Murder in Prague

An Inspector Mazal Mystery Aviezer Tucker

Copyright 2013 Aviezer Tucker ISBN-13: 978-1483918679 ISBN-10: 148391867X

Also by Aviezer Tucker: The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence: From Patočka to Havel (Pittsburgh University Press, 2000) Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography (Cambridge University Press, 2004) A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) Plato for Everyone, (Prometheus Press, 2013) The Legacies of Totalitarianism: A Political philosophy of post-totalitarianism, (forthcoming)

1 Prague’s Old Town Square, like most grand theatres, is rarely entirely empty. It was the stage on which most actors in Czech history made their grand performances, before or after going to the Prague Castle. Medieval knights, Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, Hussite rebels, Austrian loyalists, Czech nationalists, Nazis, Communist Revolutionaries, Communist Reformers, Soviet Soldiers, democratic demonstrators, and finally apolitical sport fans have all taken to this stage, played their role, and left, sometimes too abruptly to take a parting bow. Today, the great historical character actors in their costumes have been replaced by tourists. The audience has taken to the stage and shifted its focal point to the Western edge of the square. Every hour on the hour, tourists gather below the astronomical clock at the Old Town Hall to be reminded of their impending death. A skeleton hangs on the wall of the building to drum a reminder that death has approached yet one hour closer. A procession of apostles and vices follows above for a brief moment, too quick for the tourist photographers to capture them all in one go before they disappear and the windows slam shut. Having been reminded of how fleeting time is, the tourists proceed to the southern part of the square to forget it with a glass of beer, gulaš with dumpling, or a schnitzel with boiled potatoes. At night, the square empties gradually. The windows above the astronomical clock close and the apostles are allowed to sleep before resuming their hourly march in the morning. The restaurants and coffee houses close. After midnight, like a rearguard of a defeated army, scouts for some of Prague most ancient professional establishments accost late night tourists, attempting to tempt them to visit cabarets and gentlemen’s clubs. At the center of the square a circle of benches surrounds the monument to the martyred Czech Jan Hus. Hus’ statute seems to scowl in the direction of the balcony on the Kinský Palace, where more than half a millennia after his death, Klement Gottwald, the first secretary of the Communist Party announced his taking over of the state and the beginning of a reign of terror with the words: “I have just come from the castle.” Hus is not in a position to criticize the political gullibility of his compatriots who cheered Gottwald. He went willingly to be tried for heresy, believing that he would convince the judges. Instead, they put him to the stake. After two in the morning, once the throngs of tourists, waiters, pimps and pickpockets retreat to St. Wenceslas Square or go to sleep, the street cleaners can prepare Prague for another day of sightseeing, dining, solicitation and petty crime. They converge on the Hus memorial before embarking on their nightly missions across Prague’s city center. From a distance, the street cleaners look like members of an ancient Slavic tribe engaged in a sacrificial ritual in front of the statue of Hus. Dressed in orange colored coats with bright yellow light-reflecting stripes and holding their orange mobile dust bins, fire seems to surround and engulf Hus once again. Jiři looked forward to these nightly gatherings before the beginning of the shift. Cleaning the streets of Prague can be a lonely Job. You share the route with only one other mate. Working together for a while exhausts the conversation topics. Like in a long marriage, each partner can guess what the other is going to say. Still, one laughs again from the same old stories. But at the beginning of the shift, there is time to share personal and family news, comment on the latest political scandals, and just grumble about life. Zdenĕk always smokes his Petra cigarettes before starting his shift. Pepa’s wife sends him with a thermos of coffee that he

shares with his colleagues. Vlastik drinks furtively from a bottle of rum he hides in the pocket of his jacket, while the others avert their gaze. Good natured Pepa offers Vlastik some coffee. Vlastik accepts with gratitude, only to fortify the cup from his bottle. They then depart on their routes, like cobwebs covering the corpse of the old town of Prague. Pepa and Vlastik walk from the Old Town Square to the Convent of St. Agnes, along the pubs, coffee houses and galleries of Dlouha Street. Zdenĕk and Honza, who likes to read, take charge of Platneřska Street on the side of the National Library. Kuba and Bohumil clean along Kaprova Street leading to the Karolinum building of the university and the Vltava River. Eda and Bruno’s route follows the course of Celetna Street, along the Bohemian crystal shops and other tourist shops to the Municipal Building with its concert halls and exclusive restaurants. After a couple of summer vacations on the beaches of Croatia and northern Italy and a visit to an uncle who immigrated to Toronto, Jiři considers himself a global citizen. Appropriately, his and Karel’s route takes them along the expensive shops of Pařížská Street, northwards from the square to the river. Still, something essential was missing on that spring ni ght, Jiři’s partner. What was keeping Karel from coming to work? Jiři hoped that Karel was not oversleeping again. Karel had been a professional long enough to know he should be in bed by five in the afternoon, if he wants to wake up for work at 1 a.m. As if to answer his question, Milo from the Sanitary Department came rushing with a pale and lanky young man in tow. “This is Marian,” he introduced the young man. “Karel called in sick. Marian will be helping you until Karel gets back on his feet. Marian is my wife’s nephew. He is a student. He wants to earn a bit of money for books and to take out girls.” He winked. “So, you are going to take good care of him, right?!“ Karel is in bed alright, thought Jiři. Whether he is sick of not, is of course an entirely different matter. Still, it was exciting. A new partner! Somebody who has not heard yet all the old stories; a new partner to share with the old witty observations; a person who may have his own stories to tell and an intellectual! Jiři was kicked out of high school in the seventies because he was caught writing “screw Brezhnev” graffiti on the wall outside his school and then refused to expiate for his crime by informing on his more subversive class mates to the dual regimes of his headmaster and the secret police. By the time Communism collapsed in 1989, Jiři was already in his earlythirties, married with children. It seemed too late to go back to school, pass the maturita exam and attempt to join the Prague bourgeoisie. Anyway, Jiři was happy with street cleaning. He had no boss to control him, could work at his own pace, liked his colleagues, and since he worked at night, had the whole day to take care of the children or read while his wife was at work. He was not alone. The street cleaners he knew kept their jobs after 1989, except for Petr, of course, who was for a while the Minister of Foreign Affairs and then moved to Brussels as a Euro-Commissioner. But Petr has always been a bit standoffish. He had his route with the other official dissident, the classicist Mirek, who taught him ancient Greek. After a while, they were speaking only Greek among themselves and nobody understood them anyway. Then there was the revolution and they both disappeared. As they started working on their route, Jiři, the senior cleaner, felt obliged to open the conversation. He thought for a while of the best way to begin, but could not find anything more balanced between the too personal and too official than:

“What do you study?” “Art History?” answered the student, hesitantly, careful not to appear arrogant. “Then you are in the right place. We have the best route in Prague. We clean streets next to the most beautiful buildings in Prague. We pass all the architectural styles and all the historical periods, from the middle ages to today. We have little work. There are only two coffee houses, one restaurant and one pub on our route and they do not do takeaways. Compare that with the guys who have to clean St. Wenceslas Square! All night sausage stands, twenty four hours pizza parlors, prostitutes, drunks, vomit, half eaten sausages smeared with mustard, pizza cartons everywhere, and I am not even describing the worst of it…. I’d rather sweep ten Pařížská Streets than a single section of St. Wenceslas Square!” “Yes,” agreed Marian, “this is what my uncle told me. “ “He must like you very much to get you such a good job. “ Jiři complimented Marian on the quality of his protekce. “The work is very simple. You take this broom here. You go a little ahead of me and make little piles of rubbish. I come after you and swipe them with my broom onto this hinged dustpan and then inside the mobile dustbin I push. Meanwhile, tell me what you like in the history of art?” “I write my dissertation on the artistic reflections of existentialist philosophy. I am particularly interested in the influence of the philosophy of Sǿren Kierkegaard, the Danish 19 th century philosopher, on the paintings of the Norwegian Edvard Munch. I want to know how to express faith in a world empty of God, how to represent morality in a world where ethics has no foundation. Kierkegaard proposed we need to take a leap of faith. I think that this leap of faith beyond rationality is the ultimate artistic act,” concluded Marian as he swiped the pavement in front of the Cartier watches and jewelry shop. From Jiři’s bewildered face, he realized that this had not been the best presentation of his project to this audience. Embarrassed, he hoped Jiři would not consider him condescending or snobbish. His mother told him often that he did not know when to be silent. He should not antagonize people by making them feel silly. “That is quite impressive; very deep. We, my wife and the children, do not go often to church. I can’t tell you where to find your leap of faith or how to represent God.” Jiři chuckled as he picked an empty soft drink can and a lost twenty pence coin with his hands. He shifted the topic of the conversation to ask “What do you think of our Pařížská Street? Prague’s answer to Paris’ boulevards? Prime example of turn of the twentieth century Art Nouveau?” “Art Nouveau is too ornate for my taste. The original medieval gothic Jewish Ghetto was more authentic. But nearer to the river, there are some functionalist buildings that are quite attractive,” commented Marian as he started preparing heaps of rubbish for the senior cleaner to collect. “I think I agree with you. I am also a functionalist,” nodded Jiři. “Look at the items of clothing displayed at the window of this Dior shop. What do we have here, a nightgown, a negligee, or a light dress? White and of such a delicate fabric; if my wife had something like this, it would get ruined after one frying of scrambled eggs or hemenex in the morning when I come back from work. Such a delicate fabric would be torn if anybody actually tried to do anything while wearing it. White is such a dysfunctional color; any stain is immediately visible

and cannot be removed no matter how much you try to rub it off. Anyway, with such a delicate fabric, if you try to rub it off, you tear the fabric. Now, look at those purses. They are so small; hardly anything would fit in them. If your wife, well when you have a wife, tries to just put there the baby bottle, a couple of diapers, a spare pacifier, and a little toy as she takes out the little one for a walk, it would not fit. The sparkling gold cover would have been useful had my wife joined us at work. It fits our own light- reflecting, yellow striped, uniforms. It protects anybody who carries it in the night from passing cars. But she never comes to work with me, so what’s the use?! But look at the bags they sell on the other side of the street at that shop!” Jiri pointed to the lit windows of the Louis Vuitton shop on the other side of the street. “Look how strong and big they are. A bag like that, I could use. You will be shocked after working here when you realize what people throw away. I don’t mean just metal and glass, aluminum cans and beer bottles that you can sell to recycle. But electrical appliances, clothes, kitchen items, even furniture and old books. Now, if I had one of those big bags, I could make a second salary just from collecting and selling all these discarded treasures.” Jiři emptied his dustpan onto the cart and put in a plastic bag a discarded beer mug left in the street. “Still, they never display the prices in the window. I don’t like this kind of shop. You walk in and try their merchandize. Then they tell you what it costs, and you are either forced to buy it for some crazy price or embarrass yourself in front of the other people in the shop because you do not have enough money. Anyway, I could never buy anything there because when they are open, I sleep. Maybe Ježišek will get me such a bag for Christmas.” They went on swiping the fronts of the local embassies and consulates of the world’s great fashion houses and jewelry chains, Gucci and Prada, Swarovski and Mont Blanc. None found much favor with Jiři. Marian was mostly listening, afraid to say anything that may embarrass his partner. Still, he was embarrassed that the conversation was becoming one sided. Marian finally managed to contribute a critical note, pointing out the waste of a whisky bottle whose smashed wet remains they had to swipe off at the entrance to an apartment building. They passed the one shop that Marian had visited before and could comment on at length. Tucked between a lingerie store and a Japanese fashion shop, a local book store seemed to intrude into the international fashion show, out of place and even more so out of time. Schulhof Antikvariat was the biggest antiquarian and second hand book store in Prague. Marian bought there a few second hand art books. But he spent hours browsing through books too expensive for his budget. The mixture of eras, languages, and topics of the books was seminal, pure, original Prague, before the nationalists, the Nazis and the Communists. Can one be nostalgic for an era one only read about, he wondered? Is it an authentic emotion, or just kitsch? “All good things in Prague come in threes,” he suddenly blurted. “The golden age of art and culture in Prague happened when we had three main ethnic groups here: The Czechs, the Germans, and the Jews. In this best book store in Prague they sell books in Czech, German, and English. “

“Yes,” acknowledged Jiři, “look at that coffee house there. It is called Barock. It is a bar, with rock music in a baroque era building.” “Or look at that restaurant over there,” retorted Marian, “above the door, it says “u stare synagogy,” which is true, since the restaurant is at the old synagogue. But a few years ago, the owners attempted to turn it into a trendy post-Communist bar for tourists. So they renamed the place PRAVDA and decorated it with Communist stars. Surprisingly for them, it did not work. So, they changed the theme of the restaurant again; now it is a French brasserie on Paris Street. Since they added rather than replaced signs, it is now a French brasserie named PRAVDA that is At the Old Synagogue!” They laughed together. With a new bout of energy, they attacked the vestiges of the previous day’s tourists around the Gothic Altneu schul synagogue. The space around the old synagogue always generates the most work on the route because of the tourists, explained Jiři, except of course when the Old Town Square is used as a Christmas market, or when large concerts take place there. The two street cleaners went around the synagogue, into the little alley that separates the synagogue from the Jewish Town Hall. Opposite the synagogue, on the other side, a pub was closing down. The light was still on, but the chairs were placed over the tables and the waiters seemed hard at work scraping the floors. As Marian and Jiři approached the pub, they could see the silhouettes of broken furniture and glasses strewn all over the pavement. The stenches of alcohol and vomit mingled in the air. Marian was filled with a sense of despair. How were they going to clean that mess? Where could they put the broken furniture? Isn’t there some emergency number for street cleaners where they can summon a special hygienic commando unit, special cleaning forces, with a big van to their rescue? He exchanged a quick glance with Jiři. But before the senior street cleaner could use his street cleaning smarts to advise how to handle this emergency, one of the waiters rushed out of the pub to tell them it was alright. They need not clean in front of the pub. “It was one of those stag groups, twenty single men drinking, first just beer, but then whisky and a lot of it. There was some disagreement about football teams and then a brawl and a fight. But the leader of the group broke the fight before anyone got seriously hurt. Don’t you worry! He left a very large tip before he took the tourists back to their hotel. It covers the damage and the cleaning. You can just move on. We’ll take care of everything.” Relieved, the two street cleaners turned a corner back towards the other side of the synagogue. But there, on the unlit side, they saw the unmistakable silhouette of a man lying on the pavement. “Obviously, the leader forgot to take home one of stags,” chuckled Jiři. “We are almost done. Let’s help him up. Maybe we will also receive a tip!” Jiři and Marian stooped down and lifted the man’s arms and wrapped them on their shoulders. His limp body offered no resistance and he uttered no sound. “He must have drunk himself into unconscious stupor,” said Jiři. We better call some help. Let’s lay him against that wall. I’ll call an ambulance. They’ll take him to Motol Hospital, pump his stomach, and tomorrow he will be back drinking as if nothing happened. ” As they laid the man against the wall, the light from the street shined against the pale face. “Oh God, oh Jesus and Mary,” cried Marian. “This is not a tourist. This is Schulhof, the owner of the antikvariat we passed earlier.

And I do not think he is drunk. I think he is dead. You need to call the police, not an ambulance.” 2 Inspector Jan Mazal hates waking up in the middle of the night. If somebody died, ruining a good night’s sleep is not going to revive them. When the phone rang at five in the morning he snuggled with Alice, murmuring that it will go away. The answering machine activated itself and he could hear sergeant Hřibek from the night desk, apologizing for calling so early in the morning and promising to call again soon. Alice shook him out of sleep: “ Honza! Wake up! They will go on calling until the morning and will not let either of us get back to sleep. It took me more than an hour to put little Klio to sleep last night, and she should sleep for at least two more hours before waking me up.” Reluctantly, Mazal got out of bed and called back the night desk. When Mazal arrived it was almost seven. The police had already cordoned off the area around Schulhof’s corpse before the early commuters started percolating into the small streets and alleyways on their way to work. Sergeant Zdenĕk Koudela met Mazal outside the apartment building, opposite the synagogue, holding a large cup of coffee and a bag of doughnuts, one of which was in his mouth. “Good morning, Honza. Would you like a doughnut? Can I get you some coffee of rolls, maybe a cake? The cukrarna on Dlouha Street is already open. It will only take a few minutes.” “Maybe later; can you fill me in on what has been going on?” “You are the last one to arrive. Zeman has been upstairs in the apartment for half an hour with some apparatchiki from city hall and the Interior Ministry. We arrived here almost an hour ago. The forensic team is almost ready to remove the body. The victim lived in an attic apartment on the top of this building, on the sixth, floor. It was Josef Schulhof, the owner of the antikvariat on Pařížská Street. You know the shop?” “Yes, of course.” Mazal nodded emphatically. “Alice and I saw him when we visited his shop. He liked to chat with his customers about books.” “The street cleaners discovered him on the pavement on their route and called the police. We have already questioned some of the neighbors. They have not heard or seen anything unusual before we arrived on the scene. Earlier in the night there was a brawl downstairs at the pub among tourists and the noise disturbed some neighbors. But then it became until we arrived and woke them up. The side of the building where Schulhof was found is not well lit. The body was not visible from Pařížská before the street cleaners found him. “ Major Vlastimil Zeman, the commander of the murder investigation unit of the Prague Police, appeared at the entrance to the building, breathing heavily from having had to climb down six flights of stairs. Mazal nodded as Major Zeman came towards them still breathing heavily, reaching for a Sparta cigarette from his pocket. “Mazal, finally; what took you so long? Never mind! Don’t bother to explain! I know you have the little baby. I still remember how it was like when my children were babies. Of course that was thirty years ago. It was easier then with the state providing everything for free, so I can imagine how much more difficult parenthood must be today. Not that I deny that some things are better today than they were thirty

years ago. Never mind. Let’s step aside; we need to talk in absolute confidence. This is important.” Zeman’s was a survivor. His police career continued uninterrupted through all the political changes in the last forty years. It took a very special talent for survival. A member of the Communist Party during the first twenty years of his service, he resigned from the party in November of 1989, a week into the demonstration that brought down Communism. On the eve of Vaclav Havel’s inauguration as Czechoslovakia’s president at the end of 1989, he was one of the last to sign Charter 77 of Human Rights, the founding document of the Czechoslovak dissident movement. During the early nineties it was possible to hear him make statements that started with “We dissidents.” When it became clear that former dissidents lost their luster and popularity, he stopped. He survived by being very political, yet appearing apolitical and bureaucratically capable. He had to be ultrasensitive to shifts in power while pretending to have no personal ambitions. Then, when the power struggle resolved itself, he was ready to offer his loyalty and bureaucratic skills to the winner. This morning, though Zeman must have been woken up at about the same ungodly hour as Mazal, he betrayed no sign of fatigue. Quite the opposite, he seemed more alert than usual, frequently glancing around and especially behind his back. Zeman whispered, though there was nobody around to eavesdrop: “Mazal, I am assigning you to this case because I trust you. I trust not just your professional skills as a detective, but also your professionalism and your political sensibility. We are playing with fire here. One small mistake, one insensitive remark, and the whole thing will blow in our faces. If any of this comes out…” He blew smoke in Mazal’s face and started coughing. Mazal addressed his superior as calmly as he could master: “Mr. Major Zeman could you please tell me what is going on?” “Of course, you cannot understand. You have not been up there. His apartment, the Jewish bookseller’s, the walls are covered with sprayed anti-Semitic graffiti. Do you realize the international repercussions, if this leaks out? An Anti-Semitic murder in Prague! The world will think we are racists, like the East Germans with their skinheads, and urban desolation. Tourists will be too afraid to come just as we are trying to climb out of the first serious recession since the end of Communism. There could be a copy-cat effect. Anti-Semitic hate crimes could become fashionable on the racist fringes. The Czech lands would acquire an international reputation for anti-Semitism, like Hungary with that Jobbik party of theirs. The world would think that we, of all nations, are bigots, as if we were part of Eastern Europe! Now do you of all people understand?!” Zeman lighted another Sparta. His breathing and smoke puffing became regular. “This has to remain under wraps. I have already talked with the Mayor of Prague and the Minister of the Interior. I told them about your special background and we agreed that you are the best man to direct this investigation. We agreed for now to suppress what you are going to see upstairs. In the afternoon we will release a statement to the press. `Josef Schulhof, a Prague book seller, was found dead outside his apartment building in the first district of Prague. The police investigate all the possibilities. So far, the police has no reason to suspect that a crime was committed and no suspects have been arrested.’ Meanwhile, we double police protection around possible Jewish targets, synagogues, community buildings, schools, kosher restaurants and so on.

The security service will provide bodyguards to Jewish leaders until we get to the bottom of this, until you crack this case.” Zeman threw away the stub of his cigarette as he regained his resolve: “Nobody should know anything about the evidence you find or the results of the investigation. Not until we are sure all the culprits are arrested and their organization or group or whatever it is dismantled. You will need to keep it away from the media, even your wife, especially your wife and her snoopy colleagues at Aspect Weekly. You will report only to me, personally, and in person. Do not put anything in writing until the final report. You will receive help from the unit that controls internal extremist threats at the Secret Service. Their chief has been made aware of the situation and promised to assist you in all aspects of this murder investigation. He is upstairs right now.” Zeman put his hand on Mazal’s shoulder, a rare gesture of intimacy for him, as they walked towards Zeman’s police car. “Honza, you know me, you know that I am as critical of the previous regime as anybody. I was also a dissident. Perhaps not as long as you and your people, but in my heart, I have always been on the side of liberty. But one has to admit that there is much to be said for the previous policies of full employment. Now, the government doesn’t care about unemployment. They have been closing down the mines and heavy industry factories in Northern Bohemia. So what is left for young people there to do but get into trouble?! They sit around all day; have nothing to do, no work, no prospects of a job. They listen to all kinds of populist leaders who give them simple explanations: Their Gypsy neighbors take away their welfare payments and council housing. The Vietnamese that work in their grocery stores eighteen hours each day cheat them. You know that I am not a racist like them. But maybe Gypsies should try harder to get jobs. The Vietnamese in the shops could try to learn better Czech and smile every once and awhile. Still, this is no excuse for disturbing public order. The people in those mining towns are angry, and it is understandable. The extremist political leaders direct that anger at easy targets. So, they go and burn the home of some poor Roma family that does not live in its own segregated neighborhood and beat up and attempt to extort some Vietnamese immigrants. But so far, this has only been a local problem, in places we, normal people from Prague, have never been to and the tourists have never heard of. The neo-Nazis come to Prague from the provinces twice a year to march. The Prague Police surrounds them with hundreds of policemen. Sooner or later they start behaving aggressively, so the police have to beat them up and arrest them. We jail the ring leaders and send the rest back to their coal dusted prefabricated panel apartment buildings. But now this!” Zeman shook his head in disbelief and condemnation. He lighted yet another of his Sparta cigarettes and reddened with anger. “This murder sets several unfortunate precedents. It is the first time racists targeted a Jew, at least since I have been on the force, and as you know this is a very long time. It is the first time they assaulted anyone in central Prague, and in his own home! They also left us their calling card, vile anti-Semitic slogans sprayed on the wall in semi-literate Czech. You would think that people who believe in their ethnic and national superiority would have at least the dignity to learn to write proper Czech. But these fools probably failed Czech grammar before

they were expelled from primary school. There were a lot of bad things about the previous regime, I do not deny it. But at least everybody learned how to read and write in school and everybody had some job. If they did not want to work, they had to go to jail, so nobody had to work for them. Perhaps if our democratic governments did not rush to reform everything just because it was inherited from the previous regime, and attempted to preserve some of the things we achieved prior to 1989, such things would not have happened. So, Mazal, do we have an understanding? Can I trust you to handle this investigation with sensitivity and care? These are your people after all.” Inspector Mazal knew that at Zeman’s current agitated state of mind, anything less than a total assurance that he would jump under a train to protect Zeman’s career would be construed as high treason. He promised to abide by Zeman’s instructions and report to him as soon as he discovers anything. Zeman smiled as a sign of an implicit understanding, before he entered his Tatra car and drove away. Mazal nodded, as Koudela returned and handed Mazal a cup of tea and a doughnut. Mazal was not used to drinking tea from a plastic kelimek. He admitted to Koudela that as far as drinking tea while standing outside in the cold is concerned, a plastic cup with a lid had certain advantages. But the taste did not seem quite right. Koudela pointed out that drinking from a kelimek is appropriate for this investigation; it is one of few Czech words with Hebrew etymology: kelim are kitchen utensils in Hebrew. Kelimek are small utensils, borrowed to make paper and then plastic cups when the Czech language needed a word to refer to them. Schulhof lived in a turn of the twentieth century Art Nouveau apartment building. The spiral staircase was designed to create the sense of ascending the inside of a seashell, half a continent away from the nearest sea. Schulhof had the top floor, the attic of the building, converted into an apartment. Koudela tagged behind Mazal, finishing the last of the doughnuts as he climbed the stairs. A uniformed policeman stood guard outside an open door. The view inside reminded Mazal of a scene from his childhood when a father of a friend took off the lid of a beehive to show the children the busy bees building their honey combs. Technicians were moving to and fro collecting evidence, photographers flashed their cameras, and policemen were inspecting the contents of the apartment. Asking who was in charge seemed pointless in such mayhem. So, Mazal addressed the best dressed man on the premises: “I like your suit.” “I like your jeans.” “I am…” “I know who you are. I am Brod from Internal Security, from the unit that controls political extremists. I was instructed to liaise with you, help you in your investigations.” “Is there any reason for you to be here? Any reason to think this death is connected to political extremism?” “Your boss seems to think so. There are anti-Semitic graffiti on the wall as you can see. The lock on this door is broken. The safe is open. It contains his personal documents, but no money or other valuables. Police technicians still go through the rest of the apartment. ”

“Are there any signs of struggle?” “No, and Schulhof was found wearing a suit and a tie. So, he was not picked out of bed and thrown out of the window. Also the neighbors below did not hear anything unusual during the night, except for some tourists fighting in the pub on the ground floor.” “Do you have any reason to believe that an anti-Semitic attack has been planned recently by any extremist group?” “Since the appointment of Fišer as prime-minister there has certainly been an increase in anti-Semitic propaganda. I doubt Fišer has ever seen the inside of a synagogue. The mainstream media ignores his background, as it should. Still, some people make conjectures from his name, and some people on the fringe care. Recently, there has been a rise in the number of anti-Semitic publications, both pamphlets and on the internet. Though skinheads still devote most of their attention to the Roma, some also started recently to display anti-Semitic banners and chant antiSemitic slogans in their demonstrations. There is also the influence from Hungary. Their antiSemitic and racist party Jobbik got into their parliament.” “But Fišer is a statistician. He did not want to be the leader of this country, and he will probably not stay for very long. It is the fault of the elected politicians that they could not agree on a government. Nobody asked them to choose a compromise candidate who was not political, was clearly competent, and had no charisma or political ambitions. It is not his fault that he became the most popular Czech politician. Soon there will be elections, he will go back to the Statistics office and the party with a majority in the parliament will elect a new political primeminister. So why do they bother? Anyway, we have what? A few thousand Jews left in this country? ” Brod shrugged his shoulders. “You want racists to be rational?!” nervously as he combed back his blond hair. Brod laughed

“But has there been any indication that they planned something violent against Jewish targets in Prague? Even if they did, why would they choose Schulhof, the owner of a bookstore, known only among Prague intellectuals and book collectors? How would they even hear of him? What would they be trying to achieve by killing him?” Brod nodded and shrugged his shoulders. “I agree. This makes no sense. But this does not imply that they could not have done it. We have infiltrated the main groups that have persisted for a while. Some of their members get into trouble with the law and we offer to get them out of it if they start informing for us. Others need money desperately, so we offer them some in return to information. We use then this information to nip in the bud violent plans. But we do not have information about all the groups that appear and disappear like mushrooms in the forest after a fall rain. We cannot eliminate the possibility, slim though it is, that some such small group, independent of the ones we monitor, organized itself somewhere and committed this murder. Some of these people have really crazy conspiracy theories. They could have thought that the antikvariat was the headquarters of a secret government and that Schulhof was the king of the world, who knows?!” “So the scenario should be something like this” interrupted Mazal. “A group of racist extremists organizes itself somewhere under the radar of the security services. They decide to

assault some prominent Czech Jew. They select of all people, the owner of an antique and second hand book store. They find out where he lives. They somehow stake the house opposite the old synagogue, without being noticed in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Prague, where they would be noticed like a herd of pigs in a Synagogue. Maybe they wear disguises like wigs above their shaved heads and buy suits like yours…. Then, they come without being noticed by anybody to the apartment. They break into his apartment, again without being heard by anybody, possibly because of the raucous noise in the pub downstairs. Schulhof is awake, in which case he does not react to the sounds that come from his door and does not call the police; or he is asleep, in which case, the skinheads encourage him to put on a suit and a tie before they hurl him out of the window. Then they leave some slogans on the wall, so we know who they are and why they did it. They open the safe, or make Schulhof open it for them before they defenestrate him, steal the contents if there were any, and then again leave entirely unnoticed. Not bad for people who judging by the quality of their written Czech on the wall, do not have a basic education.” “Major Zeman, your boss, seems to believe in it. Not very plausible, I agree. But it is the only story we have right now. More significantly, it is a story that the politicians must take seriously if they do not want to be accused later of ignoring a racist crime.” Mazal decided that despite his suit, Brod may not be so stupid. “So what do we do in the meanwhile?” “They told us to liaise, so we liaise. If I hear something, I will let you know. If you find out something relevant, you will let me know. In the meanwhile, I wish you good luck and will report to my superiors who will no doubt reassure the politicians.” He handed Mazal his visiting card. Mazal wanted to reciprocate, but Brod declined politely, “I already have your phone numbers and address. Please send my regards to your wife; I read everything she writes in Aspekt.” Mazal nodded and went to the safe. He asked the fingerprints technician to borrow some gloves and examined the contents of the safe: Schulhof’s passport, national number document, health card, a few bank cards and credit cards. If there were any valuables in the safe, they were gone. Marek Mareš, the chief of the forensic unit stepped in from the bedroom. Mazal had worked with Mareš many times. In his early sixties, his only distinctive character was cleanliness. It was not just that his clothes and white coat were entirely spotless, his hands scrubbed and soaped meticulously, but his speech was composed of words clear and distinct of each other; as if their speaker carefully made sure that they do not contaminate and leave unwanted traces on each other. He greeted Mazal perfunctorily, without asking after his family or his affairs. They were colleagues and not friends. Mazal asked Mareš for the contents of the drawers of Schulhof’s desk and his personal computer. Mareš apologized for having to disappoint him. There was no personal computer in the apartment. The desk contained only writing papers, pens, a magnifying glass and a bit of money, nothing personal. Mazal inquired if they did not find an appointment book or a diary or an address and phone book. But Mareš had to disap point him again; they found nothing. He invited Mazal to look at the desk himself. Mazal asked how long they

expected to work there, and was told that the work would last for days. “This is a huge apartment with much furniture and many books. It will take us days to collect all the finger prints and compare them with our data base, and then collect all the relevant evidence. In the meanwhile, we’d appreciate if you would not hang around here unless you have to. You may contaminate the evidence. We will let you know when we are done and if we find anything interesting.” Mazal turned to sergeant Koudela. “Let’s go talk to the neighbors. See if they can remember something useful. Didn’t Schulhof have a family? Where are they? When you interrogated the neighbors earlier, did you happen to meet a woman, living by herself, seventy years of age or older, plump, who was already fully awake when you knocked on her door?” “Yes!” exclaimed Koudela with astonishment. “Do you know Mrs. Urbanikova from the second floor?” “No, but every large apartment building in this country has at least one.” 3 They climbed down the stairs to the second floor. Mrs. Urbanikova opened the door at the very moment they rang the bell. She must have spent the morning peering through the peephole. She greeted Koudela “So, you came back to report. What did you find out?” Koudela was taken aback, but managed to introduce Mazal who explained that they have not found out anything just yet, but would like to ask her a few more questions. “But I do not know anything,” protested Urbanikova. “Since my Jarda has died, I leave home only for shopping. Everything is so expensive these days and I have to walk far to the nearest grocery store and bakery. I have nobody to help me.” “Sergeant Koudela here can help you with your shopping.” volunteered Mazal. “You can give him your shopping list, and he can drive to one of those new huge German supermarkets on the outskirts of Prague and get you everything you need cheaper and in large quantities, so it will last for a while. He is very good at this sort of thing. He does it all the time for his wife.” Koudela smiled nodding in reassurance. Urbanikova hesitated. But having found no catch in the scheme, she agreed. They set in the living room of her one bedroom apartment, while she went to the kitchen and came back with coffee and cookies. Koudela noted loudly that there were eight different kinds of cookies, all home baked, on the plate. Urbanikova smiled broadly, enjoying the recognitio n. “Well, you must try at least one of each type before you leave to do my shopping.” She dictated to him what to buy: ten kilos sacks of wheat and potato flour and sugar, thirty eggs, two kilos of butter, a five kilo can of marmalade, five kilos of Bacon, and a kilo each of cacao, and coffee, and various parts of pork, as long as they do not overflow her freezer. If they have some dried mushrooms and poppy seeds, for a good price, he should buy some too. Mazal asked when Schulhof moved into the building. “It was right after the end of Czechoslovakia. It must have been early 1993. We, my Jarda and I, moved here in 1972 from Gottwaldov, well, Zlin,” she corrected herself to conform

to the new and old name of the town that was renamed after the founder of Communist Czechoslovakia in the recent past. “My Jarda was an engineer. He built the Prague Metro. We preferred a new apartment in the suburbs where the pipes are new and the air is better. But they told us that only this one was available, so we accepted it. At least there were many useful shops around then. Today, they are all gone. There are only shops for tourists and millionaires. But this is where I lived with my Jarda. Here he had his heart attack. And here is where I intend to die too, I am not moving.” “And Schulhof?” prodded Mazal. “He moved here after the split of the Federation. The city converted the attic to two apartments on the top floor already in the eighties. In one lived Mr. Radičev, a Slovak. Mr. Radičev was working in the federal government. When that finished, he went back home to Bratislava, where his family was living all along. At the other apartment lived the Fialovi. They were complaining all the time about having to climb up the stairs and that the rain was coming through the roof. First, Schulhof got the apartment of Mr. Radičev when he returned to Slovakia. Then, he offered the Fialovi to get them a new state apartment in a building with an elevator if they give him their apartment. Mrs. Dagmar Fialova who was my friend explained it to me: Schulhof paid somebody for a state apartment with protected fixed rent in one of the new buildings in the South of Prague. Officially, those people were exchanging their apartment for a part of a house in some village that belonged to Schulhof. But actually Schulhof paid them cash. Then once he had their apartment listed on the name of his wife, he merged the two apartments to one big one. The Fialovi were happy from the deal. We, my Jarda and I, visited them there once. They had a fourth floor apartment with a working elevator. Unlike here, the electricity, heating, gas, and water were all new and worked perfectly. The air was not as polluted as here because there was central heating for the whole quarter, without having to burn coal. There was a supermarket opposite and a metro station five minutes’ walk from their home and plenty of parking, so their children could visit. They were happy.” “And then?” “Then, once he and his wife had the legal right to rent both apartments from the city, he could go to the municipal housing office and ask for permission to renovate the top floor himself. Since he was restoring, not building something new, they let him do it. It was noisy for a few weeks. But since the walls between the apartments were just pieces of plywood stuck together, my Jarda explained it to me, they were down at no time. He had then an apartment with two kitchens and two bathrooms. They could cook lunch in one kitchen and dinner at the other…” she chuckled. “And what about his family, do they still live with him?” “No. I think the wife and daughter moved out a few years ago. They had been a quiet family. Then, a few years ago, they started quarreling. Mrs. and Mr. Schulhof, I mean. I could hear them raising their voices at each other. But it did not last long. The wife and daughter just disappeared. Soon thereafter, a young woman started visiting him regularly. She does not look Czech. She could be from the South, Yugoslav or Italian. She has no manners. I greeted her several times on the stairs or in the entrance, but she never replies. Does it cost to say good-day or ask how I am doing?!”

“Maybe she is a foreigner and does not know any Czech?” suggested Mazal. “She has been here for a few years, enough to know how to reply dobry den when greeted. In Greece they do not know how to say good-day?!” “You are right, of course. There is no excuse for rudeness. Apart of this young foreign friend, have you noticed any other visitors?” “I think he was doing some business at home. There were visitors in all hours of the day and night. Most of them I think were rich foreigners. When they came in couples or small groups I could hear them speaking in foreign tongues, mostly in English, but also German and Russian. I think I also heard Hebrew, but I am not sure about how it should sound. I think that they may have been buying books from him or something similar, because sometimes when they came back down I could see they were carrying square packages that could be books. Then more recently, he had every weekend the Katowice Jews.” “Who are they?” “Jews from this Polish town I guess. He converted a part of the apartment into a chu rch and they have been coming on Friday nights and Saturdays; sometimes on other days of the week, when they had holidays.” “How do you know that these are Jews from Katowice and that he has a synagogue up there?” “Have you checked his mailbox, Mr. policeman?” Urbanikova giggled. Mazal blushed and admitted that he has not. “Well, if you look at the labels on his mailbox, you will see that under his name, it says `The Community of Katowice Jews’. They are very well-mannered. They always greet me in the corridor. One Friday afternoon one of them, a young man, helped me with my shopping bags up the stairs. He did not know that he was carrying two and a half kilos of English bacon and five kilos of Moravian roast pork.” Urbanikova giggled again and banged her hand on the table to emphasize her punch line. Mazal asked about Schulhof and the other neighbors. “Was he friendly? Did he make friends in the building?” “He has always been polite. I would say that for him. But we were not on the best of terms recently. About ten years ago, after my Jarda had his heart attack and died, the city offered all the tenants in the building to change the ownership from state to a co-operative. The young people including Schulhof wanted to accept the offer. For them, it meant that they would become the owners of their apartments and would be able to sell them for a lot of money. But for older people like me this it was not a good offer. If something breaks, the city has to fix it for me. But if I become the owner, I may be a real-estate -millionaire, but if anything breaks; I would not be able to afford fixing it. So I am happy with things as they are. Mrs. Kačirkova from the first floor was also against it for the same reason.

As you know, being a policeman, the law is that the legal conversion from state to cooperative ownership has to be agreed on by all the tenants. So, Schulhof came to see me to try to convince me to agree. He told me that I would be rich if I agree to become part of a cooperative. I told him that I do not care how rich I become if I cannot afford to fix this old apartment. He told me that if I agree, I could sell the apartment, buy a cheaper one, and have enough money in profit to take a long vacation someplace warm with coconuts and bananas. I told him that this is the apartment where I lived with my Jarda, this is where he had the heart attack that killed him, and this where I intend to die too. I do not want to go anywhere with coconuts and bananas.” “How did he react to that?” “How could he react?! He wished me longevity and asked me to let him know if I change my mind in the future. Mrs. Kačirkova died a few years ago, but I am still here, and as long as I am alive this apartment building will continue to be state owned and not a co-operative. When I die, everybody here can sell their apartments and go to live in tropical islands with bananas and coconut trees.” Mazal could think of many things that could have happened to Urbanikova. He himself had to deal with two murders of old ladies in similar situations. He knew of many more cases of harassment, when neighbors turned the lives of pensioners who refused to sign the conversion document into living hell to pressure them. But he remained silent. This was obviously not happening here, so there was no reason to frighten the old woman. The doorbell rang, and Koudela came in carrying a large cardboard box from the supermarket. When he returned with the third and final load, she invited him to sit and have more coffee and some more of her cookies. “Can you think of any reason why somebody may want to kill Schulhof?” “I would not know of any enemies he may have had. Maybe it was just an accident. Maybe, like my Jarda, he had a heart attack while he was walking in the street or while bending out of the window, and then he just fell. Maybe it was this kind of an accident.” Urbanikova insisted that they take some more of the cookies with them as they left. Such young men must have families with children who would enjoy the cookies and she had nobody to bake for since her Jarda died. Koudela reminded Mazal as they went down the stairs that it was time for lunch. As they left the building, a door on the first floor opened and a blond young man in shorts and a sweatshirt featuring wombats making love approached them. “Good day. Do you speak English? Is this about the brawl last night?” Mazal answered in English that they were investigating the death of the tenant at the top floor. “Oh that’s terrible. I thought you were here about the brawl in the pub last night.” “We heard about that, a British group?”

“No, these were not bloody Poms last night, but bloody Irish. I am Australian, so I know the accents. They woke me up, and I got down there to tell them to shut the hell up. They ignored me. So I threatened to call the police. That did the trick. Their leader or whatever intervened to stop the brawl and called on his mobile for four taxis to take them all back to the Evropa hotel. I then went back to sleep.”