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The Professor’s Murder

by Viacheslav Yatsko

Chapter 1: The Murder

Alex Larin, an attorney, and his mistress, Olga, learn that Olga's husband, the eminent scientist Nikolas Smirnov, has been murdered in his own laboratory. Alex knows that Olga is a very likely suspect and that the police are unlikely to identify the perpetrator. It is up to him to solve the mystery. Then things really begin to get complicated...

Olga came into my flat and asked: “Don’t you want to tell me anything?”

I have always been puzzled by the ability of women creatures to force me (and, I guess, the majority of mankind) into a defensive position. When my ex-wife would phone me from another city where she was on a business trip, her first question would always be: “What are you busy with at the moment?” That implied that I was being engaged in an orgy with at least two call girls.

Finally I decided to do my best to fit her expectations and we divorced. Olga was my current paramour and the implication behind her question might be something like: ‘If you are guilty, why don’t kneel and kiss my feet to beg pardon?’

She was married to a university professor twenty years older than she, and he had recently been invited to work at a university in the USA. Olga had to decide whether to go with her husband to live a comfortable life in America or stay with me here in Siberia. She was reasonable enough to choose the first alternative and my great fault was that I didn’t stir a finger to dissuade her from going abroad. I was supposed to rend my hair in despair, pleading her not to leave me. I did nothing of the sort and that infuriated her so much that she began each her visit during the last two weeks trying to have it out with me.

I know from my experience that the best thing in such a situation is either to attract the woman’s attention to her own appearance or to the appearance of some other woman. That was why I said, pointing to a large newly bought LG LCD 43” TV: “With blonde hair, she looks much prettier and younger, doesn’t she?”

Olga immediately fixed her eyes on the screen where a famous actress was performing her new song. She examined the image for a minute and then said: “Ha! The blonde hair has nothing to do with her good looks. Don’t you know she had her face lifted in Switzerland? And do you know how much she paid for it? One hundred thousand bucks!” Her voice rang with true satisfaction: at the age of 27 one doesn’t need any plastic surgery. My little trick had worked, and Olga began to share with me all the information she had about the celebrity.

Meanwhile the picture on the screen changed and there appeared a handsome robust announcer of the Criminal Chronicles programme. “The criminal situation in this city remains rather complex,” he announced, smiling broadly. “This afternoon a famous scientist, Professor Nikolas Smirnov, was found murdered in his laboratory at the State University.”

Olga fell silent at once and stared at the screen. The famous scientist was her husband. The TV announcer began talking about his biography and scientific achievements.

“But that simplifies matters!” she exclaimed. “Now as I’m free, we can safely marry!’

I looked at her with pity. As a lawyer I knew very well that the main suspects in such cases were spouses and their lovers.

“Dr. Smironov’s throat was cut ear to ear and the body was lying in a pool of blood. Our reporter managed to interview Colonel Egorov, the Chief of the Police Headquarters,” the announcer proceeded cheerfully.

“We will make all efforts to investigate this brutal crime,” declared the bald-headed Colonel. “The reasons for the murder may be found either in Dr.Smirnov’s professional activities or in his personal life.” The Colonel stopped and seemed to stare at us from the screen.

Olga burst out crying. Perhaps she remembered at last that Nick Smirnov was the husband to whom she had been married for five years. Or she was impressed by such intimate details as ‘throat cut ear to ear’ and ‘pool of blood’. Or something else.

I headed to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of vodka and two glasses that I promptly filled with the crystal liquid.

“Let’s pray for the soul of the God’s humble servant, Nikolas Smirov.” I pronounced the traditional Russian phrase and emptied the glass. Olga, still softly weeping, followed my example.

The universal remedy produced its usual effect: the woman ceased weeping; she calmed, her large brown eyes brightened, her cheeks flushed. She looked so attractive that in an instant I found myself kissing her with my arms round her waist. I felt her relax and made up my mind to continue the relaxation process in a more comfortable place, i.e. on the bed.

As we were lying after intensive relaxations it was time to seriously consider the situation.

“Look here, darling, are you aware that you and I will be the main suspects of the investigation? Anyway you should be well prepared for long police interrogations.”

That idea evidently hadn’t occurred to Olga. She frowned, raised herself leaning on the elbow with frightened look in the eyes. Her round rosy breasts touched my body and I couldn’t help comforting her with another round of relaxations. When it was over I said, “The body was found in the afternoon. When did your husband leave for his office?

“About half past eight,” answered Olga. “He said he had to be in the laboratory at no late than nine. They planned to conduct some experiments.”

“So the murder was committed between nine and the afternoon. With what were you busy between 9 a.m and 2 p.m. Siberian mean time? If you finished off the old man, I’m ready to listen to your confession.”

“You freak, watch what you’re saying!” Olga sat up and began putting her clothes on with her angry back to me. I followed her example. My trick had worked again: the atmosphere changed from relaxation to concentration.

Of course I didn’t believe that Olga could have killed her husband. Her main advantage was that she was a Female, i.e. female to backbone. She would faint at the sight of a mouse, couldn’t stand the sight of blood, and was always ready to use her charms.

Like anyone else, she could commit a crime under some circumstances, in an uncontrollable fit of emotion. And I knew that she had had a hard time with Smirnov, who I believe was an unpleasant personality. Being really a good scientist, he thought himself the most intelligent man in the world, used to lecture everybody (his wife in the first turn), and displayed rudeness not typical of a university professor whenever somebody contradicted him or underestimated his scientific contributions. But to cut a throat from ear to ear? Impossible for Olga.

“I didn’t love Nick, you know, but he was kind to me, and generous,” continued Olga.

Here she was right. Unlike most of his colleagues, Nick Smirnov had money. His works were published abroad, and he had contracts with American firms, and he never forgot about his wife’s birthdays. Olga had jewelry with diamonds, sable fur coats, and a Hyundai off-road vehicle.

Smirnov himself was the proud owner of a Land Rover full-sized jeep that he had ordered from Moscow, and it was a rarity in this city. Local gangsters and regional officials preferred Land Cruisers.

“And he was a good lover,” added she looking at me with reproach and combing her fair hair. She was already sitting at dressing table.

Once she told me the story of her romance with Smirnov. He made a pass at her when she was a graduate student, and he was lecturing in Computer Science. He began courting her, invited her to restaurants; they even traveled together to a fashionable resort in the Canary Islands. She did her darndest to resist the Professor’s attacks but finally he coerced her by threatening that he would fail her on the final exams.

For me, there wasn’t a grain of truth in the whole story. Smirnov was a typical representative of the scientific species. He was tall and lean with broad forehead, thin hair, and thick glasses. Only a person with morbid imagination could believe he was able to seduce or coerce a woman into unwanted sex. As I was a practical man, I was firmly convinced that actually it was Olga who seduced the Professor in order to get excellent marks on the final exams.

“Listen to me, Ole,” said I. I called her so after the character in Hans Christian Andersen’s tales who tells small children unbelievable stories. Olga herself had no idea of my implication. For her ‘Ole’ was just a diminutive of “Olga.”

“The first question that occurs to an investigator is ‘Who has profited from Smirnov’s murder?’ As soon as he answers this question, he asks a second one: ‘What was that person doing at the time of murder?’ So who will inherit Smirnov’s property?”

I sat at the desk, took a sheet of paper, wrote ‘Smirnov’ in the centre and drew an oval around the name.

“According to the law, heirs apparent are parents, children, and spouses,” I declared, and I made three more ovals placing parents above Smirnov; children below him; and spouses to the left of him.

“You are his second wife, aren’t you?” I asked Olga, who was painting her lips and seemed completely calm. My firsthand knowledge is that sex and makeup have a sedative effect on women.

She nodded. I put down her name in the oval with spouses.

“And who was his first wife?”

Olga knitted her brow and pondered for a moment. She put aside her lipstick; that was a distinct manifestation of interest. I got all ears to listen to a story from my personal Ole Lukoje.

“I got acquainted with Smirnov as I was a student, as you might remember,” she began with inspiration. “By that time he was already several years divorced. His ex worked as a lecturer at the University. I happened to see her once. She was as flat as a board and wore thick glasses and shapeless clothes.”

“What was her name?” I interrupted. My fingers itched with the yearning to fill in another blank in my diagram.

“Her first name was Vera, and the last one... something like Kotova or Krotova.”

“And after divorce she resumed her maiden name?”

“That is the point! She kept her maiden name when she married Nick.”

“Rather unusual,” I agreed and put down ‘Vera Krotova/Kotova?’ in the corresponding oval.

“Of course I asked Nick how he could have married such a scarecrow. The explanation was banal: he married her because she got pregnant.”

“Ah, there was a child!” I exclaimed,ready to fill in the oval with children.

“Don’t hurry, Sherlock Holmes. I know it was a girl. I don’t know her name and never saw her. When I and Nick got married, his ex and the daughter moved to another city.”

“Very well,” I muttered and put down ‘daughter’ in the corresponding oval. Then I drew another oval and entitled it ‘Colleagues’.

After their marriage Smirnov got his wife an ephemeral part-time job as an assistant in his laboratory, for which Olga got a token salary of $50 a month.

Olga, who was watching my manipulations with interest, said, “Both his parents died long ago. If you think that I can provide you with information about Nick’s colleagues you are badly mistaken.”

“Yes, I understand that you never appear in the office, but Smirnov could have told you something at home.”

She became thoughtful for a moment and even extended her fine lips painted in cerise. Then she said: “Actually Smirnov was on bad terms with many of the staff members. I remember one conflict between him and one of his postgraduates who stated that Nick was a magician rather than a scientist. Smirnov had nearly beaten him.”

“Is that all?”

“That is all, sweetheart. I hope you will manage to extricate us from this mess.”

“We have much information to reflect upon,” murmured I. “Thank you Ole...” I said and added mechanically: “Lukoje.”

“What? What did you say?” Olga’s eyes rounded and darkened acquiring an unpleasant expression.

“What did I say?”

“Yes. What. Did. You. Say.,” snapped the woman carefully separating each word.

I... just...” I began, mumbling.

At this moment the room was filled with the rasp of Rammstein’s music:

Du hast
Du hast mich
Du hast mich gefragt
Du hast mich gefragt
Du hast mich gefragt und ich hab’
nichts gesagt.

The German singers were bashing out the music.

Olga’s Nokia phone was emitting this cacophony, and the device trembled as if in a fever.

She opened the flip and snapped: “Smirnova speaking.” While listening she bit her lip and began pulling at her gold necklace pendant.

“My flat has been robbed,” she informed me somewhat embarrassedly. “The police asked me to come there as soon as possible.” She rushed to the door.

For the first time I felt respect for Rammstein’s music.

Left alone, I cast a steady glance at my drawing. It resembled an underdeveloped model of a molecule that I had studied in junior high school, or a helicopter’s rotor deformed after a catastrophic crash. With the completely inefficient judicial system in this country it was up to me to undertake the investigation to find the murderer and be cleared of all suspicions. As Russian classic writers stated: “The rescue of a drowning person is the responsibility of the drowning person himself.”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2011 by Viacheslav Yatsko

To Challenge 427...

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