The body of a young Yemeni woman is discovered in the attic of a Bethlehem Road house, in a Jerusalem neighborhood famous for its impenetrability to outsiders. The victim, once a beauty, is no longer lovely -- her face has been brutally smashed.
More than the usual horror greets Chief Superintendent Michael Ohayon in the closed and inscrutable Baka, for an old love and an unfinished romance await him there as well. But much more is concealed beneath the surface of this gruesome homicide -- as tensions between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, hostility between Arabs and Jews, the half-century-old business of kidnapped Yemenite children, and the al Aqsa Intifada of 2000 add fuel to a terrible fire that might never be contained.
About the Author
Batya Gur (1947-2005) lived in Jerusalem, where she was a literary critic for Haaretz, Israel's most prestigious paper. She earned her master's in Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and she also taught literature for nearly twenty years.
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Bethlehem Road MurderA Michael Ohayon Mystery
By Gur, Batya
HarperCollins PublishersISBN: 0060195738
There comes a moment in a person's life when he fully realizes that if he does not throw himself into action, if he does not stop being afraid to gamble, and if he does not follow the urgings of his heart that have been silent for many a year -- he will never do it.
Chief Superintendent Michael Ohayon did not say these things aloud, but this is exactly what he thought as he listened to the grumblings of Danny Balilty, the deputy commander of the intelligence division, who grumbled incessantly while Ohayon leaned over the corpse. He knelt to get a better look at the silk fibers that dangled from the rip in the scarf around her neck, beneath the face that had been smashed into a pulp of blood and bone.
Ada Efrati, who had called them, was waiting for them on the landing of the second floor, in front of the apartment she had bought. The moment they arrived Balilty had battered her with questions that he ultimately assured her would be pursued extensively the following day by Chief Superintendent Ohayon. He'd failed to notice the look of astonishment on Michael's face as he climbed up the twisting external stairs behind him to the second, and top, floor of the building. Even then, when he first saw her in the twilight, Balilty had looked over his shoulder and wondered about her ("Is she worth it or not? What do you say?" andwithout waiting had answered himself: "She's a tough one. She's got pretty lips, but you see those two lines near her mouth? They say: Not interested. But did you see that body on her? And those nerves she has? Nerves of steel. We've seen ordinary people after they find a body and she -- look how she stands there.").
Balilty kept up his grumbling as Dr. Solomon, the pathologist who had just come back from a monthlong special training course in the United States, leaned over the body. In intervals between murmuring to himself as he examined her, Solomon told them about the latest innovations in the field of DNA that he had brought back from America. He palpated the corpse's feet and ran a fingernail over the skin of her arm as he recited data on body temperature into the little microphone of the recording device hanging around his neck. From time to time he looked over at his balding assistant, a new immigrant from Russia who followed his superior's every move and kept wiping his damp hands on his light khaki pants.
The two people from Forensics were also on the scene. Yaffa was taking photographs from various angles around the huge water tanks between which the body sprawled.
"Get a load of this," muttered Balilty as they climbed up the creaky wooden ladder to the narrow opening that led out to the attic under the tiled roof. "There's still water here from the siege of Jerusalem in 1948."
Then Yaffa knelt down, and through a rip in her jeans peeped a bit of white skin as from close up she photographed the smashed face and then the skeletons of the pigeons and the desiccated dead cat that had been thrown on top of them. Alon from Forensics, who had been introduced to Michael as a chemistry student ("They say he's some kind of genius, a prodigy, ab-so-lute-ly brilliant," mocked Balilty skeptically; "What he wants with us, I don't know"), shook the cramps out of his legs, rolled the white chalk between his fingers and ran his hand along the yellow marking tape. It was evident that he was waiting impatiently for the pathologist to finish and allow them to mark the scene.
When the call from headquarters came in, Balilty and Michael had been in the car on their way to the Baka neighborhood to have a look at the apartment Michael had just bought. When they arrived in front of the building, just around the corner from Michael's new place, Balilty looked at the rounded balcony and at the arched windows on either side of it, and with astonishment that he concealed behind pursed lips he said: "Is this a castle, this thing? And they've bought it now? Look at the size of it." Then in the yard they floundered among wild sorrel and weeds and he pointed to a tree that spread large limbs up to the second floor and said: "That's a dead tree. It should be uprooted."
Linda, the real estate agent, whom Michael had picked up in their car so she could show Balilty the apartment he had bought, gave him a dirty look. She stopped in front of the tree and stared at Balilty. "What are you talking about? This tree is the most beautiful tree in the neighborhood. It's a wild pear that has simply shed its leaves for the winter."
But Balilty, who never liked to be corrected, hastened up the outside staircase where Ada Efrati was waiting for them at the top. Even before they reached the landing, she said in a shaky voice: "Up there on the roof, there's a woman and she ... she's ... she's dead. They smashed her face in. It's horrible ... I've never seen ... It's awful ... awful."
Balilty exchanged a few sentences with her and hurried into the apartment. He advanced through the spacious corridor into the large room from which the shaky wooden ladder led up to the space under the tile roof.
"Have you called the ambulance?" asked Michael, who hadn't meant to get into a conversation with Ada just then, but she said: "No, she's dead. I saw that right away ... I ... I've seen dead people before. We realized we had to call the police immediately."
Then, as he lowered his head to the walkie-talkie and told headquarters to send out the Forensics people and the pathologist at once, Ada Efrati said: "Michael? Is that you, Michael?" Continues...
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