Tidy, small alleyways were paved with cobblestone. Grey gargantuan statues and black lampposts lined the narrow streets of Prague; dimly lit from the faint orange glows of above, the wind rustled through.
Black, brown and white horses with wooden carriages strolled herein, busy and bustling, the daily routines of the people underway. A tram commanded the centre of the city, a bell ringing as it arrived and departed at each stop, passengers stepping on and off, respectively.
The clattering of hoofs against the stone floor echoed throughout, people murmuring and bartering their goods and wares for fair bargain. Groups of men stood, smoking and reading the morning papers; ladies collectively laughing and gossiping, sharing tales of the evening before.
‘Read all about it! - Son of Baroness Teralova slain horrifically in the dark night!’’ stated the morning papers; shock and disbelief swept across the city with whispers, cries and anguish—it was a bitter sight. The people were ablaze, in uproar.
Dearly beloved, the Teralov family, was one of high political influence and much respected by the greater people, for they had brought fairness and hope to the people of Czechoslovakia in times of distress and oppression.
Their influence reached far and, as a family of means and great wealth, they were fair, giving back to the people far more than they rightly were expected to. The employment across the range of businesses and industries they controlled throughout the state of Czechoslovakia brought prosperity to many, in a time that otherwise would have been devoid of hope.
The paper had reported the death of Peter, a young man at an age of twenty-five; born in the heartlands of Perm, USSR, of Soviet descent. His father, being a rich oligarch, had met his mother, the Baroness, whilst visiting Prague itself some thirty years ago. After falling in love, the Baroness returned with the oligarch to the USSR and bore a child, raising Peter in Perm.
In later years, after his father’s early passing from illness, the Teralovs emigrated back to Prague for Peter to return there as a young child. His death rang tales of conspiracy throughout the streets—there will be blood to pay!—the people cried in horror.
The authorities of the state had done their utmost to investigate and find motive in the coming days that followed. Alas, they had fallen miserably short in their attempts to find the culprit. As for evidence, there was none—at least, not any apparently obvious to those who so far had close quarters with the corpse of the fallen aristocrat.
On hearing word of the atrocious event, the authoritarians of the USSR had dispatched their own highly regarded detective, their go-to man, to investigate the scene and come to his own experienced conclusion.
Edgar Rollenvart was an accomplished man, one of the great accolades in his homeland and who had scored one of the highest opinions in Moscow. Respected and his services frequently commanded, he was unquestionably sought after for his calibres in such matters.
After being immediately dispatched from Moscow, he arrived by train at the scene two days later. Having been well-rested and thus far spent much time considering the known facts of the case, the details were as follows:
Peter Teralov was due home on Tuesday 3rd February by 19:00. He did not make it home, and authorities were alerted of his disappearance the next morning at approximately 08:45 by none other than the distressed Baroness herself.
Fourteen hours later, after much searching by the local police without result, a body was found by the banks of the river Vltava at 23:25. It was, of course, dark and no apparent cause of death was yet known. The police were alerted by an anonymous phone call as to the body’s whereabouts and have not yet identified who made the call, or from where.
Identification took place the next morning at 05:15 by both Baroness Teralova and Peter’s best-known acquaintance—his friend, Milos. They confirmed the body is, in fact, that of Peter.
Local police began their procedures and Moscow was duly informed. Edgar was hastily dispatched under the mandate that a Soviet citizen of high importance had been murdered in the State of Czechoslovakia. The investigation was to be treated with the utmost regard; political agendas were in play.
Upon Edgar’s arrival, he inspected the body for any sign of distress, damage, or cause of death.
Strict instruction had been relayed that the body was not to be moved or touched in any way, shape or form, were it to hinder Edgar’s meticulous methodologies.
A tall and stark man, Edgar was mostly satisfied that the instruction had been obeyed by Prague authorities, and his inspection for clues or any suspecting detail was underway. He quickly concluded it was indeed a scene of a murder, but as to how or why were still a mystery.
‘No witnesses, no current leads?’ Edgar questioned whilst crouching down beside the body, his question directed towards a local police officer.
‘No, Inspector. The body was found as you see it now. We know of nothing else at this time. No one has seen anything or, if they have, nobody has yet to come forward.’
‘Very well,’ remarked Edgar, slowly casting his eyes across the still corpse, pale and expressionless.
Now in his late fifties, Edgar had silver hair that swept back from his brow, always well-kept with precision, his comb never anywhere but within his jacket pocket.
Complete with a sharp nose and piercing dark-hazel eyes, he was a handsome man of thorough attention. He had built his career upon asking questions—and of the right sort. After carefully lifting the deceased’s jacket opening to the side, Edgar dove around within the inside pockets, cautious with every touch, considerate and respectful.
Of note were two items of particular interest to Edgar. One, a bronze brooch with the inscription ‘Pro toho, koho miluji’, complete with a gold pin found in the front chest pocket. The other, found within the body’s left trouser pocket, a box of matches with the slogan and branding of a hotel inscription on the front, ‘The Grand Hotel of Praha, East Street’.
During inspection and consideration of these items, a commotion and hollering began to take place—much to the displeasure of Edgar, who was simply trying to think and collect his thoughts, to decide his next move.
‘No… it cannot be so—please, tell me it is not so? I heard the word just now and I’ve come as quick as I can; is it really him?’
A man of thin shoulders and slender build shrieked with anguish and horror that most could only have known in such times of a tragedy.
Edgar instructed the man to compose himself and make himself known, or he would be removed from the scene immediately.
‘Juraj, my name is Juraj Teralov. I am Peter’s brother,’ Juraj responded directly, for fear of being removed without a chance for explanation, or answers. ‘And yourself, good sir? Who are you?’ he questioned Edgar in anticipation.
Displeased, Edgar remarked in reply, ‘Someone who will ask the questions from herein.’ A slightly scornful gaze struck across Edgar’s face as he examined and analysed Juraj. His face had a boyish composition and his fair hair rested just above his brow. Edgar’s eyebrows twitched as he searched for any sign of guilt—an intuition built from many years of dealing with suspects and innocents alike.
Noticing the matchbox in Edgar’s hand, Juraj stammered with hesitation at first but was unable to hold his tongue.
‘The Grand Hotel—Peter stayed there a lot. Always the party type, you know. He never did like it much at home. The wary sort, one for excitement and adventure, a different lady every night, that sort of thing.’
Edgar watched him blankly, not yet revealing his hand. Juraj continued with increased enthusiasm, having not yet been instructed to remain silent.
‘You’ve been there, I take it?’ he asked inquisitively. ‘He was staying there a few nights ago.’
Placing the brooch and matchbox into his jacket pocket, with raised eyebrows and an exasperated sigh, Edgar responded with contempt. ‘Why didn’t you mention this earlier, and for God’s sake, why haven’t the police looked into this yet?’
Overhearing the conversation, a more senior local officer stepped forward and declared his innocence.
‘Inspector sir, the orders from head office were adamantly clear. We were not to intervene with the investigation once Moscow declared authority over the matter. My orders were clear—guard the body until your arrival, and at which point, you are in charge. Well, sir, it’s all yours, you are in charge!’ the officer said quite arrogantly, rather pleased with himself to be absolved of any responsibility or repercussion for what would be an undoubtedly unpleasant outcome. The people of Prague were adamant for answers and it would now rest on the Soviet detective to provide them.
Visibly annoyed, Edger proclaimed vehemently, ‘And the mother, the Baroness—was she questioned? Surely she would have been acute to such fact as well. In knowing this, we would be further to solving this murder, rather than hovering and loitering over a dead body two days after the fact.’
Juraj’s eyes dropped, saddened by the finality of it all. The more junior policeman had a look of terror and the disposition of a frightened puppy. ‘I am sorry, my good sir—we will contact the hotel immediately.’
Edgar scoffed in reply, ‘Please, my good man, do not bother. I shall go there myself now.’
The senior officer, shaking his head, slightly beckoned for the junior one to follow him. As they both left, Edgar heard murmurers of discontent and pardoned duty.
Having stood there quite silently and observing the back and forth calamities between the authorities, Juraj declared it upon himself to accompany the detective. His bargain was he knew the manager of the hotel and the streets of Prague could be somewhat problematic for someone of Edgar’s origin.
‘People here can be somewhat… hostile. We mean well, it is just that current times are trying, and… well, all I am saying is, I believe it would be more effective for you to have a local man by your side, to sweeten a few hardened personalities and the sort.’ The waves of the river softly slapped against the side of the bank, a small sloshing and rhythmic pace. It was quite peaceful and empty now and would have made a nice spot to simply sit and relax, if it were not for the dead man laid beneath them, souring the scene.
‘Very well,’ Edgar agreed, rather reluctantly and stubbornly. He then nodded with a positive affirmation that Juraj may accompany him under one non-negotiable condition: ‘First, we shall pay a visit to your mother.’