Read The Bloody Meadow Online

Authors: William Ryan

The Bloody Meadow (8 page)

BOOK: The Bloody Meadow
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

‘No saliva,’ Korolev said quietly, for the doctor’s ears as opposed to anyone else’s.

‘No, but someone may have cleaned her up.’

‘What was that?’ Major Mushkin was interested despite himself.

‘Saliva, Major,’ Peskov said. ‘With self-asphyxiation, there is invariably a flow of saliva from the mouth, down the chin and straight onto the chest. If the body is hung after
death, this doesn’t happen, the production of saliva being a living act.’

‘But it could have been cleaned away, you say?’

‘Possibly. There would usually remain some signs on the clothing, however.’

‘Shymko?’ Mushkin turned to the production coordinator.

‘She wasn’t cleaned up,’ Shymko answered, his voice hushed at the realization of what this implied.

‘What happened to the rope she was found hanging from?’ Korolev asked.

‘There.’ Shymko pointed to a coil that sat on the ground beneath the table, about three-quarters of an inch thick. Korolev nodded and leant down to examine it.

‘Doctor?’ Korolev said, and the pathologist squatted beside him, feeling the rope’s texture.

‘Yes, I see what you mean,’ he said.

‘What do you see? What does he mean?’ Marchuk asked, glancing at Mushkin for some direction. The Militia colonel sounded panicked – as well he might, thought Korolev.

The doctor pointed to the marks on the girl’s neck. ‘With a suicidal hanging the marks of the rope or ligature are generally above or on the thyroid cartilage, and carried obliquely
upwards. Do you see?’ He mimed a rope holding his own neck up, and ran his finger at an angle from underneath his jaw to the back of his head. ‘We have such a mark here.’ He
pointed to the girl’s neck. ‘And you see this rope? It’s thick enough, yes?’

‘Peskov, pull yourself together.’ Colonel Marchuk’s cheeks were reddening as he inclined his head towards Mushkin. ‘This is no time for blathering.’

‘My apologies, Comrade Colonel.’ The doctor’s face seemed to become even paler in the solitary light bulb’s glow. ‘But this is an important point. It implies that
the rope she was found hanging from was not the cause of death. Do you see here, the long thin bruising, below these other marks? See how it is horizontal rather than oblique? This was caused by
something much finer – a cord of some sort, I should think. In short, it seems likely that the girl was dead before she was hung from this rope. In fact it seems most probable she was
strangled – from behind if you want an instant view – and that the thicker rope was applied after death. To an extent this is conjecture. I’ll have to examine her thoroughly in
the proper conditions. There is generally internal damage to the laryngeal cartilage and other bones in the neck. I’ll know for certain . . .’ He looked at his watch. ‘. . . Later

There was silence after the doctor finished speaking. Shymko looked dour, the colonel as though he might be ill and Mushkin grim as a tombstone.

‘You’re saying she was murdered.’ The major paused. ‘You’re saying it wasn’t suicide but murder.’

‘I’d like to undertake a full autopsy, if that’s possible, back at the hospital. I’ll call for an ambulance immediately.’ The doctor looked up at Mushkin. ‘I
understand this is a priority and you’ll have my findings as soon as humanly possible – but I will have to examine her properly.’

‘But that’s your initial view?’ The major looked at the doctor and then at Korolev. Peskov shrugged, deferring to Korolev.

‘I think we should treat her death as suspicious, Comrade Major,’ Korolev said, feeling about as unhappy at the prospect as Mushkin looked, thinking that the odds on a quick return
to Moscow and the chance to visit his son in Zagorsk had just lengthened considerably. ‘That would seem to be the most sensible approach. And we should not discount murder.’

Korolev’s last word seemed to echo as first Babel, somewhat enthusiastically, then Peskov, in quiet agreement, and finally Marchuk, in horror, all repeated it. Korolev saw the colonel
begin a movement with his right hand that looked suspiciously like the sign of the cross, but he’d remembered where he was by the time his hand touched his forehead, and instead began to rub
his eyebrows with his fingers, looking furtively at Major Mushkin out of the corner of his eye.

‘Murder?’ Shymko said, long after everyone else. ‘But Citizen Lenskaya was a model worker, an activist of the highest standing.’

‘Maybe that’s why they killed her,’ Mushkin replied, and for a moment Korolev thought he’d made a very dark joke. ‘Well, it will be for Colonel Marchuk to find

Marchuk’s drooping head started up as though he’d been half-asleep and someone had kicked his chair.

‘Perhaps Captain Korolev . . . ?’ the colonel began, his voice dropping to a whisper in the face of Mushkin’s impassive stare. ‘We’re short of good men. It’s
the drive on hooligans and bandits. It’s time-consuming.’

‘And you’d like Korolev to break his holiday to investigate one of your cases because you have too many hooligans and bandits in Odessa.’ Mushkin folded his arms and gave the
colonel a parody of a stern look. ‘An amazing suggestion.’

‘My men are stretched thinly,’ Marchuk said, even more unsure of himself now. ‘And maybe it would be best for a senior detective to handle a crime like this.’

The colonel opened his hands in a gesture of supplication and Korolev allowed himself the luxury of pretending to consider the request. One sharp glance from Mushkin was enough to speed up his
decision-making, however, and he nodded his assent.

‘If you think I can be of assistance, Comrade Colonel, then I’m at your service. General Secretary Stalin tells us we should always be ready to sacrifice personal happiness for the
greater good. I’m not some petty individualist.’ Which he managed to say with a straight face, even if a large part of him was wishing he could indeed be a petty individualist – a
thousand kilometres away from this cursed corpse and in the company of his only son.

‘You’re on holiday and yet you offer it up for the greater good.’ Mushkin’s approval seemed almost genuine. ‘Your loyalty to the State is an example to us

‘I’m sure we’d all do the same in a similar situation. Of course I’ll need to check with my chief, and I’ll need help – as many uniforms as you can spare, a
competent junior detective who knows the lie of the land, a forensics team.’

‘You work for Popov, don’t you?’ Mushkin asked. ‘Marchuk and I will call him. What shall we say – initially for a week or so, perhaps? Unless the matter is resolved
earlier, or a suitable replacement becomes free. Or, of course, if Dr Peskov’s examination makes it clear that it was suicide after all.’

‘We’d be grateful, Captain Korolev,’ Marchuk said. ‘A crime such as this – I couldn’t turn it over to a junior detective. It would be

Mushkin nodded to Shymko, then Babel, and turned to leave. The colonel followed with the doctor, who paused for a moment to smile at Korolev. Shymko was about to follow when Korolev put a hand
on his sleeve.

‘One moment, Comrade. If I’m to look after this business I’ve a few questions I need to ask you.’

The production coordinator turned back and Korolev wasn’t surprised to see concern in his face. The Militia had a reputation for not always being too picky when seeking out the
perpetrators of serious crimes.

‘Comrade Captain?’

‘You found the body?’

‘Well, Andreychuk the caretaker was the one who opened the door to the dining room – but, yes, I suppose I did – I was right behind him.’ Shymko seemed to weigh the words
to see if the truth in them could somehow be evaded.

‘And you were the first ones to return to the house?’

‘Andreychuk had locked up while everyone was down at the night shoot. Except for Lenskaya, of course, although I think she had her own key.’

‘I see. Tell me what you saw when you found her.’

Shymko did as he was told, describing the limp body hanging just inside the dining room, how Andreychuk had dropped to his knees in shock, and how they’d released her from the rope and
lowered her to the ground.

‘She was cold to the touch. Dead.’

Korolev nodded, distracted by a notebook not dissimilar to his own which the leather-jacketed young woman had opened up.

‘Comrade?’ Korolev looked at her, raising an eyebrow at her notebook.

‘Comrade Captain?’ she asked in turn, and Korolev could have sworn she gave him the tiniest of mischievous smiles.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Taking notes.’

‘I can see that,’ he said. ‘Why are you taking notes?’

‘I always take notes. A note doesn’t get forgotten.’ She looked down at his hands as if to say he could do with taking a few more notes himself. The worst thing was she’d
just quoted his own favourite mantra to junior detectives who didn’t yet realize that the brain was an erratic recorder of useful information.

‘So, Comrade?’ he said, trying to ignore the smirk on Babel’s face.

The girl smiled and extended her hand. ‘Slivka, Comrade. Nadezhda Andreyevna. Sergeant – Odessa CID. Unless the Comrade Colonel just wanted to take me for a drive in the country, my
guess is I’m your junior detective. I’ll help you track down whoever did this – don’t you worry, Comrade Captain.’

Korolev shook the offered hand and allowed himself to return the smile. A bit of spirit wasn’t such a bad thing in a young detective.

‘Well then. Good,’ he said. ‘Anything you’d like to ask?’

‘Yes,’ the young female detective said, looking down at her notebook. ‘Comrade, is Andreychuk the only one with keys to the house? Apart from the deceased, that is.’

‘Lord no,’ Shymko began, before collecting himself when Babel tutted at his careless use of the Lord’s name – as close to blasphemy as it got these days.

‘No,’ he continued with more care, feeling his way into each word now – apparently having decided that in the kind of company that wrote down everything you said, words could
run amok and bite a man where it hurt.

‘You’d have to ask Comrade Andreychuk,’ he continued, ‘but I have one, and I know the director of the
keeps one in his office. Then there’s Elizaveta
Petrovna, of course.’

‘Elizaveta Petrovna?’

‘Elizaveta Petrovna Mushkina,’ Shymko clarified, emphasizing the surname.

‘Major Mushkin’s mother,’ Babel said, his voice coming from behind Korolev. ‘She’s the director of the Agricultural College. But before that she was a Party boss in

‘I met her earlier,’ Korolev said, remembering the elderly lady with her walking stick.

‘A hero of the Revolution,’ Shymko added in a hushed tone.

‘And before that,’ Babel said. ‘She was in Siberia with Stalin. That’s how far she goes back.’

‘Stalin?’ Korolev repeated, not quite believing his ears. Could this get any worse? Now he had to deal with someone who was an old comrade of Stalin’s.

‘She calls him Koba,’ Babel said with a significant look.

Korolev swallowed, then decided it was best to get on with the job in hand.

‘We’ll need a list of who had access to keys and where all the keys were last night. Slivka?’

‘I’ll see to it.’

‘And a list of all the cast and crew. Anyone who had contact with Lenskaya. I saw a small Militia post in the village. Can you ask the colonel if the uniforms there can help? We’ll
want to interview everyone as soon as possible.’

Slivka nodded. ‘They’ve already been instructed to assist you should you need them. Comrade Shymko, how many people are we talking about? For the cast and crew?’

Shymko ran a hand over his skull, a gesture that seemed to age him considerably.

‘Cast – speaking roles we have sixteen. Production and crew? About twenty – small, but Savchenko likes it that way. Extras? Every living soul for five
. Then there
are a few hangers on. I can get you a list of cast and crew. For the extras you might be better off talking to the
people – they assist us with that side of things. I
don’t even have a list, I just tell them how many we want and when.’

Korolev noted Slivka’s raised eyebrow. She was right – it could take days to interview that number of people. Perhaps weeks.

‘Well, we’ll start with the people who had most contact with her,’ Korolev said, ‘at least until we have a definite line of enquiry. So who would they be?’

Shymko looked trapped, as though he were considering that question from two different angles. The first being what useful assistance he could give in this regard, and the second being what his
colleagues might think of him if he were to point them out to the Militia.

‘We’ll be interviewing everyone in due course,’ Korolev said after a few moments, tempted as he was to let the man sweat. ‘But let me take a guess that she would have had
most contact with Comrade Savchenko, yourself and the more senior production members.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Shymko, drawing the word out in the face of Korolev’s implacable gaze. ‘But more than them – she was responsible for scheduling the shoot. That meant
most people came in contact with her. She made sure the right actors were available for each scene we were shooting and in the right place. This work is normally done in advance, but with Savchenko
there’s a more –’ he chose the next word carefully – ‘
element. Sometimes we end up rousting actors out of bed when they thought they had a day off
and telling make-up artists they have two hours to prepare a hundred extras. It’s not easy, I can tell you.’

Korolev nodded, but not in sympathy.

‘Let’s presume she wasn’t killed because she woke someone up too early, shall we? This is the Soviet Union, after all, and actors are cultured people not Chicago gangsters. How
about we start with you, Comrade Shymko, as soon as you let us have your list? And let’s go through it one by one and see if we can’t divide it up a little. And, again, I want a list of
key-holders and I want each key-holder, and the key, to present themselves to Sergeant Slivka, by the end of the day.’

He wrote ‘keys’ and ‘end of day’ in his notebook, so that Shymko would know he was not to be trifled with.

BOOK: The Bloody Meadow
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Carola Dunn by The Fortune-Hunters
Bird Eating Bird by Kristin Naca
Carnival of Shadows by R.J. Ellory
Simply Wicked by Kate Pearce
She Was The Gateway Drug by Josh Rollins