Ivan hitched the collar of his black leather overcoat round his neck. He sniffed at the rain as he stepped out of his car into the gloom of the alley, lit by the flashing light of a patrol car. A sullen drop hung from the tip of his nose.
Four shadowy figures stood around the crumpled heap on the ground, silhouetted by their own cigarette smoke. They might have been digging a hole, he thought, and had stopped for a break to talk about it. Rain was everywhere. It eddied in pools and potholes. Ran down the walls. Splashed and spattered off every surface. This was rain that soaked to the bone. Inspector Ivan Toscic of the Sarajevo Municipal Police felt the chill. ‘Another fucking dead one’, he thought.
His own cynicism startled him like an unwanted guest at a party. The body lay hunched in a dark, dimly lit and rain soaked back street of Sarajevo. A single bullet hole in the back of the skull had made sure the young man would never worry about the weather again. There was no decomposure. They’d found a fresh one. Here was the body of a young man, possibly in his mid-twenties, fashionable, even expensive clothes, stylish hairstyle, good shoes. Dead. Toscic thought he looked peaceful. Take away the sticky hole in the back of his head and he’d be sleeping.
He had seen worse. Bodies maimed, tortured, burned or blown up. He had waded through the aftermath, his socks and shoes so regularly seeped in gore and burnt tissue he’d taken to storing a pair of gumboots in the boot of his car.
So it began, again. His job was to find the killers. But war turns a policeman’s job into farce. He becomes merely part of the process, supervising the production line. Violent death is routine. Someone gets killed. A body is found. The police record and investigate. The paramedics mop up the blood and shovel the body parts into bags. The police tag the body bag. The rain and the City sweep the memory away.
Ivan felt nothing and worried about not feeling regret anymore. Never get involved, was the policeman’s mantra. Yet Toscic believed the reverse was true. Were he not to feel something, he thought, then he would be as bad as this young man’s killers. Yet he felt nothing. He might be investigating a traffic violation. This young man had been clamped for life and he could never talk his way out of it.
Toscic thought through the scene – an alleyway, darkness, the body of a young man, a single bullet, a look of easy contentment, the rain. The location was remote so there would be little chance of witnesses. The rain would obscure whatever forensic evidence might be gleaned from the scene, footprints, tyre prints, even saliva. The bullet would offer nothing in a country where everyone carried guns and no-one had a licence.
This was an execution. The motive, he guessed, was commercial rather than some passion fomented in Sarajevo’s seething ethnic cauldron. Just some tit for tat partisan killing that went on every day and night, even in a ceasefire. The war is over and the UN wants to go home. But the killings continue as the hate seethes beneath the surface calm.
There were no signs of a struggle or restraint. Death was sudden and precise. There were no placards of denunciation, no hastily discarded, half destroyed clues. Someone was taking care of business and they had no interest in anyone else knowing. An anonymous caller reported the death. That was not unusual. No-one wants to get involved. Not even the team of street cops, paramedics, SOC forensic investigators, or anyone in this circus called to another crime scene. It was wet and dark and cold and no-one, least of all the poor crumpled stiff being stuffed and zipped in a body bag, wanted to be there.
Sarajevo, like any border town in a war, like all the war torn cities in all times and down the ages, had its own war town economy; a thriving underworld that would supply you with anything from Stinger missiles to AK47s, hashish to heroin, bread to caviar, passports to people. The gangs who ran this underground criminal network were the flotsam of conflict; ex-soldiers and partisans, full time criminals, opportunists and the organised terror gangs from the east, the so called Russian and Albanian mafia who ran everything from sex to guns, drugs and refugees. Life is simply another commodity. If it’s served its purpose, get rid of it.
Toscic stood for a moment in the mouth of the alleyway, silhouetted by the street light and the cold shroud of rain. He stared at the only thing the dead man was carrying. Carefully wrapped in a sealed Jiffi bag for fingerprinting purposes, was a crumpled postcard of a bar in Dublin, Ireland. In the dim light, the rain had already taken possession of the bag in his hand. A beaded mist of damp clung to its surface. The bar in the postcard looked cheerful and inviting. Death had dried his throat. Ivan felt his own thirst rise at the thought of standing among the living in a warm bar.
He stared at the hand written message on the back of the card but didn’t recognise all of the English phrases and made a mental note to check it out with the mad Irishman. He put the card in the inside pocket of his sodden overcoat, cast one final glance over the murder scene as the twin doors of the ambulance were slammed shut. Then he turned and walked to his car.