A blogger has been killed, a Swedish Go player is implicated, and the police seems to want to rule the killing as an accident.
Maria Popescu was enjoying herself at a small party, it was nothing big, a couple of bottles of wine and some good company, made up mostly of journalists and writers, when her phone rang.
“Maria,” she answered.
“Maria, Cornel here.”
Cornel was one of the few childhood friends she had managed to keep in contact with. He was always the go-to-guy when she was writing an article about corruption, as he was working for the Romanian anti-corruption agency.
“What has happened,” Maria asked, as normally he did not call her, she called him.
“Marius has died, looks like he was killed.”
“Oh god,” she exclaimed loud enough to hush down the other party participants.
“Did the Swede kill him? He was supposed to meet some Swedish Go player, was it him?” she asked in a voice she could not stop from shaking.
“No, it does not look like it. The police, for some reason, are eager to rule it as natural causes. If they ever run it as a murder investigation, they will go after him, but he seems innocent as far as I can tell.”
“Are they doing a post-mortem? Can I see him?”
“Maria, I really can't stay on the phone, I have already said too much. I just wanted to let you know what had happened,” and after that he ended the call.
Marius had been one of the persons who started the “The Kassandra News of Romania”, the other person had been Maria.
They started the blog as a way to write in-depth articles about corruption and abuse of power. It had not been easy, money was always short, and usually they had to take on other jobs to make ends meet. They had managed to keep the blog going, and slowly people discovered their site. As they got more readers, the advertisers got more interested, bringing them some money, not enough, but better than nothing.
To hear that Marius was dead came like a shock, not only had they been colleagues, but they had also been friends since college.
“What has happened?” someone asked.
“Marius died,” she replied.
“How?” another person asked.
“Listen, I need to get some air, excuse me,” she said. The apartment suddenly felt small and claustrophobic.
Maria grabbed her coat and headed out, and the fresh night air mitigated her spinning head somewhat. She had been crying without actually noticing it, but now she felt the salty tears that had run down her cheeks. She wiped them off, and saw a mixture of tears and mascara on her fingers.
Her journalistic instinct started to kick in, it was a way to detach herself from the grief. A way to handle it without actually handling it at all, but for now it was either that, or she would break down.
So, she started to ask herself similar questions that Åke had.
First, Maria wondered why Marius had been killed. They had been working on political corruptions, voter fraud, scams with EU funds, but all for low level persons, and nothing that warranted a murder.
She then realised that she did not know if he had been killed or not. As a journalist she needed confirmation.
Having written a fair amount of articles about crime in the city, Maria had contacts in both the police department, and at the morgue.
“Who can help me with this? Who can I call?” she thought, as she walked back and forward outside the apartment building.
She flipped through her phone contacts, hoping that some name would jump out, and when she saw the name Cristi, she had whom to call.
He worked in the city morgue as an assistant, and she had had a pretty good working relationship with him in the past, so it was worth a shot.
She pressed his number, and waited while the phone rang. The phone rang more than 10 times before he finally answered, slightly out of breath and sounding irritated.
“Hello Cristi, Maria Popescu here.”
“I was wondering when you would call. Is it about Marius?”
“Yes. Do you know what happened to him? Did someone kill him, or was it an accident?”
“Listen, Maria, I can not really talk about this,” he said, sounding suddenly more nervous than irritated.
“Did you do a post mortem yet? Please, Cristi, I have to know what happened to him?” she pleaded.
He did not say anything for a while, but just as she was about to ask him again, he broke the silence.
“The police has ruled it natural causes.”
“Did you do an autopsy, if so, what did it show?”
“The body has already been removed from here,” Cristi replied.
“Taken by whom? Marius did not have any family.”
“I don't know,” he replied.
“Was it natural causes?”
“I have to go. I suggest you don't start digging into this, for your own sake. Don't call me again,” and with that he ended the call.
Cristi had sounded stressed, and she knew he was not a person that easily got scared, so what had rattled him now? She could guess some from what he had said, but even more from what he had not said. People seemed scared, which meant that someone in power had started putting pressure on them. That meant that Marius had been killed, and they were trying to cover it up. Had it been a normal accident, Cristi would have said as much without hesitation, but he had hesitated, confirming that it was a murder.
Now that Maria knew, with some certainty, that Marius had been killed, she needed to find out why, not only for his sake, but also for her own. Had he been killed for something they worked on, she would be next in line, a realisation that sent a chill up her spine.
She needed to get to their office, well, her office now, and start going through any documentation they had, as whatever answer she could find, she would find there.
Maria went back in, calling a taxi as she went up the stairs.
The host, Claudia, approached her directly, “I am so sorry, Maria! Do you want to sleep here instead of going home?”
“No, I will be OK. I need some time alone, but thank you so much for the offer,” she replied.
The sci-fi author Gabriel put a hand on her shoulder, and asked if he at least could give her a lift?
“No, Gabriel, honestly I will be fine, I already called a taxi.”
More people approached her with similar offers, and as they surrounded her, she felt the claustrophobia coming back.
“Please, I will call you all tomorrow, I promise, but for now I just need some time alone.”
She escaped into the bathroom, where she removed the streaks of make-up left on her cheeks. Taking some deep breaths, Maria said quickly goodbye to everyone, leaving the apartment as fast as she could, to avoid any additional comforting questions she just could not handle at the moment.
The taxi was already waiting for her, so Maria jumped in, gave the address to the run-down apartment that used as an office, and ignored the taxi drivers attempts at small talk.
As always, the traffic was heavy, but not crazy, so within 20 minutes they reached the area of Rahova, where they had their office. Not the best neighbourhood in the city, but the rent was low, so it had suited them fine.
The taxi slowed down and stopped, but she remained sitting, suddenly reluctant to get out of the car.
“We are here, that will be 15 lei,” the taxi driver said a bit impatiently, wanting to catch his next fare.
“Wait a moment,” Maria asked him, as she kept looking at the street and the houses. She had asked the taxi driver to stop some 50 meters before the entrance to her building, she did not really know why she had done that, but now Maria was glad she had.
The driver kept asking if she was getting out or not, so she handed him 20 lei, and asked him to wait a bit more.
There was a car parked on the right side of the street, blocking the entrance to a parking lot. It was not uncommon for people in Bucharest to park all over the place, but usually they tried to avoid blocking bigger parking lots, for the simple reason that doing so would get too many people angry. She watched the car, it had heavy tinted windows and looked newer than most other cars in the area. A man smoking, dressed in dark clothes, kept pacing up and down the pavement, keeping somewhat in the shadows.
She watched him until he was approached by a girl, they exchanged some words, and then walked off together.
“I am getting paranoid,” she thought.
Maria still did not feel comfortable stepping out of the car. If someone was after her, this would be the perfect place, dark and mostly deserted.
“No, I will come back tomorrow instead,” she thought.
“I changed my mind, please take me to the hotel Libertatii at Piata Alba Iulia,” she told the taxi driver, who shook his head and pulled out of the street.
She had partly given into her paranoia, but as the saying goes, “You’re only paranoid until proven right,” so maybe it was better to be safe than sorry.
The next day, Maria woke up pretty early, the time on her mobile phone showed 7 am. As she did not feel sleepy, she got out of bed and headed for the shower. The man she had met at the hotel, and later slept with, kept snoring. Maria was glad he did not wake up, she really had no interest in talking with him or to sleep with him again. She had just needed to feel a warm body next to her, and that was all.
She took a quick shower, got dressed, and as she opened the door, the man who's name she could not remember woke up.
“Come back to bed, honey,” he said, lifting the covers.
“Sorry, have to run. Just let yourself out, will you,” and with that she left the room, and forgot about the man as soon as the door closed behind her.
She flipped through the city’s biggest newspaper as she ate her breakfast, looking for any articles about Marius, but the paper had nothing about him.
After finishing her breakfast, she checked out and asked the hotel to call her a taxi.
Only outside, waiting for the taxi, did it really strike her that Marius was dead. She would never hear his stupid jokes again, never enjoy the hunt after news with him. Never again sleep on his sofa when she felt low, or get those drunk calls where he just told her what a fine girl she was.
Her eyes started to tear up as she thought, “What happened to you, Marius?”
Yesterday she had managed to block that out, but as soon as she let those thoughts in, the grief came back even more forcefully. No, she could not let that happen, she would not let Marius down by breaking down herself.
The taxi stopped in front of her, and she pulled herself together, got back into work mode, and told the driver to take her to one of the local newspapers in the city.
She had a part-time job there, and she was supposed to work today. Maria could have called, but she had left her laptop at work, and she also needed to explain to her boss why she could not work today. Maybe she could convince Marga, her boss, not to fire her, even though, knowing her, most likely she wouldn't.
Her job was mind-numbingly boring, writing small articles about famous people, but she needed the money.
It was not a pleasant visit, she got her laptop, and then Marga shouted at her for a solid 15 minutes, before she was told to sit down and wait to see if she would be fired or not.
She sat there patiently for one hour, had time to get really angry, which was not a bad emotion, as it kept her mind of the grief. She stood up to leave, something Marga noticed, opened her door and shouted that she should sit down and wait, but Maria had had enough of Marga's mind games.
“Fuck off, you can take your crappy jobs and shove them up your pussy for all I care,” she yelled back, and kept walking.
Behind her, Marga kept shouting what a whore she was, that she would never get another job in this city, and other even less flattering things. Marga was not used to being defied, and Maria smiled as she walked away, thinking “Damn, that felt good!”
To be continued...
© 2018 by J.M Svanström
© 2018 by J.M Svanström