Passport to Crime

A Bucharest Arrest

by Bogdan Hrib

 

Translated from the Romanian by Josh Pachter

 

A Walk in Cuza Park

The man is strangely dressed. Dirty beige shorts with large cargo pockets bulging with an assortment of bulky items. Rumpled dark-green safari shirt with long sleeves rolled up past his elbows. A red cap with the word MALTA in big white letters across the front. Cheap beige thin-soled sneakers.

He walks clumsily, holding an expensive camera with a very long lens to his eye with his right hand and struggling with his left to steady both the camera and a long leash the same red as his cap, at the end of which a Yorkshire terrier trimmed for summer gambols energetically. From time to time, the puppy pauses to look up at its master. In those brief moments of stillness, the man focuses and shoots a quick photo.

He’s a pro, uses the viewfinder, never a glance at the LCD screen on the back of the camera. He’s out with his dog, strolling through the park with no scientific or economic purpose in mind, hoping just for the fun of it to take pictures of seagulls swooping over the lake.

The park is almost deserted this morning, a Saturday in early summer. The man hears the hum of a nearby power tool, catches the faint odor of gasoline in the air. He knows that the park administration employs laborers to collect fallen leaves with a kind of portable vacuum cleaner. He aims his camera at the Insula Pensionarilor, the Island of Retirees, out in the middle of Titan Lake. There are usually seagulls on the island, and they often hurl themselves into the air, screaming raucously, at some signal only they seem able to recognize. He zooms in, his index finger resting lightly on the shutter button.

A peacock in a mesh enclosure on the shoreline screeches good morning, startling the photographer. The Yorkie pulls at its leash, but he holds it back, adjusting his balance to compensate for its eagerness to make the peacock’s acquaintance. As yet, no gulls in sight.

At the far end of the footbridge that leads from shore to island, though, he spots an elongated gray shape. Some dead marine animal? No, there aren’t any marine animals in this inner-city lake, certainly none of that size. Perhaps a dog, sleeping away the cool morning hours? Probably not, since the gray shape seems to be wearing clothes—the photographer can clearly make out a white Nike sport shoe.

He peers through his camera’s lens, scanning slowly from left to right.

There’s no doubt about it. He lowers his camera and fishes his phone from one of his cargo pockets and dials 112, Europe’s emergency number.

*   *   *

No Rest for the Weary

 

Chief Commissioner Antoniu Deme-triade glares at the futuristic machine on his kitchen counter. He holds a K-cup in his left hand, but there are an assortment of other options in the cardboard box beside the machine. An interesting flavor or a stronger brew? That’s the biggest question he’s had to deal with so far this morning.

From somewhere outside, he hears a siren. The vehicle slows when it reaches the section of road that’s been dug up for the new tramline. There has been no work done on the line for a month or more and, as the car rattles over the broken asphalt, its siren wails mournfully.

The chief commissioner’s head is pounding, the pain reaching down the back of his neck to his shoulder blades. Perhaps his pillow is too hard. Or too soft?

From his apartment on the seventeenth floor, the real world seems very far away.

He manages to get his new coffee maker going after inserting the K-cup and stabbing at various buttons. It’s a complicated apparatus, but it begins to rumble, and hot liquid trickles into the espresso cup he brought home as a souvenir of his vacation in Copenhagen.

Out in the living room, his phone buzzes. He hurries to pick it up and checks the screen: an unknown number. He returns to the kitchen and finds brown waves of coffee overflowing the little cup. He swears and unplugs the machine and answers the phone.

The voice at the other end of the line is unfamiliar, a woman’s voice: “Good morning, Chief Commissioner, this is Sub-Inspector Paduraru. There’s been a murder at Lake Titan inside Cuza Park. I’ve sent a car for you. It should be there in ten minutes.”

The woman hangs up, leaving nothing but static on the line. Demetriade stands there in his pajamas, and he hasn’t yet had his morning coffee.

 

It takes him eleven minutes to shower and dress, but the car Sub-Inspector Paduraru has promised him is late, and he waits several minutes at curbside before it arrives. The drive to the park entrance at the corner of Strada Baba Novac and Strada Campia Libertatii takes another ten minutes. Demetriade hasn’t shaved, and he strokes the stubble on his chin uncomfortably.

A stern-faced young woman with feathery blond hair and jeans waits impatiently by the statue of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, a man in a blue patrolman’s uniform at her side.

“Good morning,” she says, “I am Sub-Inspector Paduraru. The victim is Dorin Teodorescu, age forty, a renowned architect, married to Silvia, also an architect. Two children, three and two years old. His office is over there.” She waves the smartphone in her right hand to the northwest, where an elegant but unusually designed new building contrasts with the fifties-era apartment blocks that surround it. “Not the big building but nearby. He was killed by a single blow from a blunt instrument, metal, possibly an ax or a shovel.”

“I see,” Demetriade murmurs, and addresses the uniformed officer. “Can you find me some coffee, please? Quickly? Thanks.” Then he returns his attention to the blonde. “What’s your first name?”

“Anabella.”

“Anabella. With a double L?”

“Yes, Chief Commissioner. Is that important?”

“Not really. Call me Tony. ‘Chief Commissioner’ makes me feel old. I suppose I am old. Where are you from?”

“I don’t—”

“Never mind. We’ll talk another time. How did you get all this information so quickly?”

“From Facebook,” she said, showing him her phone.

“All of it? His wife, their children, his profession, his address?”

“The address is on his identity card. It was in his wallet with several other cards, some cash, a few shopping receipts.”

“So we can rule out robbery as a motive?”

“Yes. There’s a new phone in his pocket, a ruby ring on his finger.”

“A ruby ring? Strange.”

The blonde has no reaction to this remark.

“Any witnesses?” asks Demetriade. “Has the family been notified?”

“No witnesses. The man who called it in is waiting inside the park. We haven’t contacted the wife yet.”

“Take care of that, please. Now.”

“Me? I’ve never—”

“There’s a first time for everything, Anabella. Do it now. Please don’t take offense.”

The uniformed officer returns with a steaming cup of coffee, and Demetriade takes a grateful sip.

“When you’re done with the wife, meet me back at the station. Be sure the children are taken care of. You might want to have the police psychologist visit with them.”

“You don’t want to talk to the widow yourself?”

“Not yet. She should contact her lawyer first. See you at the station.”

He heads into the park to find the photographer.

*   *   *

Seven Roads

 

As seen from the window of Deme-triade’s office, the Titan neighborhood looks peaceful, an oasis of green surrounded by the crowded streets of Bucharest.

An unexpected place for a murder, the chief commissioner thinks.  Especially murder by blunt instrument. No industry nearby, no agriculture.

“What do you mean, ‘seven roads’?” he says. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s the name of the street,” Anabella tells him. “Strada Sapte Drumuri, Seven Roads Street. It’s an old name, probably dates back before the Second World War. I’ll check. Anyway, it’s not far, a few blocks north of the park. Should I go up?”

Demetriade checks his watch. It’s Monday, 9:15 a.m. “There should be someone there at this hour, right?”

“There is, Chief Commissioner.”

“‘Tony.’ How do you know?”

“They open at nine, I checked their website. Turns out an old high-school friend of mine works there as a secretary. Anita Grigoriu; she studied architecture after I knew her. I friended her on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat last night and messaged her that we’d be coming by this morning. She’s expecting us.”

Tony Demetriade feels overwhelmed by all these strange names. He has an urge to whistle, but keeps it under control. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat: The world is changing too quickly for him. Now the sub-inspector, still practically a child, looks at him as if she has more to say.

“Go on,” he says, “I’m listening.”

“I have a hypothesis. The wife is our prime suspect. Anita was having an affair with the architect, and jealousy was the motive for the crime.”

Now the chief commissioner does let out a whistle. “An affair? And the wife knew about it? So that’s the answer? The case is solved?”

“I think so, yes. We confront Sylvia, the wife, she confesses, and that’s the end of it.”

Sub-Inspector Paduraru is either serious or joking, Demetriade isn’t sure which. He wants to ask her, but he holds his tongue. For now. These beautiful, free-spirited young people, he thinks. Soon they’ll take over the world. . . .

*   *   *

Seven Roads Street is close to the park. Walk west on Baba Novac, turn right at Ion Tuculescu Street, and then, after a few hundred meters, at the corner of Ion Tuculescu and Seven Roads, there’s a new square four-story building with a red tile roof.

“The building belongs to them. To the company, I mean. To the partners: our victim and Dan Ionescu.”

“Another architect?”

“No, a business partner but not an architect. Ionescu is rich, his father is a senator; I’ve seen him on TV. The son is full of himself. I checked him out. He gets his money from dear old Dad. You know how it goes.”

“And what’s his connection with Dorin Teodorescu?”

“Simple: They met some time ago, when Teodorescu designed his house, and they wound up forming a partnership. Ionescu owns ninety-five percent; the architect owns five percent and gets one floor of the building to use as his office. Let’s go up.”

*   *   *

Two hours later, they’re back at the station, in the chief commissioner’s cramped office, its furniture worn, its walls in need of a coat of paint. None of his new colleagues understands why an important officer like Demetriade has been exiled to such an insignificant precinct.

Anabella Paduraru seems uncomfortable in the close confines of Demetriade’s den. She’s not wearing jeans today. Instead, she has on a blue blouse and a knee-length gray skirt. More conservative, more professional, except for the bright red lipstick.

“So Teodorescu was having an affair with Anita,” Demetriade says, “and Sylvia found out about it. She found a shovel somewhere, killed her husband, and moved the body to the park. Sounds plausible, but there’s one problem: She’s got an alibi. She was home with their children, on the phone with her parents at the time the murder must have happened. That’s confirmed. Got another idea?”

Anabella considers the question. “Flip it around,” she says at last. “Anita did it. Her lover wouldn’t divorce his wife for her. She was a woman scorned, so she—”

“Excuse me, sweetheart, but you still think this murder boils down to sex?”

“Absolutely. Don’t they all?”

For the first time, Demetriade takes a close look at his subordinate. She is very beautiful, and very young. I wish I wasn’t such a misogynist, he thinks.

“Sorry,” Anabella says. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, not at all. According to the medical examiner, the murder must have happened sometime Friday night. I want you to find out what Anita was up to that evening. And there’s more we need to know. What does Sylvia have to say about her husband’s secretary, for example? Then we’ll have to check the victim’s other colleagues and associates, ongoing business relationships, the possibility of blackmail. You should be able to do most of this by phone.”

“I understand.”

She gets up and strides out of the little office, her feelings apparently hurt at being so abruptly dismissed. The door slams behind her, sending a chair crashing into the chief commissioner’s desk. His paperwork goes flying around the room.

Good thing it’s a small office, Demetriade thinks, bending over to clean up the mess.

*   *   *

The Fruit of the Earth

 

“Now there’s a journalist in the picture,” says Anabella Paduraru, even more conservatively dressed this morning in a white blouse, navy slacks, and low-heeled shoes.

It’s Tuesday, and Demetriade—having figured out his apparatus at last—has brought coffee from home in a steel thermos that looks like an antitank missile.

“I’m listening. Want some coffee?”

“No, thanks. I drink tea. It seems Dorin Teodorescu had several conversations with a reporter in the forty-eight hours before he was killed and one brief one with Ionescu.”

“Interesting. And? Have you located them? Ionescu and the journalist, I mean. I’d like to talk with both of those gentlemen.”

“One gentleman and a lady. The journalist is a woman. I was about to call them.”

“Let’s meet them at the Seven Roads building. I want to pay that place another visit. This afternoon, I think. We’ve got a free hour between meetings, haven’t we?”

“Yes, between four and five.”

“Excellent.”

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“Absolutely, everywhere I go. You have something better to do?”

She is taken aback by the question, unsure how to answer it, and smiles away her confusion. “No,” she says, “I’m glad to go.”

“That was a bit of a joke,” he says. “Sorry.”

“Never mind.”

*   *   *

They stop in front of the building and look up at it. Square, red roof, unusual design, but otherwise nothing special about it. Video cameras mounted on the outside of alternate windows, an intercom by the front door, air-conditioning units, several dark areas of paint on the exterior walls.

“Has this place been renovated?” wonders Demetriade.

“I doubt it. It’s fairly new.”

“Check for me, will you? I’m going to take a look around the area and come back. Talk to your friend Anita, she’ll know.”

*   *   *

The neighborhood is a maze of streets with strange names, lined with old trees and two- and three-story apartment blocks built in the fifties. When he gets to Strada Rodul Pamantului, the Street of the Fruit of the Earth, he finds himself wishing he could sit for a while and have a coffee. But there’s no cafe in sight, and he just stands there beside a complicated recycling station with its multicolored hatches and its detailed list of instructions. The monster takes up four parking spaces, and he wonders if anyone ever really uses it.

He looks around and sees a collection of long-handled garden tools leaning against the fence that encloses an old building’s yard. It would be nice if it was this simple, he thinks.

He moves in for a closer look and sees unusual stains on one of the shovels. He smiles grimly. Too good to be true.

He takes out his phone and makes a call.

*   *   *

Demetriade skips his appointments with the journalist and Dan Ionescu and visits the police laboratory. Waiting in the hallway, he drinks bad coffee from a vending machine. Liquid chemicals, he thinks.

His phone rings, and he sees his subordinate’s name on the screen.

“Anabella, what’s up?”

“They had some interior work done a week or ten days ago. A wall was knocked out to turn two small offices into one larger one, and several windows were replaced.”

“Well, I don’t suppose they needed a shovel for that. Nothing done out in the yard?”

“No. But I got the autopsy report, and the murder weapon doesn’t seem to have had sharp edges. So it wasn’t a shovel.”

“I see. Good to know.”

He tosses his plastic beaker, half full, into a trash bin and heads out to the lot where he left his car. A patrolman is eying it curiously. He really ought to put a note on the visor when he parks illegally. His phone rings again.

“We’ve found some tools.”

“Where?”

“In a storage closet in the basement. A lot of them.”

“And?”

“And no hammer. No heavy metal implements. Nothing likely to be the murder weapon.”

“You really think the killer would have left it where we could find it? He’s not stupid.”

“They taught us at the academy that Romanian murderers are a bit stupid as a rule. Careless, anyway. And their motive is usually jealousy.”

“Generally true, Anabella, but there are exceptions to both those rules.”

“I know that, Chief Commissioner. What do you want me to do next?”

“It’s Tony. Try to remember. Find out who did the work on the building. Get their names and addresses and question them. Maybe one of them has a hammer in his basement at home. . . .”

*   *   *

Broken Shore

 

“These crazy street names are driving me mad,” Demetriade growls, clinging to the door handle.

Sub-Inspector Paduraru is really putting the little police car—a Romanian Dacia Logan—through its paces, roaring down the highway at a hundred and thirty kilometers per hour. It’s not far from Bucharest to Malu Spart—Broken Shore—only thirty kilometers.

The sub-inspector smiles a private smile, and Demetriade realizes it’s the first time he’s seen her wearing any expression other than a scowl.

“Have you ever heard of white blow flies?” she asks, not taking her eyes from the road ahead.

“White what?”

“Blow flies. They infest plants and trees.”

“And why is this important?”

“The journalist I mentioned? Hrista Matache? She did a story on a white–blow-fly infestation out in the countryside.”

“And this has something to do with an architect killed by a blow from a hammer?”

“I don’t know. Possibly.”

“And there’s jealousy somewhere in the picture?”

“Maybe. We haven’t talked with her yet.”

“We should do that. First the honorable construction crew, and then we’ll add Ms. Matache to our list, okay?”

“Agreed.”

*   *   *

The village of Malu Spart seems prosperous, though not many of its inhabitants are out and about. It’s not completely deserted: There are a few women and children strolling along the main street. But the locally based construction crews are busy elsewhere.

The three men they’re looking for—the team that did the renovations on Teodorescu’s building—are independent contractors, not employed by any one particular company. Two of them are apparently in Spain. The third, Nelu Prisacaru, left on Saturday for a job in one of the neighboring villages and hasn’t been seen since.

“I think he’s in Ogrezeni,” Prisacaru’s aunt tells them, “putting up a fence.” Her nephew has never married, and she lives with him and takes care of his house. “Call him on his cell phone. He’s got a job in Sicily next, but I don’t think he’s left yet.”

Anabella Paduraru dials the number the aunt provides, but the call goes straight to voice mail.

“What’s your hurry?” the aunt asks. “I’ll let you know when he shows up, and you can come back. We’re only half an hour from Bucharest, and it’s a pleasant drive.”

Demetriade swears and heads back to the Dacia.

“I didn’t see a hammer in the yard,” says Anabella, hurrying to keep up with him, “and I didn’t see any motive for the murder.”

Demetriade isn’t sure if she’s being serious or pulling his leg.

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month's issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2021. A Bucharest Arrest by Bogdan Hrib

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