A young woman is found strangled in a Prague‘s forest park. The journalist Julie Keller was probably the last person she talked to. In addition, the victim was strikingly similar to her doughter…
Klevisova’s debut Steps of the Murderer (Kroky vraha, 2007) takes place in an architecturally significant villa district Baba in Prague and invites readers to probe mysteries of art and antique market. Steps of the Murderer won annual Jiří Marek‘s Award, granted by Czech branch of AIEP for the best detective novel of the previous year.
“She has had it!”
“What? What? That is a really stupid joke, David.”
“I am telling you, she is stiff!She is lying in the doorway between the living room and the hall. She is not moving.”
“Jesus Christ, I just saw her a minute ago. Julie – is – dead.”
“But she left the house. How could she be…”
Veronika shot a glance at her mother, who watched her inquisitively from the stove. She hoped that what David was telling her on the mobile was not audible.
“Is something wrong?” Jana Jahodova wiped her hands on her apron and anxiously moved towards her daughter.
“Why should anything be wrong?” Veronika got up from the armchair and stormed out of the kitchen.
“Hold on a minute,” she hissed into the receiver. Her legs were like jelly and her heart was beating in her throat, but the survival instinct urged her to get as far from her mother as possible. Only when she had clumped upstairs into the attic room did she speak to David again. “Dave? Are you there?”
“Yeah, I am.” His voice was shaking. He was crying. She had no idea that guys like David also cried. It disappointed her a bit.
“Where are you calling from?”
“Why, from her place. I am in the living room and she is here beside… she is here beside…”
He let out a loud sob. It was something between a moan and a wail, and Veronika instinctively moved the receiver further away from her ear. “There is a lot of blood here. I hate blood. It makes me feel sick.”
“You killed her, Dave?”
“No!O God, no!No, no, no.”
“You are lying. She surprised you and you bumped her off. Admit it.”
“No. That’s not how it is. No!”
“Well, how is it then?”
“I… I… Listen, first I must get out of here quickly.” It seemed that he had calmed down a bit. “Come to the end of the street in ten minutes.” And he hung up. Veronika sat down on the edge of the bed. That cannot be true, she thought. I am just dreaming it all. In a moment I will wake up, look out of the window, and Julie will be feeding cats in the garden. She fell back on the bed and pressed her eyelids firmly together.
“If it is a dream, I want to wake from it. Right now. When I count to ten, I will wake up. One, two, three…”
“Veronika!” She sat up. “Veronika!”
It had happened a number of times before, that in the middle of a horrific dream she asked to wake up and a second later she really opened her eyes into the soothing darkness of the silent bedroom. But this time she was not so lucky. She went to the door and looked out into the hall. Her mother just called at her from below for the third time and her voice sounded rather irritated.
“What do you want?” Veronika shouted.
“Come down. Lunch will be on the table in ten minutes.”
Veronika went back into her room, closed the door behind her and pressed her back against it. So it is not a dream. David really brok
“No.” He stared motionlessly through the steamed-up windscreen into the street bathed in midday sun. “She is dead. Somebody did her in.”
“Did her in?” she repeated in disbelief and then fell silent for a moment, as if waiting for the right meaning of the words to come to her. “But why, David?” she gasped after a few seconds. “She was nice. Everyone liked her.” As soon as she said it she realised that it was not quite true. Her father, for instance, could not stand Julie Kellerova. And her mother always sneered at her and patronised her. “Who would want to kill her?” she asked pressingly in astonishment.
“How the bloody hell am I supposed to know that?” He exploded so angrily that Veronika cowered in the passenger seat. He put the key in the ignition but started in gear and without stepping on the clutch, so the car only jumped forward and then the engine stopped. “Bloody he motionlessly and let the horror ferment inside her. “I think that you climbed in, she came back home, surprised you, and you hit her over the head with something.”
“You have no business thinking anything!” He raised his head. “It is all your fault!If you had been looking out of the window properly and hadn’t busied yourself with bloody nonsense, like right now for example, I wouldn’t be in this scrape at all! You claimed Kellerova had gone out, when really she was at home.” He punched the steering wheel furiously with his fist. “Stop picking at your bloody nails and listen to me, or I will really paste you one!”
She continued to file her nails into smooth crescents. She was used to shouting and empty threats from home. “But I really saw her leave. Then I ran downstairs to my parents, as you wanted me to, in order to have an alibi. So kindly don’t accuse me of anything.” It seemed utterly absurd to her that she was seriously discussing murder and alibis. I want my life back, she thought despairingly. I want to wake up!But she already knew that this nightmare would not end that easily.
“All right then.” It seemed that David had calmed down a bit. He reached into his pocket, and something rattled in his hand. He poured a handful of shiny jewellery into the compartment in front of the gear lever and attempted a smile. “I already had it on me when I found her. I was about to clear off when suddenly I noticed… I noticed… this strange… smell. It was… blood.” Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. “God!I had She quickly opened the door and stepped out of the car. “Go home, Dave,” she said softly. “Go home and throw the stolen junk in a ditch somewhere.” Before she slammed the door behind her, she added: “And don’t call me anymore. Forget about me. It will be safer that way.”
David felt like jumping out of the car and calling her back. He could not imagine simply starting the car, driving away and never seeing her again. She could not leave him in it alone!But he knew that if he wanted to save himself he should not show his face in Crocus Street anymore. And he should keep away from Veronika as well, or somebody might make a connection between him and her neighbour’s murder. He stroked the edge of the heavy gold bracelet with his fingertips, but the loot was not calming him down, quite the opposite. He might actually follow Veronika’s advice and throw the stuff from a bridge into the river tonight. It is true that if he tried to sell it he would be taking an unnecessary risk. By doing that, however, he would deprive himself of quite a decent profit. Since he already got himself entangled in this sorry affair, should he not at least get something out of it? He turned the key in the ignition and at that moment he thought: If Veronika looks back, everything will end well. She slowed down at the corner and took one hand out of her anorak pocket, as if she was about to wave at him. Then she changed her mind, fastened her eyes to the pavement, quickened her step and disappeared behind a thick hedge.