Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 2, Scene 1b

TOC page here.

So once we set up the scene with Imam Dave and his creature comforts, we learn that jihadis preen for the camera but not-Mario’s corpse was hidden in an abandoned building and the calligraphy on his chest beneath layers of cloth. Now let’s move on to the next part of the scene, with Dave saying:

“I will endeavor to keep an ear to the ground.” He handed the tablet back to Diana, then just as she took it from him, he reached for it back. They both fumbled for it, and it fell to the floor, landing with a slap that echoed in the quiet office. Dave stooped from his chair to where it lay face up. “Alhamdullilah,” he whispered. Mustapha supposed gluing the phone to the back of the tablet might not be such a great idea, after all.

“Sorry, Detective,” said Dave. “I thought I noticed something.” He examined the photograph carefully, then nodded. “That’s interesting.” He turned the screen to face them, then pointed at one of the swirls. “See this dot? There should be two of them, not just one. They turned a T into an N.”

“Oh,” said Mustapha. “Now that’s blasphemy.”

“No, it just turns a word into nonsense.” Dave flipped the tablet back around, scrutinized it some more. “Here’s another one. J becomes a Scottish loch. Dot’s in the wrong place.”

Mustapha said, “I’ll take your word for it: I can read the alphabet, but never the fancy calligraphy.”

“Well, it’s not easy. I’m sorry I didn’t notice until just that. I confess I originally just read the first few words and remembered the rest.” Another click of the tongue. “I don’t think I’d make such a good detective, after all.”

Diana said, “You’re doing fine. Swipe backwards a couple of photos and tell me if one of our other victims had the same issues.”

“Certainly. Um…” He flipped back and forth several times, then did so more slowly. “I rather think not. The first one is correct. Perhaps your writer was in a hurry?”

“Maybe,” said Diana. “You’d think someone who knew how to write like that wouldn’t make mistakes.”

Mustapha said, “But the writing’s all neat. Poor Mario was moved, too. Even with wrong dots, you can’t write this smooth in a hurry.”

Diana said, “Then why make a mistake?”

Dave handed the tablet back to her. He said, “I’d say it was the hand of God, stopping this monster from profaning Scripture.” He reached for another wafer. “But I don’t think that would stand up in court.”

So now we get the real clue. The person doing the (otherwise perfect) calligraphy made a couple of mistakes the second time around. Why, exactly? As Diana says, someone who knows Arabic calligraphy wouldn’t make such a mistake, especially not if they were taking enough time to make things all smooth. So what’s going on here? Logic would suggest someone is going to a great deal of trouble to make it look like homeless men are being killed by some kind of crazy Muslim; however, things are never quite as they seem.


Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 2, Scene 1a

TOC page here.

On to the new chapter: a visit to Imam Dave to see if the calligraphy on not-Mario’s chest can tell them anything:

Imam Dave was just as fresh and chipper at 0400 this time as he’d been a month before; and he had a fresh box of vanilla wafers to go with their tea. ”This is troubling,” he said as he handed the tablet back to Diana. “It would be deeply troubling even were it not for public prejudices about Muslims. What can I do to help?”

“You never heard anything?” asked Mustapha.

“You told me not to say anything. Many conversations were had: it was generally agreed that this was blasphemy, an abomination, militantly against everything we stand for. But nobody spoke of recognizing the calligraphy, or of knowing anyone who would even contemplate such acts.” He nibbled a wafer, shrugged. “I wish I had better news.”

Diana said, “Tell us about the crescent moon, Dave.”

“It’s just a symbol, really. A new era, a new time. The Islamic calendar is lunar,”

“Yeah, we know,” said Mustapha. ”Why the crescent, though? Why not do it from full moon to full, or whatever?”

“It reappears from behind of the Sun, a reminder of God’s majesty.” Another nibble. “I’m sure it was meaningful in the pre-Islamic or Arab pagan culture, which though we have almost no written records, undoubtedly influenced early Islam a great deal. Ramadan as a holy month, for example, clearly has pre-Islamic origins. It was a truce month, so people could make money off the caravan trade without having to worry about raids by other tribes.”

Diana said, “Sure. There’s crosses and rebirths and virgin births and all the mystery cults that preceded Christianity.” She carefully refrained from saying that the moon passes in front of the sun, not behind.

Mustapha crunched on three wafers at once, washed them down with scalding tea. “I should know this, but I don’t: first day of the month, new crescent moon, good time to start something new?” At Dave’s nod, “Great.”

Dave’s eyes widened. “I must not have fully awakened. These both happened at the new crescent moon?” He downed his tea, poured another cup. “That’s… beyond the pale.” A sip of tea, and effort to calm himself. “You know, one thing that did occur to several of the worshipers here was that the essence of what we see in the media as Islamic… well, terrorism, is spectacle. They’re so fond of putting up really rather well-produced videos on YouTube, complete with barbarous anthems for a soundtrack.”

Mustapha grabbed for more wafers. “That caught our eye, too.”

“This seems… here, may I see the pictures again?” Diana handed him the tablet. “Yes: his shirts and sweaters have been cut open. Did you find him like this, or was it your CSI team?”

“Forensics,” said Diana. “The ME, really.”

“Yes. See, this is too subtle for jihadists. There’s nobody preening for the camera. There’s more to this than simple terrorism or some kind of public statement about Islam: it’s personal.” He stared off into space, for a moment. “That probably makes it more difficult for y’all.”

Mustapha said, “It sure does.”

“I will endeavor to keep an ear to the ground.” He handed the tablet back to Diana, then just as she took it from him, he reached for it back. They both fumbled for it, and it fell to the floor, landing with a slap that echoed in the quiet office. Dave stooped from his chair to where it lay face up. “Alhamdullilah,” he whispered. Mustapha supposed gluing the phone to the back of the tablet might not be such a great idea, after all.

So there’s very little to move the plot forward here, which isn’t the point. We’ve started a new chapter in this very short act, and we need to establish the scene, confirm Dave’s character, enjoy the rapport among the three of them. Mustapha is a seriously lapsed Muslim, Dave likes his creature comforts.

The real piece of information here is that to the eyes of a professional, there’s nothing here to connect not-Mario’s death to jihadis, because jihadis always preen. Now, the original Reaper killings were all about display, but there’s no display here: it’s all hidden. So either this is something that’s Islamic but not jihadi, or something else entirely. Stay tuned.

Novel 3: Act II, Chapter 1, Scene 5b

TOC page here.

Man, it’s been forever since I’ve updated this. I’m writing a textbook: I’ve written 171 pages of it in 36 days, and should have it done within a couple of weeks. It’s really got me out of the habit of dealing with this, which is frankly inexcusable if I want to take myself seriously as a fiction writer. But it’s been one of those things where I’m so focused on the other project that I kept skipping days at this, and there’s a real momentum factor in blogging, especially when you haven’t yet developed a real serious following.

Anyway. We’re in a makeshift autopsy room underneath Grady Hospital, where our characters are examining the body of what the text calls Mario, but which as I said before, is going to become a different homeless guy in the final version, because we’re going to save Mario to be the victim of Act IV. The key feature here is the eyes of the corpse: remember, the Reaper did creepy things with his victims’ eyes and Alex Dawson’s corpse had the eyes excised. Diana asks Posh the ME, “What about his eyes?”

“Well, that’s a bit interesting.” She drew their gaze to the mottled, greenish face of Mario, then used gloved fingers to spread open his left eyelid. “They weren’t excised, but they’re missing. This is the result of insect and rodent activity. There are bits of flesh here: it’s not a clean excision, like the other man and the Reaper victims.”

Posh shifted her fingers. “Now look at the other eye. What do you see?”

Jenkins peered over Mustapha’s shoulder. “Same thing.”

“No, sir,” said Diana. She pointed. “Look at those marks on the side of his nose.”

“Exactly,” said Posh. She stretched up the lower eyelid to reveal more marks. “Could I swear to this in court? No. But I think your killer was interrupted. He was starting to dig around, got the spoon around and under this man’s eyeball, and then was unable to finish.”

“Ugh,” said Jenkins. “Why I get paid to do you two’s paperwork.”

Posh said, “I don’t suppose there are high-definition video feeds of the outside of that building?”

Mustapha said, “This ain’t London. The tower across the street will have security cameras, but only on their own plaza.”

Keller said, “And six days old?”

Jenkins pursed his lips, sighed. “Okay, we got nothing, then. The word from on high is that this gentleman perished of exposure or perhaps self-harm. Stoph? Detective Siddal? Do us up an edited investigation. Doctors? You’re not under Chief Purcell’s authority, but this is a case where the chief is very much under the mayor’s authority. You want to follow up on that, I don’t blame you. But the word will be the same.”

Keller shrugged. “Won’t fight City Hall. Keep it bland and short?”

Posh chuckled. “There’s a joke in there somewhere. Very well, Captain: we mustn’t panic the city.”

Jenkins said, “Thanks, folks. Siddal, can you find us a next of kin?”

Diana got out her tablet and carefully photographed Mario’s chest. “Sir, nobody knows his last name.”

“I’ve seen you on a computer. Y’all can go, if you want. I’ll stay here until the mayor’s funeral guy gets here.” At their looks, “Hey, that’s what the mayor called him.”

And, chapter. If the killer was interrupted, maybe someone saw them. But of course this is on the fourth floor of a long-abandoned office building, so the only people likely to have interrupted the killer probably have issues with reliable testimony. And what these folks haven’t got to yet is that while the Reaper corpses and Alex Dawson were displayed, this one was hidden. This ain’t London, indeed.