Murder in the Choir (Helen Mirkin 2)
MURDER IN THE CHOIR (Hoopoe Publishing, 2016)
In this second Helen Mirkin novel, upon her return to Tel Aviv, Detective Inspector Helen Mirkin is tasked with finding opera singer Araceli Pena, who uncharacteristically has missed two Wozzeck rehearsals before opening night. When she is found dead in bed, the circumstances of her death are far from clear.
The investigation takes DI Mirkin behind the scenes, to the mercurial world of the annual Opera Music Workshop, rife with competition and backstabbing among the singer’s colleagues, many of whom dream of being awarded the Seagram Grant to study under the best coaches New York can offer.
When the meteoric composer Israel Berger is shot dead shortly thereafter, the stakes are even higher for DI Mirkin, as the music world she cherishes seems to be under attack. Are the two deaths related? Can the Opera Music Workshop survive? Can DI Mirkin open a new chapter in her life and find happiness and love?
MURDER IN THE CHOIR (excerpt)
Bat Yam, July 2011
Araceli Pena stops singing in the middle of a high note, unable to continue with the attacca. Her heart is beating faster than usual, her face hot and flushed. Far from menopausal, it none-the-less occurs to her she must be experiencing hot flashes, and she wonders what is wrong with her.
At twenty-nine, she is at the peak of her career as a dramatic soprano. When the summer workshop ends, she will return to Madrid, so she can be with Conchita and decide what to do with the rest of her life.
In the fall, she is to start a much-coveted fellowship at the Music Hall and Opera House of New York, where, for the duration of a season, she has a chance to sing under the very best. She has worked very hard for it, her efforts recognized by Carole Zinelli and Alberto Coccio, and the others at the Opera Music Workshop. Held every summer near Tel Aviv, it attracts young singers from all over the world, and is often a jumpstart for many of their careers. This is her second year.
While her home base is Barcelona and its famous opera house where she has sung some minor roles, she has some occasional engagements in other cities, spending as much time as she possibly can in Madrid, to be with Conchita. She wishes Conchita were here with her now.
Conchita provides her with an oasis, a welcome and much-needed respite from the competitive environment she inhabits, with its constant tensions, both visible and subterranean, but palpable none-the-less, and the need to constantly prove yourself again and again, giving it your utmost. While she loves what she does, Araceli doesn’t have the luxury of a writer or painter, who, working alone in their studio, can revise and polish the work until it positively gleams. An opera singer is particularly vulnerable to the constant ebb and flow of the life stream, with its sudden gushes and swirls that threaten to invade one’s singing unannounced in real time, that is, on stage. It is necessary to be super concentrated and deliver one’s lines in the appropriate intonation at precisely the right nanosecond, always conscious of the progress of the music, with its changing key, harmony and dynamics, as well as variations in both the conductor’s and other singers’ interpretations. Although rehearsals, technique and experience can help deal with the unexpected, in the form of unbidden raw emotions, colds and breathing difficulties, the more you shine in the limelight, the more you have to lose. It is not easy to recuperate from a bad review or a raised eyebrow of someone whose opinion matters.
The frazzled soprano shakes away these thoughts, opens her eyes and looks around slowly. Despite her preparation, the air has fizzled out in the middle of the phrase, and her throat is as dry as the Sahara. Is she having a panic attack or simply dehydrated?
Alberto Coccio stops the rehearsal with his baton and an involuntary scowl. What is going on with his Marie?
“Araceli?” He peers at the olive-skinned young woman through the thick lenses of his spare glasses, unable to find the regular pair this morning. He has a pleasant baritone.
“I’m sorry, Maestro. I don’t know what’s the matter with me—I need some air. I find it very hot in here.”
He strides over to the window and opens it, the air conditioning obviously not enough. Addressing the small group of singers on stage, he says: “OK, guys. We’ll take a fifteen minute break. If any of you leave, please return on time, as we’re behind schedule as it is.”
But no one shows any desire to leave. On the contrary, they come up to Araceli to see how she’s doing. As Marie, she has one of the leading roles in the opera they’re rehearsing this morning, and since this has never happened before, they’re concerned. They like Araceli, who is always so well prepared, even though German is not her native tongue, take pleasure in her impressive range, with its magnificent highs and generous lows.
“You okay?” asks Alex, the handsome baritone who sings the central role, Wozzeck. He places the fingertips of his left hand on her forehead.
“My, you’re hot,” he says. “Let me get you some water.” He straightens up and brings her a fresh bottle of mineral water from a pack someone left in the corner.
Araceli drinks thirstily, draining the bottle in one go. “God, I was parched. Thanks, Alex.”
He smiles, his demeanor softening; lately he’s been preoccupied, and he hasn’t hidden it very well, being less open to the usual banter and camaraderie with the other singers than he might otherwise have been, probably coming across as overly serious and task-oriented. Like Araceli, he wants his girlfriend by his side, but that’s not going to happen. At least not this year, judging by Zinelli’s reaction when they last spoke.
Another singer, the Drum Major, a baritone (considered by some a heroic tenor or ‘heldentenor’) blessed with a rich dramatic voice, joins them, patting Marie gently on the shoulder. “I’m glad you seem to be feeling better. I was getting worried,” he says. They have a role to play, and feeling a tad unprepared and distracted by some family matters, he knows he needs as much rehearsal as he can get.
“I’m much better, thanks. No need to preoccupy yourself.”
But her own mind keeps spinning. She and Conchita have been together for almost two years, and the frequent separations, while something they have learned to live with, are increasingly difficult, especially if long, like this one, and more so for Araceli, although she doesn’t like to talk about it. She cannot imagine what it will be like to spend nine months in New York without her Conchita. And it’s not as if either can afford to travel back and forth. Conchita makes fine jewelry, and like Araceli, is a salaried worker. And given Spain’s fiscal challenges, not to say serious debt, her pay, while decent, is hard to live on. Bottom line, there is no way she can jeopardize her career, which is just taking off, after a long wait on the runway. On the other hand, she wants Conchita by her side, is weary of living between suitcases, constantly on the road, apart from her lover. The two essential needs for love and work don’t appear to be reconcilable, and she will have to choose between her career and her beloved—at least for the foreseeable future.
She can’t bear to think of it right now, forces herself to look at the conductor.
Coccio is relieved Araceli isn’t coming down with something—she’s seemed a bit run-down this past week. He can’t afford to lose his key singer, of whom he’s proud, like a father. She’s come a long way in just one year. The fruits of their work together last summer are clearly present in her delivery of her lines, her intonation, and she has mastered her passion, learnt how to channel it into her singing. Carole also worked hard with her, recognizing the talent that needed to be nudged in the right direction, cultivated. They had both recommended her for the fellowship, excited to be a part of her burgeoning career. She would go far, this one. They’d agreed that when they were back in the city and she too was in New York, they’d keep an eye on her, making sure Araceli maximized her considerable strengths and steered clear of the predictable pitfalls for someone of her considerable talents and temperament. There were certain personae at the opera house that simply could not be crossed—at least not without dire consequences. Forewarned was forearmed.
“I’m so glad you’re feeling better,” he tells Araceli. “Let me know when you feel up to it, so we can resume where we left off.”
“I’m fine—I don’t know what happened to me. I imagine I was dehydrated,” the black-haired singer tells him. She pushes back an unruly forelock. Her green eyes have recovered their usual sparkle. “I’m ready when you are,” she says gracefully. Her English has a gentle Spanish lilt, which he finds soothing.
“Okay then. Let’s start at bar …” says the conductor. “The entrance to Marie’s aria.”
The pianist nods, and plays the overture.
On the thirteenth floor of the conveniently located Tel Aviv Hilton, there are few people at the executive business lounge at this hour, and mostly pretzels and nuts, and a few basic appetizers for the eternally hungry are available to complement the complimentary drinks.
The view however, knows no bounds, as Carole Zinelli, a recurring guest from New York, who spends her summers in Tel Aviv directing the prestigious Opera Music Workshop, gazes out to sea—past the sail-decked marina, its manmade surf breakers and the old-new beach promenade from Jaffa in the south, past the hotel area and the old port of Tel Aviv, now a popular hotspot, to the gaudily decorated Reading Power Station located on the northern bank of the Yarkon River’s estuary into the sea. A solitary gasoline tanker is visible just north of Reading; when empty, it will return to the mother port of Ashdod for refueling.
Today Zinelli left work early to tie up a few loose ends before the evening concert and to meet an old friend. Having immersed herself in its calming waters, by now Zinelli’s had her fill of the sparkling blue unruffled Mediterranean, and focuses on getting something to drink. As she waits for the espresso machine to finish dripping steaming Italian coffee into a thick porcelain cup, her distinguished colleague, Jacques Elkayiff joins her, beige summer cap in hand, revealing a polished copper-colored crown amidst a silvery frame of surprisingly thick hair, testifying to early mornings at the beach, before the weather became impossibly hot and humid. Having come in from the overpowering sauna outdoors, he’s grateful for the hotel’s rejuvenating air conditioning.
“Ma chérie,” he says amicably, kissing Zinelli’s proffered hand the old-fashioned way. In his mid-seventies, he still fancies himself quite the ladies’ man. “It was not necessary to page you. One of the waiters was leaving and kindly let me in as soon as I mentioned your name.”
“Maestro,” she murmurs. “Just on time. Café crème?”
“Café crème. Café crime, arrosé sang ! … ” he responds merrily, quoting Prévert.
“No, no, no, no sardines,” he says, still referring to the poem, his eyes taking in the modest spread. He rubs his hands in anticipation. His generous stomach bulges slightly as he takes a handkerchief from his right pocket, his pants held by burgundy-colored suspenders.
Zinelli, familiar with the poem and appreciative of her companion’s wry sense of humor and eccentric habit of interspersing poetry in his conversation, nods, but having other things on her mind, doesn’t give much thought to what he is saying, even though it remains somewhat ambiguous.
“Do they have a decent Armagnac?” he inquires, helping himself to a handful of cashew and pistachio nuts.
“Hmm, how about this?” asks Zinelli, giving the liquor bottles on the top shelf a quick look-over and selecting one. “Actually, it’s either this or a cognac—not a very good one, I’m afraid. Jerez.”
Drinks in hand and a plate of mouth-sized quiches and tiny egg salad and eggplant sandwiches between them, they settle down comfortably in two perpendicular leather armchairs facing an LCD screen, which thankfully, is turned off. Neither is in the mood for a global news update, having local business to attend to.
A couple of days later
I’ve never heard you sing like that!” exclaims Hannah, my voice coach. “You’ve progressed to a whole new level of emotional expression!” She gets up from the piano and reaches out to hug me. I am taller than she, but she manages just fine. “I have goose-bumps,” she announces as she flashes me a big smile. “That was totally linear.”
I smile back, proud and embarrassed, take a deep breath. It’s true. I’d felt the Berg songs pour out of me like a good brandy coating a wide stem glass. “Must be your not giving up on me,” I tell her, for lately I’ve come in for voice lessons without having practiced in the interim, and the thought of taking a break has crossed my mind more than once. Somehow, the days never seem long enough, especially since I’ve relocated to Tel Aviv after having spent a few years in the capital. And I could sure use the extra dough, as I have been overreaching my already meager budget. I am not getting any younger, and need to plan ahead, especially if I want a family, which I do (most of the time.)
“No,—it’s your doing,” she says firmly. “The musical lines moved forward all the time, and I could feel the expression of feeling—each singer has feelings but the trick is to be able to deliver them to the audience. Which reminds me—tell me, are you coming to Carole Zinelli’s Master Class tonight? One of my pupils will be singing, and I promised I’d be there.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I inform her. “I love her classes. And if I’m not mistaken, it’s the last one open to the public this year, as they’ve just started the nightly concerts. Unless of course, something comes up at work—you know how it is.”
“Well, let’s hope the crime rate in Israel will actually decrease during the Opera Music Workshop,” she says with a smile. “Because you can definitely learn a lot from her, and Alberto Coccio. It will come in handy when you have a recital.”
“Hope to see you tonight,” I tell her, as I disconnect my minidisc from the electrical outlet, making sure to turn off the mike so the battery doesn’t run out. I put away my scores, scattered liberally on her armchair. “Gotta run—thanks for a marvelous lesson.” I mean it—I’d come in on my lunch break, somewhat tired and frustrated by my lack of preparation, but am now feeling energized and optimistic about my singing, the recital, and life in general, as the adrenalin pumps through my body, and the endorphins hum.
I walk to my car, an unmarked sedan and whistling, get in and fly off to the Major Crimes Division, Yarkon Station, relieved I didn’t incur a parking ticket, since the municipality officials in this area are legendary.
Yarkon serves a large catchment area and normally the Tel Aviv precinct is a zoo. Like shrinks, cops have free theatre every working day. However this afternoon it is relatively quiet when I get there, a lull before the next storm, and I make myself an extra strong espresso rather than the customary office “Turkish mud.” Two of my former Jerusalem colleagues won the lottery last year, and in a generous mood, had sprung for an espresso machine. Truth be told, they no longer have to work for a living but they have been partners for years, and love their job. Like me, they felt a need for a change of scenery, the reason they transferred here.
As I flip through my messages, one of them catches my eye: “Contact Carole Zinelli at … ” I punch her number, and wait expectantly for her to pick up, curious as to why The Woman herself would call me. What timing. We know each other by sight but have never actually exchanged words before.
Traffic is slow approaching Jerusalem Boulevard, one of Jaffa’s main arteries.
I continue towards Bat Yam and the venue where the opera music workshop is held, its best asset being an easy access parking lot. I rush inside to Zinelli’s office.
“Detective Inspector Helen Mirkin, Major Crimes Division, Merhav Yarkon,” I inform the spiky gel-haired woman who nods in acknowledgement. She checks her watch, 3:30 pm on the dot.
“Carole’s been expecting you—you can walk right in.”
Zinelli is on the phone but makes eye contact as I walk in, continuing speaking, “I don’t care what time it is there. This is important. I’m counting on you. Gotta go.” She returns the phone to its cradle, and says, “You must be DI Helen Mirkin—You look familiar—As I mentioned on the phone, Mira Morenica suggested I call you—says she knows you from Jerusalem.”
I nod. I’d met Mira two years ago, when still stationed at Zion Precinct. I’d been called in when her partner, Dr. Danielle Morenica-Hall was shot dead at the Wohl Rose Park, an investigation that had been widely publicized.
“One of our singers, Araceli Pena, hasn’t been attending rehearsal—she’s missed two already: last night and this morning. She’s singing Marie in Wozzeck at our final concert, and I’m concerned something’s happened to her—she hasn’t phoned in or anything, which is unlike her. She’s staying in Tel Aviv at the Rosenfeld residence during the workshop, house-sitting while they’re abroad. The phone there doesn’t seem to be working—we haven’t been able to get through, and believe me, we’ve tried.” She rolls her eyes to make her point. “I even went there myself when she didn’t come in this morning, but there was no response. That’s when I decided to involve you.
“I’d like you to pick the lock or force your way in, or do whatever it is that you people do and see what’s with her—maybe she’s running a high fever or something, and can’t get to the phone—I don’t know what to think! And there’s no personal cell phone we can call.” The pitch of her voice rises as she says this, and it‘s obvious she’s extremely upset.
Araceli Pena has everything going for her—I’ve heard her sing in one of Alberto Coccio’s master classes; she is a wonderful dramatic soprano whose music flows right through you, awakening dormant feelings and making you feel vibrantly alive. Professional to the hilt, she’s hardly going to blow it with opening night so close.
“What’s the address?”
Carole squints at her cell phone and says: “Tina and Moises Rosenfeld, 13 Galgal HaMazalot Street, Neveh Tsedek. Near the Suzanne Dellal Center.”
I nod. “Phone number?”
“She hates cell phones, doesn’t have one, at least not when she’s here. The landline number there is … ” she rattles off by heart. “But as I said, I’ve called numerous times and there’s no answer.”
“If I don’t find her there, I’ll check with the phone company, see if there have been any incoming or outgoing calls. Either way, I’ll be in touch,” I tell Zinelli.
She nods wearily, “Please.”
On the phone again, she is probably dealing with another emergency.
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The Rosebush Murders (Helen Mirkin 1)
The Rosebush Murders (Hoopoe Publishing, 2012) is published upon demand as a trade paperback and available as an e-book (Kindle, e-Pub). It is sold by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository and other online sellers.
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Back cover copy:
In this first Helen Mirkin novel, Jerusalem-based Detective Inspector Helen Mirkin is challenged with solving the murder of psychologist Dr. Danielle Hall. Before much progress is made, a second murder occurs. Are they related?
The investigation leads DI Mirkin to a state-of-the-art art fertility clinic. How does this fit in? Is the killer trying to cover their tracks? Can they be stopped before more die?
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Rabbit at Top Speed
“When you have a sudden guest, or you’re in an awful hurry, may I say, here’s a way to make a rabbit stew in no time. Take apart the rabbit in the ordinary way you do. Put it in a pot or in a casserole, or a bowl with all its liver mashed. Take half a pound of breast of pork, finely cut [as fine as possible]; add little onions with some pepper and salt [say twenty-five or so]; a bottle and a half of rich claret. Boil it up, don’t waste a minute, on the very hottest fire. When boiled a quarter of an hour or more the sauce should now be half of what it was before. Then you carefully apply a flame, as they do in the best, most expensive cafés. After the flame is out, just add the sauce to half a pound of butter with flour, and mix them together…and serve.”
From Four Recipes, Leonard Bernstein
Floating Prologue (Part I)
She closed the refrigerator door, and locked up — she didn’t want anyone tampering with her precious research. It was her baby and she knew without a doubt that it would take her far. The sky was the limit, but she would settle for Sweden.
She was not someone to be taken lightly. Not on your life.
The gall of it. Not even a real doctor. Well, she’d better not get too close…
Divide and conquer was her motto. If it had been good enough for Julius Caesar, it would suffice for her. Real power did not fall in one’s lap — one had to grab it with both hands. Sometimes she’d used her teeth or elbows, or even her feet. All in all, she’d come a long way.
No one would stop her now. And that meant no one. Not even Calvito, for whom she still had a soft spot, despite everything that had transpired between them. Things could only go so far.
It had been quite a struggle moving here from Peru and starting from scratch among the Jews of Israel. Back home she had been pampered. Her Pappie and his old cronies had seen to that. Nothing had been too good for his little princeling. He had been used to having had his commands carried out back in the old country. When circumstances had changed, despite having become a fugitive (especially as time passed and he was not caught), he had resorted to his old ways. So had the Colonel and the others. The older they became, the more entitled they acted, as if others were there merely to serve them. They bought whatever their hearts desired from locals only too happy to oblige, for the money was good and they were dirt poor.
When she was old enough to understand, she realized she could not accept what he had done, decided she would not be like him. She would atone for his sins.
In time, she became a well-known figure in the little rural community amidst the mountains. Whenever a goat was hurt, the peasants would present her with it, trusting her to nurture it back to health. La Alemana, they called her, amongst themselves.
She decided to become a doctor. Perhaps she could undo some of the harm her predecessors, especially her father, had done. Well, to undo was beyond her, but she would carry out the Hippocratic Oath to the full.
On a cool, crisp Jerusalem morning, the call of the tardy hen punctured the lazy quiet, inviting drowsy cats to stretch their legs before the tractor-like racket of determined leaf blowers drowned out the semblance of tranquility.
Grateful for the quiet, I listened to the early morning broadcast from the Voice of Music while wading through a pile of work I’d brought home. After a long while, I got up to fix myself a cup of Turkish coffee. I was standing impatiently next to the stove, waiting for the rich brew in the small finjan to boil, when the phone rang.
“Helen?” I recognized the unmistakable gravelly voice of my boss Captain Tamir, the police chief.
“Adam? Hang on a sec,” I said, stretching to reach the volume knob, killing the mezzo-soprano soaring above the chorus in Respighi’s glorious celebration of the birth of Christ.
“Listen, there’s been a shooting. Moriah asked us to handle it. A body was found in the Wohl Rose Park ten minutes ago — a jogger called it in. Officer Yarkoni is on his way to secure the scene. How soon can you get there?”
“I’m on my way.” I turned off the gas stove and took a swig of mineral water. The coffee would wait. Shedding my shorts and old T-shirt where I stood, I threw on my street clothes and ran a brush through my hair before locking up and zipping down the U-shaped stone staircase. Once ensconced in my emerald Compass Jeep, I shifted into gear and zoomed up the hill.
Leaving Shmaryahu Levin Street, I headed toward the hotel district and made a right just before the Renaissance, a sprawling, newly renovated stucco high-rise building, which seemed out of sync with the Jerusalem skyline; then sailed on until I reached the Rose Park.
Still early, this part of town was relatively free of traffic for Jerusalem Day, a day of festivities and the reason I’d planned to work from home.
From afar, the revolving lights of the blue-and-white sedan were visible but blurred and the late spring morning assumed a dreamlike, surrealistic quality.
Curious onlookers were gathered near the police car.
“Morning, DI Mirkin.” Having climbed the steps two at a time, I flashed my badge towards the solitary policeman on guard before realizing we’d once met. Another uniformed policeman joined me, directing me toward the cordoned-off scene in the arbor near the pond.
A trickling rivulet of blood still seeped through the limestone. A few feet further a crumpled body lay sprawled across the path. The dead woman’s arms were spread out against the earth, a bruised and swollen cheek grazed by a jutting rock in the shorn grass, her face disfigured like a Picasso painting. An eye peered unseeingly at me from a head lying cushioned in grass. Her white bandana had slipped from cropped hair; stained with fresh blood, it proclaimed surrender with both bang and whimper.
Despite having been a homicide detective for the past seven years and even longer on the force, I still felt that familiar, palpable tension when face-to-face with death at its most concrete. It did not get easier with time and whether I wanted to or not, I was forced anew to face the hour of my own death — if only fleetingly, the eternal Footman snickering.
Although no signs of struggle were evident, it was too early to tell with certainty. Turning toward Officer Yarkoni, whom the dispatcher had sent, I asked: “So Dan, an early morning jogger notified you of the shooting?”
“Yes, a Mr. Moshe Mizrahi called it in, practically hyperventilating. Had never seen a dead body before. He was sitting head down, hands over his ears, on one of those benches over there when I got here,” he gestured. “Here’s his name and work number.” Yarkoni handed me a piece of paper.
I gave it a quick glance before tucking it away in my pocket. “Thanks. It couldn’t have happened that long ago — the blood on the bandana is bright red,” I said, bending down to get a closer look.
“Yeah. See the point of entry here, just above the back of the neck?” He pointed in the general direction of the blood, which had stained the grass under her neck and continued along the limestone path.
“Right. The murderer stood behind her.” I looked around to see whether I could pinpoint exactly where. “Possibly over there, on those steps?” I added and went toward them, looking for shell casings and other telltale whispers of malfeasance. Twelve steps later, I realized a metal detector would be necessary, given the proliferating ivy. Fetching it from my kit, I was rewarded when it sounded — a .22mm empty cartridge that I promptly bagged.
“Looks like she was in the prime of life,” called Yarkoni, bending over the woman. “The waste of it.” He straightened up, looking slightly queasy.
Returning to the body, I bent down to get another close look. I didn’t comment on the untidy hole in her occipital lobe that the bullet had created, which appeared consistent with a small-caliber weapon. What was there to say?
Except that the bullet hadn’t come out through the other side.
Then I noticed some strange markings on her scalp, visible through her cropped hair.
Yarkoni had seen them too. “Weird. What are they?”
“Simulation markings, I think. To prepare a cancer patient for radiation therapy. The bullet never came out — see? — no exit wound. Except for the bruising, her face and neck are intact. It felled her.”
“Looks like this lady was doomed, huh?” exclaimed Yarkoni, shaking his head mournfully. “Both cancer and a trigger-happy-murderer on the loose…some people have no luck.”
“Yup…Crantz’ll get it out. Interesting to see what he’ll have to say.”
“Sorry, forgot you’re not with Major Crimes — the medical examiner.”
“I wouldn’t be able to do what you do, day in and day out.” He grimaced, before continuing, “What do you say – d’you think it could have been a terrorist?”
“Hard to tell yet. Events with a nationalistic background aren’t usually one-offs, are they?”
“How about suicide?”
“No. I don’t think she could have shot herself from the back.”
“Of course not.” He laughed, embarrassed at his ignorance in these matters. This was a far cry from what he usually did.
There was no handbag nearby. Going through the victim’s pockets felt somewhat intrusive but was necessary. We were a relatively small task force, which meant multitasking and familiarity with various aspects of detection and crime-scene analysis. Jerusalem was not Las Vegas.
I found a folded envelope, addressed to a Sheila Morenica-Hall of a local street, hidden in one of Jerusalem’s picturesque neighborhoods. I thought of how, against its will, Beit HaKerem was being invaded by the new freeway under construction. Ever since the rains had abated several weeks before, the pace of this unwelcome alteration had picked up.
When the photographer had taken her mandatory pictures and was packing her tripod, I allowed the corpse to be taken to the morgue by two attendants, newly arrived. As they lifted the dead woman, shrouded in black plastic and supine on the stretcher, her hand fell out, revealing an unusual and beautifully wrought wedding ring.
It seemed to open a window to the dead woman’s life, and I felt a twinge of sadness and regret for all that was irretrievably and wastefully lost, as I contemplated her hand, delicate yet strong; her fingers thin and elongated, such as a pianist might yearn for. Her fingernails were neatly trimmed and unvarnished, suggesting she had little use for frivolity and self-indulgence and liked herself as she was. The ring revealed, too, an appreciation of things classical, and even in death, lent her a feminine look. It felt like the ring of a loved woman. Her jeweled hand lent an aura of dignity to the degradation inherent in becoming a corpse, when the variegated themes, which were one’s life suddenly underwent diminution, like in a fugue, and the score, silenced forever, was packed into a plastic bag and dispatched to the morgue and the pathologist’s brain salad surgery.
“Might help identify her,” both Yarkoni and I uttered simultaneously, looking at each other, a joyless Greek chorus.
I told Yarkoni I would take it from there, but he elected to stay. While wishing my partner, Ohad, was with me, I nonetheless welcomed any help I could get. Yarkoni made a sweep of the adjacent area, beginning with some nearby dustbins.
Mounting the stone stairway, I walked to the observation point above the pond, making sure I wasn’t stepping on any footprints. Two birds chirped away on one of the acorn trees nearby. The fragrant perfume of roses spiced the air. Suddenly it felt good to be alive, momentarily cleansed from the pervading sights and smells of death, with which I was overly familiar. I looked around me. A few feet below, something floating on the muddy water next to a straggly water lily caught my eye.
Moments later, I was crouching beside the floating object and looking around for something with which to fish it out. Careful not to get my cross-trainers too wet, I used a discarded garden hosepipe.
It was a soggy appointment book and I noticed someone had stuck a stork sticker on the vinyl cover, currently nesting somewhat lopsidedly just above the letters CH, City Hospital’s insignia.
Eagerly, I attempted to pry open its pages, but they stuck together, stubbornly resisting my efforts. I stopped short of damaging them even further, and placed them on a large rock. Meanwhile, Yarkoni, having just returned from his short search, came up to take a look, noisily sucking some candy he said he’d found on the semi-circular bench near where the body was found.
“Apple-flavored,” he said, offering me some, but I declined. Who ate unsolicited candy left by an unknown person on a public bench? It wasn’t as though he were starving. I also wondered how he could possibly do so under the circumstances that brought us together. “Better save it for Forensics,” I suggested mildly. “It might be evidence.”
Spitting it out, he exclaimed, “Too sour, anyway.”
I smiled. He should have known better.
A dirty, gray crow cackled nearby on a patch of browning grass.
“Some of it might be legible once it dries out,” Yarkoni commented, referring to the appointment book, which might or might not be part of the physical evidence.
I silently wondered whether the book’s immersion in water represented a deliberate attempt to efface its words. Discolored ink, fading away under murky waters. How I wanted to visualize the scene before me, before the curtain had dropped.
As though he had read my mind, Yarkoni said, “Assuming it belonged to her, I wonder if the woman had something to hide? If so, from whom?”
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together,” I quoted.
“But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded…”
“What the hell’s that?”
And then it struck me: might the woman first have met someone else, the appointment book an epitaph from a previous scene? The shooter, perched above the waterfall, observing, biding time? Her companion gone, the woman, thinking herself alone, remaining in the garden until the interceptor pounced, and the brute shot of a well-chosen bullet shattered the quietude and her life.
“He who was living is now dead…
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop”
Questions, questions, everywhere.
“Helen? You with me?”
“Listen, I have some things to mull over. I really appreciate your help. See you.”
Yarkoni shrugged his shoulders and after a slight hesitation left, obviously feeling let down or even slighted.
Hoping he hadn’t taken offense where none was intended, I walked through the grasses near the pond, an area too ample to be cordoned off. My thoughts were interrupted when I noticed a young woman bending down to pick up something. I strode up to her, wondering whether it could be evidence related to the investigation.
She flashed me a big smile, revealing a missing front tooth. Seemed oblivious to what had happened, presumably had wandered here after my colleagues had packed up and left the scene. In her cupped hand, she held some berries, then raising her hand, pointed to the trees above, their boughs heavy with berries, some white, some pink, others purple-black.
Disappointed it wasn’t trace evidence, I nonetheless popped one into my mouth. “Delicious,” I said, picking yet another.
She smiled again.
“Have you been here long?”
She seemed surprised by my question. “Oh, no…I just got here. My son’s kindergarten is due soon, and I thought I’d come early, lend his teachers a hand.”
“Have you seen anything unusual since you got here?”
“Anything to set you wondering — maybe someone in a hurry, or hiding?”
“Sorry, Ma’am. No — I haven’t.”
“Right. Well, thanks anyway.” I moved on toward the kill spot, feeling the woman’s eyes on my back. I sensed she was puzzled by my questions.
Upon reaching the area, I contemplated the victim’s fate, her life derailed so brutally while in her prime. “I will find the killer,” I vowed silently, climbing a few steps. Standing roughly where I believed the murderer had stood, given the point of entry of the fatal bullet and the location of the empty casing, I tried to get a feel for what had gone down. Had the murderer attempted concealment among the rosebushes, or stood tall and erect on the bare steps? The former would have required greater marksmanship because of the arbor below.
I then noticed something I hadn’t seen earlier. Curious, on a fresh surge of adrenalin, I swooped down the remaining stairs, quickly reaching the semi-circle of benches, now shaded by the yellow rosebushes that covered the latticed wooden roof. It was behind them, on a little slope, well away from the stairs that overlooked the pond that a clump of white rosebushes stood. Between two, caught by a thorn, there was a snag of fabric.
Moving closer, looking out for possible footprints so as not to contaminate the scene, I disentangled the snippet from the recalcitrant thorn and examined it. It felt like a fine fabric, probably real silk. Was it the murderer’s? Bagging it, my mind raced ahead, while my foot crunched on something half-buried under the leaves. I bent over to pick it up. A green pillbox. Wondering whether it had belonged to the same person, a reasonable assumption given their proximity in an area not normally frequented, I retrieved it and zip-locked it. However much one sought them out, it was all too easy to miss vital clues out in the open, one of the many reasons why teamwork was important. Any chance you heard that Ohad?
An hour later and despite my ever-widening concentric sweep of the park, my search had failed to disclose either a purse or a briefcase. By now gloveless and just about ready to leave, I chanced upon a totally unexpected sight — that of a peacock attempting to eat a red apple someone had dropped. It kept getting stuck on its beak and then falling as he pecked at it again.
I grinned at the comical sight. An image of a peacock carrying a briefcase fluttered through my mind — wouldn’t that be lovely…Time to go deposit the still-wet appointment book, pillbox and fabric with the forensic lab.
The questions that had emerged clamored for resolution: Was this a random killing? Or in view of the victim’s cancer, a misguided, so-called mercy killing? Was the owner of the ring murdered because of who she was, what she knew, or what she was about to do? Had someone (a jilted lover, perhaps) decided to silence her once and for all? Had the appointment book marked the appointed hour for the woman to meet her would-be killer? Lastly I wondered just how the news would be met, and by whom.
I left the scene of the crime then called Adam Tamir, providing him with the bare bones about the case, before driving to the address on the envelope, which was near the park. Passing an ivy-covered government building, I made a left onto Yitzchak Rabin Boulevard and then Herzl, before entering Beit HaKerem, the quiet residential neighborhood where the Morenica-Hall family lived.
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL (Ruth Shidlo & Hoopoe Publishing, 2012)
The Leonard Bernstein song “Rabbit at Top Speed” is reprinted by permission (full details within book).
A rose from my aunt’s garden
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Ronnie Solan’s “The Enigma of Childhood” (Karnac, 2015)
See trailer, as well as my review/interview on her website.