Sunday, April 04, 2010

The case of the missing body

The prisoners in the cells behind the police sergeant were sleeping the sleep of the unjust when the message came in at 5AM: a crypt had been looted and both the body and the loot were missing. Grumpily the sergeant sent out a call to the detective on duty, dispatched a couple of patrol officers to secure the area, and then returned to his sword-n-sandals fantasy novel.

Detective Morelli wasn't fond of 5 AM but he was even less fond of body thieves. As he approached the scene of the crime on the narrow path that led to the crypt he noted a bunch of people in white robes on their knees praying, he had to step over a couple of them because they were packed around the crypt. The two patrol officers at the crypt looked distinctly uncomfortable and had their riot batons at ready.

Morelli identified the senior officer and asked, "What's the situation, Officer Berlusconi? Who are these people?"

"Some sort of cult, sir. They keep demanding to go into the crypt. I told them that everything got stolen out of there and there's nothing to see, but they won't go away."

"Huh." Morelli ducked his head into the crypt and let his eyes adjust to the gloom. Indeed, there was nothing but some random bones lying around in various cubbies. He turned around to the white-robed cultists and yelled, "Hey, yo! Who's the leader of you bunch?"

A guy with a long black beard wearing one of those Jewish beanies tentatively stood up and said "I guess I am, now."

"What's your name, citizen?"

"Peter Shamir, sir."

"Well, Peter, come on up, you're going to get a tour of this crypt, then you're going to go to your bunch there and tell'em what you saw, then you're going to all clear out, see?"

Peter just glared, then said "It depends on what I see."

"Well, hope you see what you need to see then, because otherwise we're calling in the Army to move you lot away at spearpoint."

"The Army?" Peter spit. "They're the morons who executed our Holy Leader."

"Well come up here and see, then."

Peter tentatively stepped over a few of his fellow cultists and joined Morelli at the entrance to the crypt. "So who was your Holy Leader, and why did the Army execute him?"

"He was Joshua Eshkol, and the morons thought he was leading a rebellion against the government. But he wasn't! He was a wise and holy man who had no inclination to get involved in politics, he even told them that!"

"Well, do you see your Joshua around here?"

Peter looked around in the gloom, eyes adjusting to the low light level. "He's.... he's not here? But where...." then Peter's eyes got as big as saucers. "He is risen! He is risen!" He ran out to his fellow cultists. "He is risen!" White robed men and women jumped up and started dancing around in circles, shouting "He is risen!" Morelli rolled his eyes. The cultists ran away down the track, still occasionally shouting "He is risen!"

Morelli shook his head. "Religious nutcases. Heavens save us all from them. So, officers, what happened here?"

"Well, sir, we got word yesterday evening that somebody might be stealing the body out of this crypt, so we sent Officer Craxi down here to keep an eye on things. But he musta fell asleep. He claims he didn't, but then he would, wouldn't he?"

"Yeah. Or somebody knocked him over the head, I can't see someone sleeping through looting a whole fuckin' crypt. How's his head feel?"

"Uhm, he did complain he had a hellacious headache, sir. But then he had a whole jug of wine with him. To keep warm, he said. So that might be it."

"Drunk outta his skull, no wonder he didn't wake up. Well fuck. I guess I can't blame him for wanting some liquid entertainment. Watching a fucking crypt has to be the most boring fuck-ass job ever. So who owns this crypt?"

"Joseph Sharett, the miller."

"Guess I'll head on down there then," Morelli said.

Morelli walked down the path to the cemetary, then took a taxi to Sharett's mill. He walked in and badged the secretary behind the desk. "I need to talk to Joseph Sharett."

"Yes sir." The secretary led Morelli through the lobby door, and to a large office behind. A large Jewish man with a long black beard wearing one of those Jewish beanies was behind the desk, looking at some papers with Hebrew writing on them.

"Sir, the police are here to talk to you."

"Thank you Yitzhak, you are dismissed," the man said.

Morelli badged the man. "I'm Detective Morelli. You're Joseph Sharett?"

"Yes, Detective, I am. I'm a busy man, what is this about?"

"Do you own a crypt in Holy Mount Cemetery where a common criminal named Joshua Eshkol was laid to rest a couple of days ago?"

Sharett slapped his papers down. "Oh yeah, that asshole. Have you seen those fucking cultists of his? Have you? A guy shows up, says that a holy man got killed and asked if they could use one of the niches in my family crypt 'cause else they were going to have to dump him in a pauper's pit. Crap, I'm not a bad guy, I said okay. But have you seen those fuckers? I went up there to check on things and there were all these assholes in white robes all over the fucking place, and they'd took over the whole fucking crypt, they'd even shoved my mother's bones over into a corner to make room for shit they were piling around all over the goddamned place, perfumes and fine cloths and stuff. I tell ya, it was enough to make a man go into a rage and tell those assholes to get their fucking holy man and all that shit out of my crypt by the end of the week, or else. So what, those assholes complained that I was mean to them or something?"

Morelli examined the man with a neutral expression on his face. "So you want that body and all that swag out of your crypt?"

"Oh fuck yeah. If it ain't outta there by the end of the week, I'm going to send some of my security guys up there to clean it all out and dump everything at the front door of that Peter dude who seems to be their second in command."

"Well, somebody already cleaned out the body and all that swag. Nothing left but your family bones up there."

"Really? Well whoever did that ought to get a fucking medal. Cultists. Bah. I shoulda never let them put their holy asshole in there in the first place."

"You wouldn't know anything about who could have done this, do you?"

"You ain't accusin' me of doing' it, are you? 'Cause if it was me, I done told you what I woulda done. It's my crypt, I woulda just dumped everything outside of that Peter's house and stationed a couple of security guards at the entrance to the crypt to keep them from bringing their holy asshole back. You want to know who might have had an incentive to, like, disappear that body? Check with the Army, they weren't too damned happy to have all these cultists gathered in one spot venerating a common criminal."

"Any idea who I should check with?"

"I think a Lieutenant Zanardelli was in charge, he's over at the Governor's Palace post."

"Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Sharett. I notice that your business seems unusually large and thriving for a mill, and that's one expensive desk you're sitting behind. Must be a lot of profit in grinding wheat nowdays."

"I'm an honest businessman, detective. Now are you done?"

Morelli tipped his hat. "I believe so. Assuming you've told me the truth." Then he turned and left.

Morelli took a taxi to the Governor's palace, and went around to the side where the Army detachment was posted. He badged the trooper at the gate. "Detective Morelli here, to see Lieutenant Zanardelli."

"Does he know you're coming?"

"He knows someone from the police department is coming, I'm pretty sure, but not my name."

"Yeah? Let me check." The man looked down at a register in front of him, looked back up. "Nope, no police department dude listed here."

Morelli sighed. "Look, we're on the same side here, we're both trying to keep order in a sea of assholes. I can go up to the Governor's office and get an order and shit, but that's just plain asshattery. Just call Lieutenant Zanardelli and let's get our business over with."

The trooper considered, his monobrow squinching up a bit. "Okay, sounds fair enough." He turned around and spoke into an intercom, "A police detective is here to talk to Lieutenant Zanardelli." A couple of minutes later, Lieutenant Zanardelli showed up, flicking imaginary dust off the sleeves of his spotless uniform.

Morelli badged him. "Good morning, Lieutenant. I'm Detective Morelli from the Metropolitan Police. Just a routine enquiry about a missing body. Do you recall Joshua Eshkol?"

"Oh, him. That cult of his is plain creepy. The Feds were monitoring them and decided it was time to pull him in and put him on trial for fomenting revolt, the Army got called in because these nutcases were gathered in a large compound and it was decided that an overwhelming show of force was needed to keep them from resisting his arrest. He was guilty, of course, so we executed him two days ago. What's this about a missing body?"

"Well, sir, it appears someone disappeared his body from the tomb, after a couple days where those cultists were congregating around there. Somebody suggested that the Army might have gotten tired of those cultists congregating and decided to put an end to it by removing the body to some deep pit somewhere that it'll never be found."

"Interesting," Lt. Zanardelli said. "I'd say you have no need to know, but in this case, I think you're barking up the wrong tree. The Army has no interest in these cultists, we didn't find any weapons in their compound so from our perspective they're a non-issue. You might want to check with the Feds though. They seem to have a bee up their ass about these cultists."

" Do you know who I should talk to with the Feds?"

"I'd say check with Agent Zoli, he was the one who called in the Army for manpower."

"Thank you for your cooperation, Lt. Zanardelli. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this before those cultist assholes can make a big fuss out of it."

"Yeah, well, good luck with that." Lt. Zanardelli turned and went back inside, still flicking invisible dust off of his immaculate uniform.

Manelli walked around the other side of the governor's palace and descended into a basement hallway. Halfway down the hallway was the Fed's door. He walked in and badged the secretary. "Detective Morelli to see Agent Zoli."

"And what is this about, may I ask?"

"Some cultist assholes. Agent Zoli will know who I'm talking about."

The secretary looked down at her desk, then back up. "You're in luck, Agent Zoli is in. Let me get him."

She talked into an intercom, and Agent Zoli entered the lobby shortly afterword, looking splendid in his dark suit and footwear. Morelli badged him, "I'm Detective Morelli, you're Agent Zoli?"

"I am. And what is this about?"

"We have a missing body. Some common criminal named Joshua Eshkol."

The agent laughed. "Oh yeah, him. His body isn't missing, his family has it."

"Ah. And how, exactly, did they accomplish this?"

"Well, when he was executed of course we notified the next of kin, his parents. They came down to retrieve the body, but those cultists had already snatched it and put it in that crypt. They were irate, of course, but what were they going to do, wade through a bunch of cultists to take their son's body away? Not hardly!"

"So how did they do it?"

"Oh, I sent a couple of agents with them last night to fetch the body and crate it up for shipping. The cultists seem to go home at dusk, there wasn't anybody out there except some cop passed out snoring near the entrance. We didn't bother waking him up, he smelled like a winery."

"Thank you, Agent. Can you give me the names of his parents, just so I can verify this information with them and close my file?"

"Sure, why not. I know how that goes, your superiors will get on you if you don't dot all your i's and cross all your t's." The agent pulled a pad and a pen out of his pocket, and scribbled a couple of names on it and the address where they lived, then tore off the sheet of paper and handed it to Detective Morelli. "Just don't expect much from them. Those cultists had them pretty freaked out. I doubt they'll even verify that they have the body, for fear that the cultists will start hanging around trying to sniff out where they've put the body."

Morelli shrugged. "Maybe so, but you know how it goes."

"Sure. Good luck, Detective."

Morelli nodded, and headed out.

The address on the pad was out of town, but Morelli bet that the body wasn't out of town yet. He started checking out shippers who might handle freighting a large crate. After the fifth shipper, he found the one.

"Oh yeah, them," the shipper said, looking at the names on the piece of paper. "Yeah, they were in here, with a body to ship."

"Is the crate still here?"

"Yeah, the freight to Galilee had already left by the time they got in, it'll be on tomorrow's freight."

"I'd like to verify its contents, then."

"Sure, why the fuck not."

The shipper took Morelli back into the warehouse to where some crates were sitting on a loading dock. He picked up a prybar and pried open one, and stood aside to let Morelli look inside. Morelli looked inside and yep, there was some Jew down there, with the hooked nose and dark curly hair and long black beard, dressed in one of those white cultist robes. The mystery of the missing swag was solved too, it was packed all around the body, the parents apparently having decided that they needed the swag more than the cultists.

"Thanks," Morelli said. "Now I can close my case."

Morelli headed back to his office, wrote it up, and closed the case. A few months later his boss came in. He'd heard that the cultists were making a nuisance of themselves claiming their Holy One had risen from the dead and walked around for a while. Morelli just shook his head. Cultists. Given how many cults were around in these times, he didn't figure that this one would last long. Rising from the dead, who was dumb enough to believe stupid crap like that? Morelli handed the file to his boss, and that was that. Until the day he died, he didn't think about it again, because really, with all the cults around saying all this silly crap, who cared about one particularly silly one? "Rise from the dead", indeed. If you'd asked him, Morelli woulda snorted. Those bones were well and interred in the family crypt of the guy's parents. But nobody ever asked him, because it just never was important enough, not until long after Morelli died and was himself interred.

-- Badtux the Fiction Penguin


  1. A fine story, finely told.
    But it needs bunnies. There's a lot of bunnies in cult worship these days.

  2. I agree, a fine story and a (mostly) timeless one as well. But what's with the cop taking a taxi everywhere? Doesn't he have his own Old Reliable?

  3. Minerva, cops aren't paid much and in a big city aren't going to own their own transportation, and the transport pool for the Metropolitan Police is so old and broken-down that you'd have to be very lucky to get anywhere in it. One of the perks of being a detective, however, is reimbursement for travel expenses, and Detective Morelli is taking advantage of it to grab reliable taxis rather than trust Old Reliable (hah!) from the transport pool to get him anywhere.

    - Badtux the Fiction Penguin

  4. And the Camel was in the shop...


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