered, holding her. ‘
Ça va
. It’s OK. It’s over.’

She remained like that for a long time, calming and reassuring the girl, no one else moving or saying anything. Then, her cheeks flushed, she strode back into the room, went up to Semblaire and slammed the butt of her handgun hard against the side of his face, sending him sprawling backwards on the bed. He screamed and brought his hands up to defend himself. The other woman leapt over and grasped her companion’s arm, trying to restrain her.


Lo
, Dinah!’

She tore her arm free and hit Semblaire again, and again, then grasped a handful of hair, yanked his head back and forced the Glock muzzle deep into his mouth, choking him.

‘I’ll kill you,’ she howled, her face now stained a deep red, her cheeks wet with tears. ‘I’ll kill you, you vile animal. I’ll blow your fucking head off.’

She was hysterical, unhinged. Only when the man in the Elvis mask came forward and wrapped an arm around her, gently but firmly drawing her away, did she begin to calm. The two of them spoke in low voices, in a language Semblaire didn’t understand, although he was almost certain it was Hebrew. Then, trembling, she slipped the pistol back into her jeans. Returning to the bathroom, she helped the girl into the ragged pink dress that lay slung across the toilet seat. Taking her hand, she then led her to the main door, the child mute and acquiescent. She unbolted the door, swung it open and moved the girl through before turning back to Semblaire. He was curled on the bed groaning, his towelling bathrobe rucked up around his waist, its collar smeared with blood. For a moment she stared at him, faced twisted with loathing, then she spat in his direction.

‘We are your nemesis,’ she said, before stepping outside and closing the door behind her.

Once she was gone, Elvis Presley took a swift look through the garden doors to make sure Semblaire’s bodyguards had not been attracted by the commotion. Satisfied, he returned to the bed and hoisted the Frenchman into a sitting position. His left cheek was swollen and puffy.


Elle a cassé ma mâchoire, la chienne
,’ he mumbled, holding a hand up to his jaw.

The man didn’t reply. Instead he took a couple of steps back and aimed his gun at Semblaire’s head.

‘You will look into the camera,’ he instructed. ‘You will state your name and the name of your company, and you will then explain exactly what it is you are doing here in Africa.’

He motioned for the camera to be switched on.

‘Now start talking, you sick son-of-a-bitch.’

J
ERUSALEM

The Cathedral of St James sat at the heart of the city’s Armenian Quarter, a two-hundred-metre walk from Kishle, along the high-walled canyon of Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road. Halfway there the rain really started hammering down, great driving sheets of it, forcing Ben-Roi to take shelter in the doorway of the Armenian Tavern. He cursed Pincas for denying him his umbrella, and pulled out his cell phone, taking the opportunity to call Sarah. To apologize.

It was strange the way life turned. How things never quite worked out the way you expected. A few years back he’d been engaged to be married. Then his fiancée Galia had been killed and his world had dropped into the abyss. He’d thought that was it, he was buried for ever, but against all expectations two people had pulled him out. Sarah was one of them.

Four years they’d been together. Good years. Wonderful years, particularly at the beginning. Galia would always be there, of course, but with Sarah his life had moved on. He’d healed. And not just on a personal level. His career too had got back on track. He’d been promoted to senior detective, won citations for his work on three separate investigations, rediscovered his passion for policing. His obsession with it.

Which is where the problems came. As any detective anywhere in the world will tell you, finding the balance between upholding the law and upholding a relationship is a tough thing to do. Doubly so in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a city like Jerusalem. Trebly so in the Old City, where faith and fury, God and the Devil, crime and prayer were so closely entwined it was nigh-on impossible to prise them apart.

With only a couple of exceptions, all his colleagues had at least one divorce under their belt, usually more. Work and women – the two worlds just wouldn’t be squared. How could you ease off on a drugs bust because your partner wants to have a cosy night in watching TV? How can you romance her in the evening when you’ve spent the day interviewing a serial rapist? How can you not answer the call to attend a corpse in a cathedral because you’re looking at images of your unborn child? Where do you draw the line?
How
do you draw the line?

With Galia it had been a whirlwind romance, just a few months together before he’d proposed. There hadn’t been time for the pressure to take its toll. With Sarah there had. She’d tried so hard, cut him so much slack, but there are only so many cancelled dinners you can deal with, only so much self-absorption.

The confrontations had grown ever more frequent, the distance between them ever wider, the resentment ever deeper. Eventually, inevitably, she’d ended it. They’d had a brief reconciliation – the sex, ironically, the best it had ever been – but his work had got in the way again and two weeks later she’d called a final time out.

‘I love you, Arieh,’ she’d said. ‘But I can’t live with only a fraction of you. You’re never here. Even when you are here, your mind’s somewhere else. It won’t work. I need more.’

He’d moved out of their apartment, got on with his job, tried to persuade himself it was all for the best.

Five weeks after that she’d called to say she was pregnant.

‘Is it mine?’ he’d asked.

‘No, it’s Menachem Begin’s. I froze a sperm sample before he died. Of course it’s yours,
dafook
!’

He’d lost a lover and gained a child. Strange the way life turned.

Sarah’s phone went straight to voicemail. He left a rambling message, saying he hoped everything had gone OK, was sorry to have ducked out early, would call later. Then, ringing off, he pressed himself back into the doorway and waited for the rain to ease.

Normally Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road was quiet. With the municipal roadworks closing the Jaffa Gate to outgoing traffic, vehicles wanting to exit the Old City now had to come this way down to the Zion or Dung Gates. The result: an endless stream of cars, taxis and No. 38 buses clogging the narrow thoroughfare and pushing whatever pedestrians there were up against the walls to either side of the street. A pair of
Haredim
bustled past, their heads down, plastic bags wrapped around their Homburg hats to keep them dry, and then a group of tourists, all wearing matching blue cagoules with the logo ‘Holy Land Travel: Bringing You Closer to God’ emblazoned on the back. They looked miserable. You didn’t expect it to rain in the Holy Land. Certainly not in June. It made God’s city look distinctly uncelestial.

Eventually the downpour slowed and Ben-Roi continued on his way. He passed the Bulghourji Bar and went through a short 50-metre tunnel where he had to flatten himself against the wall to avoid being crushed by a 38 bus. At the other end, just past the Sandrouni Armenian Art Centre, an ornately arched doorway opened to the left, with above it a stone inscribed in Arabic, Armenian and Latin script:
Couvent Armenien St Jacques
read the only part Ben-Roi could decipher. Three regular policemen and a couple of green-uniformed border police stood guard underneath.

Ben-Roi flashed his ID and walked through the entrance, only the second time in his seven years with the Jerusalem Police he’d had cause to enter the compound. The Armenian community was a small, close-knit one and, in general, a lot less trouble than its Jewish and Muslim neighbours.

Inside the gateway, a vaulted passage ran away to his right. To his left was a glass-fronted concierge’s office where three men in leather coats and flat-caps sat huddled around a CCTV monitor. Nava Schwartz, one of the Kishle camera experts, was standing behind them, leaning over towards the screen. When she saw Ben-Roi she waved and chopped a hand, indicating he should follow the passage and take the first opening on the left. It brought him into a small cobbled courtyard hemmed in by high walls, like a prison yard. The entrance to the cathedral was opposite, at the back of a deep, fenced cloister, its doorway cordoned off with a line of red-and-white police tape. Above, painted figures of Christ and the saints gazed into space, pointedly ignoring the cares of the world beneath.

There were more uniforms standing sentry around the door – all regulars, no border police – and, also, three handguns lined up on the pink marble paving: two Jericho 9mms and a Belgian FN. One of the constables must have noticed the quizzical expression on his face because she tapped her baton against the sign beside the door, which listed the various objects and activities prohibited inside the church. ‘No guns or firearms’ was the only one of the eight stipulations to which the word ‘Absolutely’ had been appended.

Normally police officers were not supposed to let their weapons out of their sight, but in this instance diplomacy seemed to have won the day. Ben-Roi doubted the same courtesy would have been extended had they been in an Arab place of worship. Then again, Armenians didn’t have a habit of throwing rocks and taking pot-shots at you.

Unholstering his Jericho, he laid it with the others, switched off his mobile and stepped over the tape into the cathedral. It was dim in here, gloomy, even with the wooden doors thrown back and the entrance drape rolled up. Four giant pillars, thick as sequoia trunks, lumbered towards the domed roof high above; brass lamps hung everywhere, dozens of them, suspended from the ceiling by long chains, filling the air like an armada of miniature spaceships. There were gold and silver icons, and huge time-blackened oil paintings, and heavy carpets and intricately patterned blue and white wall tiles, the overall impression being less a place of worship than the interior of some vast, overstocked antiques emporium. He stood a moment getting his bearings, breathing the musky, incense-heavy air, watching as a sniffer dog and its handler worked the side-chapels to his left, then angled towards a doorway in the right-hand wall. From the room beyond came the strobe-like glare of camera flashes, and a hushed babble of voices.

‘Kind of you to join us, Arieh.’

A balding, thickset man was standing just inside the door, his blue police jacket bearing the leaf and twin crowns insignia of a
Nitzav Mishneh
– Commander Moshe Gal, head of the David Police Station. He was flanked by his deputy, Chief Superintendent Yitzhak Baum, and First Sergeant Leah Shalev, a busty, broad-hipped woman in a blue uniform. Shalev nodded a greeting, Baum didn’t.

‘Sorry, sir,’ said Ben-Roi, taking up position beside Shalev. ‘I was over at Hadassah. The traffic . . .’

Gal waved a hand, dismissing the explanation as unnecessary.

‘Everything OK with the baby?’

‘Looking good, thank you, sir.’

‘She’s not,’ said Baum, pointing.

They were in a long carpeted room, plainer and less ornate than the Aladdin’s cave of the cathedral proper, its vaulted ceiling cracked and stained with mould. At one end was a stack of folding chairs; at the other a large, cloth-covered table serving as an altar. The front of the cloth had been lifted, revealing the space beneath. A couple of Crime Investigation Technicians in sterile gloves and white body suits were crawling around with tweezers and finds bags; another couple were dusting for prints. Bibi Kletzmann, the photographer from Russian Yard, was on his knees snapping away with his Nikon D700, its flash illuminating the ample backside of Dr Avram Schmelling, the on-call pathologist, who was completely under the table.

The object of all this activity was not immediately clear. Only when Ben-Roi dropped to his haunches, balancing his elbows on his knees and leaning slightly to the side to get a better angle, did he see the body. Female, obese, lying on her back. She was illuminated by a police halogen lamp and looked old, or at least oldish – late middle age to judge by the greying hair, although it was hard to be sure because the body was six metres away and partially obscured by Schmelling’s sizeable frame.

‘Cleaner found her this morning,’ said Leah Shalev. ‘Lifted the cloth to hoover and . . .’

She flicked a hand towards the altar.

‘Screamed the bloody place down, apparently. She’s back at her house in the compound. One of the liaison girls is getting a statement.’

Ben-Roi nodded, watching as the pathologist shuffled himself round in the cramped confines beneath the table, probing at the body. A bear examining its dinner was the unpleasant image that came to mind.

‘Do we know who she is?’ he asked.

‘No idea,’ replied Shalev. ‘There was no wallet or ID on her.’

‘Not Bar Refaeli, that’s for sure,’ said Baum.

It was a tasteless joke and no one laughed. No one ever laughed at Baum’s jokes. The man was an arsehole.

‘One of the guys in the gatehouse thinks he saw her coming in around seven p.m. last night,’ continued Shalev. ‘He’s being interviewed now. And the cleaner found her at eight this morning, so that at least gives us a rough time-frame.’

‘Anything more definite?’

‘Not at this stage. Schmelling’s hedging his bets.’

‘There’s a surprise,’ muttered Gal.

Ben-Roi looked for a moment longer, then stood.

‘I saw CCTV as I was coming in.’

‘They’ve got eyes all over the compound,’ confirmed Shalev. ‘They’re sorting the relevant footage now. And I’ve got Pincas going through our cameras back at Kishle. Our man’ll be on film somewhere. We’ll get the bastard.’

BOOK: The Labyrinth of Osiris
4.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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