You’ve enjoyed my articles about travelling and living in Europe. Now, take three minutes to read the introductory chapter (below) of my newly released novel, From the Rooftops. This exciting story will take you all over Romania, Ukraine and Sicily. It’s risk free to read a chapter. Who knows? You might discover a new author you really enjoy. I hope you love it. – Val
by V M Karren
1. A Murder of Crows
Those who catch the devil red-handed rarely live to tell about it. The unlucky few who have seen the devil’s tricks close-up and survived have the same advice to those who boast that they can bring the devil to heel: Stay home, lock the doors and pray he didn’t hear you.
Two hours before the night train from Bucharest, Romania, arrived at Iaşi Central Station, when only the devil and his helpers lurk on the city’s unlit street corners, two sets of yellow headlights arrived minutes apart and stopped on the far side of the station’s deserted parking lot.
In the darkness of the late winter morning, the silhouettes of the three gray actors who emerged from the first car, against a black backdrop, were impossible to discern from across the wide parking lot without the use of high-powered binoculars. Even with the binoculars, the eyes of the silent policeman strained to follow their shadowy movements. For now, three men waited impatiently for the driver of the second car to step out; his hesitation raised the agitation of the three who were anxious to finish their business before commuters spilled out of the station to catch a tram or a bus. The only other witnesses to this scene clung silently to the overhead power lines—feathered, black smudges against a dark gray sky. This murder of crows was known by local criminals and authorities alike to be as silent as the grave. The gang of three, leaning uncomfortably against the doors and fenders of their parked car, paid the birds no attention.
Before a word, a handshake or even a cigarette was lit, three men lunged at the one as he stepped out of his car, punching and kicking him into submission with all the force in their limbs and boots. The crows watched from above with indifference.
The three men, exhausted from exertion, stopped to peer into the darkness, straining to see who they knew was watching, but still could not see through the morning drizzle. Receiving no sign to stop, no quick flash of the headlights or blast of the horn, the one was picked up off the ground by the three and dragged into a building on the north side of the empty square.
After a few minutes of calm, a dim light of an exposed stairwell sprung up on the roof of the building the four men had disappeared into. The long shadows of the assailants and their victim could be glimpsed for just a moment. The one was staggering and struggled to stay on his feet; drunk on the violence of his companions.
The flailing arms of two black silhouettes were clearly visible now from across the parking lot, frantically finishing their deed before the growing light would expose their faces and their motivations. The crows squawked and hopped from cable to cable, excited to watch the action at eye level, and placed their wagers.
Out of breath, the attackers paused to admire the work of their fists. The leader of the bandits glared again directly into the lenses of the binoculars trained on him from the dark car below that the morning’s half-light had finally uncovered.
On wobbling legs, the one stood. Slowly at first until air filled his lungs. He pulled himself upright and tall, but not without difficulty. Deriding words were shouted and a pistol was pointed at him. With no panic or argument, the one stepped to the edge of the roof. The binoculars below trembled in nervous hands. The proud man, standing tall on the ledge of the building, bowed his head, crossed himself with his right hand, and jumped. The crows, startled by the concussion on the pavement below, simultaneously took to flight, cawing and crowing their innocence, never to be seen or heard from again.
Moments later, three men dressed in black exited the building through the same door where, ten minutes earlier, four had entered. One car peeled away. The second car was left abandoned. The gray sunrise showed the official markings of the Romanian National Customs Service on its doors and tailgate. Five hundred meters away, at the south end of the station’s parking lot, a tall figure stepped out of a similar looking automobile without markings, tossed his binoculars onto the seat, and walked quickly across the parking lot and up the alley leading to the platforms and tracks where a crowd began gathering around the body that fell from the dark sky.
Between the buildings and the station, the alleyway was filling up with those who had heard the impact of ninety kilograms of flesh hitting concrete paving stones. Half-drunk railyard workers poured out of the bars that lined the causeway. The dim lights of the taverns’ open doors lit the way to the warm corpse who laid prone with his eyes wide open in his own pooling blood.
“Step aside. Police. Step aside, please. I’m a police officer.”
The crowd parted but did not take its collective eyes off the dead man on the ground.
Binoculars were no longer needed to see that this man was dead. There was no need to check a pulse or try to resuscitate him. The policeman turned to the crowd.
“Did anybody see what happened?” he shouted, showing his detective’s badge.
The crowd began to disperse.
“I ask again, is there anybody who saw what happened? Does anybody recognize this man?”
The crowd, suspicious of the simultaneous appearance of a dead man and a detective at this ungodly hour, quickly dissolved into the labyrinth of the railyard’s alleyways.
“You all had your chance to make a statement. If you try to make a statement later, it will be considered suspect. It is your duty to speak now!” he hollered after them. After two minutes, there was only the dead man left to question.
The detective reached inside his winter coat and pulled out his radio:
“Unidentified body found outside Iaşi train station. Time of death estimated to be at five-twenty-five in the morning, March 3, 1997.”
“Deceased is half-naked, no wallet, no keys…”
“It looks like he jumped…”
“Send a body bag and uniformed officers to secure the site…body is still warm.”
“No foul play suspected…”
“There were no witnesses.”
Click on the book cover below to download the e-book ($4.99) or to order the paperback ($15) and keep on reading. Enjoy!