9th May 2023
9 minutes read
Mantled in Mystery
translated by David Short
9th May 2023
9 minutes read
They found the crime scene easily – a liveried police car was standing by the roadside, its blue light fortunately not flashing; behind it an unmarked car. A few cops were standing around the second car, two of them in uniform. Krauz pulled up behind it, got out and shook hands with his colleagues from the division.
“You’re the only one they’ve sent?” he asked the leader of the violent crime unit.
“The head of CID’s on holiday, the divisional super’s off sick, his deputy still hasn’t showed up for work and I haven’t a clue what’s keeping him, so I’m lumbered with it,” the other admitted.
“Never mind, at least nobody’s going to mess us about,” Krauz said smugly.
He knew his colleagues from the division by sight, but only one of them by name.
“Hi there, Rich.”
“Do you get bored at divisional HQ?” Krauz couldn’t resist a jibe.
“Not really, I’ve just come off night shift and see where I am instead of in bed!”
“You were on nights and couldn’t keep an eye on her?”
“We were on a stakeout miles away, at the far end of our patch.”
That explained everything – a night patrol on a stakeout works to a plan and one man can’t be ferried hither and thither while it’s still being carried out.
“And you? Why are you on your own?” the violent crime chief was curious to know.
“I was out on the road. The others will be joining me.”
“I went out on patrol last night and should have finished first thing.”
“Like I say – tough luck.”
“Forget it, I’d have ended up here anyway.”
“Do we wait, or do you want to crack on with it?”
“You could start by filling me in, so I know what it’s all about.”
“Igor!” the chief shouted.
One of the men in uniform came over while the other remained on guard by the car. Krauz assumed they had someone inside it.
“This is our colleague from homicide, they’ll be taking over shortly. Tell him what you told us.”
“I see, okay then. Er…hm…” The man in uniform cleared his throat.
“Igor was on night duty,” the chief butted in to give the detective a bit of background, “but the main thing is that this stretch of road falls within his beat so he knows it best.”
“Excellent,” the detective was delighted: the investigation was getting under way quite smoothly.
“The person who called it in is called Ilona Csáková, spelt with C-s, born in seventy-five, in January she turned eighteen. A truckie.”
That last detail had Krauz puzzled, as the man in uniform spotted instantly.
“She’s a streetwalker from Vrakuň, specialising in truck-drivers, though she won’t say no to locals if asked.”
“Wait though,” Krauz interrupted him, “I thought that kind all hung about near Slovnaft.”
“Those were the days!” the uniform gave a dismissive wave of his hand.
“The demand is huge, the pressure on the streets is rising, competition is fierce, and the younger birds keep looking for new pitches.”
Krauz nodded to indicate that they’d already registered how new pitches were proliferating. One street that had become a particular favourite was Krížna in the town centre, not that anyone had done anything about it, because democracy reigned now and people could no longer be harassed over next to nothing, and certainly not for wanting to work.
When a bunch of them show up at once, they split up the length of the street, keeping two or three hundred metres between them. They beckon to truck drivers, but they might pick up the odd local. The variety is endless, you’ll find anything you fancy among them – tall ones, short ones, dark types, bleached blondes, young ones, some still only kids, middle-aged women and even some well past their prime. They do anything asked of them and a catalogue of what’s on offer would fill two sides of A4, with different charges for each column. If they land a truck driver, they do it in the truck itself. Over in that direction,” the cop pointed away from the town, “there’s a turn-off to a lorry park. I say lorry park…” Igor pulled a face as if to call what he’d just said into question. “Actually, it’s just an open space that’s been concreted over, no idea what it was originally meant for, now it’s just an abandoned, weed-infested area of concrete, but a truck can easily be turned on it and so that’s where they go. Once the job’s done, the driver carries on to Rajka and into Hungary, and the tart returns to her pitch on foot and carries on angling for custom. If she lands a local with a car, they do it in the car or she takes him to the nest. They never go to a client’s flat, or hardly ever, it’s too risky. They much prefer working out on the street or highway, that way they can keep an eye out for one another and offer each other a measure of protection.”
“Looks as if they missed out on protecting this one.”
“It doesn’t always work out,” his uniformed colleague conceded, “and they can end up getting a hiding. We’ve had cases where they’ve been driven out into the country, stripped naked and left to toddle back to town in their birthday suit. One of the risks of the job – there’s no telling with a customer who’s pissed off. Like I said, we’ve seen everything, but this…?”
“Pity this one wasn’t just stripped naked and given a hiding,” the detective sighed.
“Pity indeed, she’s very young, just a slip of a thing, had her whole life before her.”
“You said that they do customers with a car in the car, or take them… where was it?”
“To the nest. Over there.” Again he pointed, this time to the grass lining the road. “Not far from where we’re standing there’s a well-trodden path through the grass and among the humps in the grass they’ve got this…,” he hesitated, “this kind of nest, I don’t know what else to call it. It’s what they call it themselves. There’s an old seat from a truck or bus and that’s where they do it with local customers. And over to the left a bit is where they pee.”
“Oh blimey, that means it’ll be covered in condoms, paper towels, toilet paper…,” Krauz vented his worst fears, but he needn’t have worried.
“No, oh no, they keep their nest very tidy – to preserve the cosy air of a workplace.”
“Good, that means fewer false leads. Is that where he did for her?”
She’s lying on her back next to the seat, legs together, but with her chest and neck all covered in blood…”
“Stop there, we’ll sort out her injuries for ourselves. Tell me instead, what about Ilona?”
“Sure, we’ll get back to her. They stick it out all night, then before dawn, about five or six, they get themselves together and head for home. The night shift is over and the daily round can begin. At around four o’clock in the morning today, Ilona had collared a client, a truck driver. They drove to the lorry park, she did the necessary, took her money and was back in half an hour. Ružena wasn’t there…”
“I forgot to say, the murdered girl’s name is Ružena Róžová, born in seventy-six, seventeen years old.”
“Great, an ideal age for dying,” Krauz sighed.
“Ružena wasn’t there…“
“Hang on, slow down a bit. That could have been around four-thirty a.m., right?”
“Could have been around four-thirty, Ilona had had enough for the night and the truck driver was to be her last. She went back to her pitch, looked for her friend Ružena, but she wasn’t there. Which she thought was a bit odd…”
“And when she left, Ružena had been there?”
“That’s the very point I was just about to make: that Ružena had been there and they’d agreed that when Ilona was done, they’d go straight home.”
“Why the emphasis? Is the timing that important?”
“Yes, they have to be home by a set time because they’re junkies.”
“Drug addicts?” Krauz needed to be clear what they were on about.
“Just so, addicts. All the money they make on nights gets spent on drugs, or as much as their pimp lets them keep, that is.”
“I see.” Krauz had got the picture.
“They all have to give their pimp a share. What’s left is theirs and it goes on junk. In the morning they have to shoot up or they go into withdrawal. The reason I’m stressing the point is that the clock’s ticking for our girl too. She’s good for a couple of hours maybe, then she’ll flake out.”
“Bugger!” Krauz was thinking of his colleagues who’d be interviewing her for the record. He’d have to warn them. “Okay. So it’s around four-thirty, Ilona’s looking for Ružena. Then what?”
“She thought it odd, because they’d agreed to wait for each other. Ružena had failed to grab a truck driver, so they’d just meet up at the lorry park anyway, though Ilona’s sure she was alone while she was on the job there. Ružena might have nabbed a client in a car, but she’d seen no sign of any car, and for Ružena to have gone home with him, well, that was out of the question. These young ones on the job have always been chary about going to a client’s flat. The only other possibility was that Ružena had gone to the nest and fallen asleep there, so she’d gone down the path to find her and…” The man in uniform gave a gesture of despair.
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Dominik DánMore about the author
David ShortMore about the translator