Requiem for a Gypsy: A Jana Matinova Investigation Set in Slovakia (Commander Jana Matinova Investigation)

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9781569479575: Requiem for a Gypsy: A Jana Matinova Investigation Set in Slovakia (Commander Jana Matinova Investigation)

When the wife of one of Slovakia's most prominent businessmen is killed in a very public assassination, it looks like the bullets were meant for her husband. But could the wife of Oto Bogan have actually been one of the primary targets? And where has Bogan gone? Both he and his son have disappeared without a trace. Commander Jana Matinova was present at the party where the shooting took place, and she was the one who pushed Bogan out of the line of fire. As a witness to the crime, she's being told to stay away from the case, but her Colonel knows that he needs his best investigator on it.

Jana must push through her own government's secretiveness and intransigence to discover what connects the murder of Klara Boganova to an anonymous man run down in Paris, a dead Turk with an icepick in his eye, and an international network of bank accounts linking back to the Second World War. The key to the case may lie with a mysterious, vagabond girl who has attached herself to Jana and who seems to be connected to the notorious international criminal Makine, AKA Koba. To solve the case and stop an ongoing series of murders, Jana must travel to Berlin and Paris and look back into the darkest period of Slovak history.

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About the Author:

Michael Genelin is a graduate of UCLA and UCLA Law School. He has served as a consultant for the US State Department and USAID in Central Europe, Africa, Asia, and Haiti. He lives with his wife in Paris.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

The old man in the Dodgers cap walked down one
of the center aisles of the Saturday outdoor market
on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. It was early enough in the
morning to avoid the crowd that would be there in the next
hour. As always when in Paris, he visited the huge market
to reexperience the sights, sounds, and smells of the city
he’d first enjoyed so many years ago. It took him, for the
moments he was there, out of the modern Paris that was
losing so much of its character. Too much clogging motor
traffic, too many fast-food chains, supermarkets, and girls
in gym shoes and baggy, stained khakis—and, of course,
there was the array of beggars. Outside the market, he saw
the very essence of what he thought of as French coming
under attack.

Here, the old Paris was still present: the merchants in
their separate stalls under the canvas, the vegetable-stand
staffers shouting their specials, the fishmongers extolling
fresh cod and bream, the pastry and bread stands wafting
their scent over the neighboring rows, competing with
the bouquets of the olive stands, which boasted dozens of
differently colored, sized, and seasoned olives. These, in
turn, complemented and contrasted with the smell of the
chickens turning on spits and sausages being stewed, fried,
or roasted in the stands farther down the aisle.

The booths went on for blocks, and Pascal, as he was
known in Paris, made sure to traverse the whole market,
picking up tidbits from here and there to keep him in
edibles for the next several days. The scene was like an old
movie that had been colorized, so vividly chromatic that
it made him feel as if he were inhabiting a rainbow dream
made of food.

When the main body of the Saturday shoppers arrived
to crowd the aisles, Pascal sighed, disappointed that his
comfort time was over but ready to leave, his purchases
stored in the two-wheeled shopping cart he’d bought a
few days earlier. Once you get on in years, the prospect of
carrying bundles in your arms, even just for the few blocks
he had to walk to his apartment, becomes onerous; so he’d
brought the cart, even though it was not regarded as the
masculine thing to do.

Pascal crossed over to the other side of the boulevard,
glancing up at the golden winged figure at the top of
the monument on the former site of the Bastille, then
walked the short distance around the traffic circle to
Saint-Antoine, making his way from the monument
toward the tourist-friendly Saint-Paul area where he had
his apartment. He walked a few blocks, and then, like so
many Parisians do, perceiving that it was safe to ignore
the traffic light, he cut across Saint-Antoine. The old man
never saw the truck that hit him. Almost the exact center
of the front bumper struck Pascal, the blow scattering
his cart and groceries and sending Pascal himself flying
through the air, slamming through the plate glass of a bus
stop, its shards raining all over the street.

Pascal was killed on impact, so many of his bones
broken that he looked like a jelly-filled scarecrow when
he was put into a body bag and lifted onto the coroner’s
gurney. The truck driver had driven on as if he hadn’t
just killed a pedestrian, abandoning the truck several
blocks from the collision. The truck proved to be stolen,
so the police could not find anyone to hold responsible,
which always angers police officers. And Pascal had three
separate sets of ID on his person, which made things even
more troubling for them. After all, how can you notify the
decedent’s next of kin, or even inform his landlord, if you
don’t know who he was or where he lived? The problem
was passed on to the detective bureau.

The detective assigned to the case sent queries out to
both Europol and Interpol, transmitting photographs of
the dead man, shots of several tattoos found on his body,
prints taken from him in the morgue, and all the names
on his IDs. Let them do their job for a change, the detective
reasoned. While he waited for identification on the
victim, he moved forward to his next pending case. They
were all piling up, and he only had so much time to spare
on any one of them.

Pascal, or what was left of him in writing, stayed on
the detective’s caseload for the next six months without
anything being done about him. If he had still been alive,
he would have approved and encouraged the lack of
action. Pascal had been a man who prized anonymity; and
besides, as he’d always reasoned, being dead was a plus.
Nobody ever bothered you when you were gone. “Gone”
was a wonderful euphemism. You were just somewhere
else. So, he was not there.
Chapter 2

The discussion, if that was the word for it, had now
lasted for close to two hours. The relatives of the
decedent—his mother and father, an aunt, a grandmother,
and two sisters, all of them gypsies—were demanding
action against the killers and were not listening to
Commander Jana Matinova. Their dusky skin, dark hair,
deep-set eyes, and volatile hand gestures were a whirl of
frustration. They had come to criticize the police for their
lack of action in the teenager’s death, and they were pouring
out a continuous flow of angry despair. The boy had
been hunting and had stumbled when climbing through
a fence, shooting himself in the neck, which had abruptly
ended his hunting and his life. The family members had
convinced themselves that the teenager had not shot
himself, but that his two companions had engaged in a
conspiracy to kill him.

Jana had gone over the facts very carefully, had read
the statements, the coroner’s reports, and the investigator’s
findings. Everyone who had touched the investigation
had come to the same conclusion: accidental death.
The youths had had one shotgun between them, using
it for alternate shots at rabbits, squirrels, and any other
rodent, bird, or large insect that came their way. They
had been larking around and become careless, which is
always a mistake when dealing with firearms. It was not
a conspiracy but certainly a tragedy, which was why Jana
continued to listen attentively to everything the family
said. She interrupted only to correct misstatements of fact
or gross exaggerations, hoping that the family would slow
their anguished outbursts to the point where they would
listen to her, even for a few seconds.

Jana eventually sensed them winding down, their sighs
coming less frequently, their voices becoming lackluster
and falling into a lower register, their eyes growing duller.
She took advantage of the moment, conveying to the
family that she would consider everything they had told
her, reexamine all the facts objectively, and make a judgment.
She singled out the father, the head of the clan, and
told him that she would call within the next few days to
let him know her conclusion. The family thanked her for
listening, and Jana gave the mother, the grandmother, the
aunt, and the two girls individual hugs. The father vigorously
shook Jana’s hand, tarrying for a moment to whisper
to “Madam Commander” that his son had been a good
boy. Then they all filed out, trailing a small wake of tears
behind them.

Jana sighed as she closed the door. It was always like that
when people abruptly lost a loved one, particularly when
it involved a violent ending. There was never enough
satisfaction for victims in any investigation or prosecution.
There was no way that any police officer could bring
the dead back to life or give the relatives of the deceased
anything approaching what they really wanted: to see, to
hold, to kiss their loved one one more time. In that way,
every case was unwinnable; the relatives always continued
to mourn, and too many police officers became depressed
at what they perceived as their ultimate failure: that they
could not make anyone whole again.

Jana did what every cop tried to do for themselves in
these situations: put the family, and the emotions that they
had generated, behind her. She had just sat down at her
desk, ready to leaf through the reports one last time, when
Seges, her warrant officer, knocked at the door and came
inside. He was carrying a small parcel in his hands.

“For you, Commander.”

Jana took the parcel, noting that it had been opened.

“Did you enjoy reading the material, Seges?”

“We’ve been told to always check for bombs in parcels,
Commander Matinova.”

“You thought this might be a bomb?”

“Just doing my duty, Commander.”

“Was it interesting, Seges? Anything salacious inside?”

“A request from another agency, Commander. More
work.”

Jana slipped the materials out of the mailer box. “More
work? My goodness, we may have to earn our pay.” Seges
was notorious for trying to avoid anything that suggested
labor. “It’s required on occasion, even for warrant officers,
Seges.”

There was a series of reports inside the package, all
written in French, a number of photographs, and a cover
letter in Slovak. Jana read the letter, a query from their
liaison in Europol trying to determine whether a man
who was the subject of a French police investigation as a
victim in a crime might be identified by the Slovak police.
Europol had concluded that he was a Slovak on the basis
of one of the tattoos on his body. Jana examined the photographs
as she talked to Seges.

“You checked the materials. Is he a Slovak?”

“The tattoo is in Slovak.”

“Not the thing he would do if he were not a Slovak,”
Jana agreed. She looked closely at the photographs of the
tattoo. It was an image with two lines of text. The inked
drawing was a black ensign with a large white circle in
the middle, the circle containing a single vertical stripe
crossed by two parallel stripes. The stripes were vaguely
similar to the double cross on the Slovak flag. The two
lines of text, one above and one below the ensign, read
Nas Boj and Na Straz.

These mottos, “Our Struggle” and “On Guard,” had
no resonance for Jana. The tattoo was different from the
tattoos on the other parts of the man’s body: it was quite
faded and stretched out of shape. An older tattoo, Jana
thought, one that had been put on his left bicep when he
was very young, perhaps even when he was a small child.
She rotated the photo of the tattoo on the desk so that
it faced Seges. “Recognize the symbol?”

“I’ve never seen it.”

She rotated the photo back. Something tugged at the
back of her mind as she studied it. “‘On Guard.’ I’ve heard
that before.”

“A fencing match?” Seges sniggered.

Jana looked up at him, sighing internally. The man would
never change. “Thank you for delivering the package. I’ll
take care of it now.”

Seges stayed where he was, his face expectant.

“Yes?” Jana began putting the papers back in their box.
“You want more?” She paused, remembering what he was
anticipating. “Ah, yes. Did I ask Colonel Trokan if he had
approved your request for a transfer? I not only asked him,
I practically begged him to approve it. He sneered at me,
and then berated me for my cover letter suggesting that
the request be granted. The colonel seemed to feel that
I was trying to slough you off onto another supervisor. I
assured him that I was.” She shrugged. “I had to tell the
truth. A commander does not lie to a colonel. Colonel
Trokan laughed and laughed and laughed, then told me
no. ‘No!’ with an exclamation point. He said maybe at the
end of the year. Then he laughed again. The colonel is a
very cruel man.”

“Yes . . .”

Jana favored Seges with a dour look. “Are you taking
it upon yourself to claim that the colonel is a very cruel
man? I’m entitled to say that, because I’ve known him so
long. You, however, are not.”

Seges looked like a rat caught in a trap of its own
making.

“I . . . agree, Commander.”

“Good.” She put the package from Europol on top of
the reports about the dead boy. “Have a good day, Seges.”

“Thank you, Commander.”

He did an about-face and left the room, leaving the
door open.

“You’re supposed to close the door behind you, Seges,”
Jana muttered to herself.

She checked her watch. She had to go home, freshen
up, and get dressed to go to a party being given by one of
the new breed of businessmen that the country was hellbent
on developing: high-profile figures who wanted to be
international players and were determined that everybody
should love and admire them for their ruthless corporate
plundering. So far, at least, tonight’s businessman, the
larger-than-life Oto Bogan, had miraculously avoided
criminal prosecution and so was still on the “we can associate
with him” list for police officers.

Colonel Trokan had been pressed into going to the
party by the president of police. Bogan had been a generous
supporter of the minister of the interior since the
time when the minister had first become a member of
parliament; and because the minister was currently out of
the country, the president of police had pushed Trokan to
go to Bogan’s party as the minister’s representative.

Trokan, having long experienced men like Bogan,
wanted someone to go with him so there would be a witness
to everything Bogan said or did in his interactions
with the colonel. It was not beyond a man like Bogan
to later make ridiculous claims about having been given
police promises by Trokan at the party. It would be Jana’s
job to refute any and all claims of special favors, or whatever
problematic inventions the serpentine mind of a
Bogan could come up with.

On the positive side, Colonel Trokan might be able to
get in a few words with the financier about the need for
police budget increments for the new community policing
program, and it was possible that he could get Bogan to
put in a good word with the minister about it. The man
might even be persuaded, as unlikely as it seemed, to
sponsor a part of the program himself. After all, he was a
budding politician, and wouldn’t it look good to the electorate
if he contributed to a law-enforcement program?

Jana got up and stepped to the coatrack, putting on her
winter jacket, and then stopped herself. She went back to
her desk and pulled the photographs sent by Europol out of
their box, looked at one of the multiple-angle photographs
of the tattoo with the Slovak writing, then tucked the photo
into a pocket. Jana thought she knew where she could get
an answer to the meaning of the tattoo. While she was at it,
she also decided to take the file on the youth who had shot
himself. She’d promised the family to assess it. Maybe she
could get out of the party early, go back home, and finish
her reappraisal. The family needed closure, and it would be
torture for them if she delayed her conclusions.

First, she went down to the holding cell area to look for
Smid. Smid was a retired police officer who was allowed
to work for part-time wages as a cellblock guard. The
man’s pension was miserable, so he was glad to have the
job. He was old, perhaps too old for this kind of work,
but even the prisoners liked him. The man was thickset
and given to rolling his eyes whenever he ran into a
problem, but he was also easygoing and—surprisingly for
a jailer—cheerful and polite to the inma...

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