In the comfort of New York strangers

A short story about love, death, and betrayal in the Big Apple


In the comfort of New York strangers
by Kaveh Afrasiabi

The guy was Arnold Schwarzeneger look-alike, all muscles and towering over me, obviously a red neck who wasn’t used to dealing with a Spanish detective before.

“Sit down, will you?” I ordered and he obeyed, casting a half-inquisitive, half-demeaning stare at me. I pulled a chair and sat across the table in the interrogation room staring back at him until he buckled. “So what’s your question?”

”Why did you have to kill him?” I asked.

He laughed and said, “what the hell was I supposed to do, invite him to dinner, mister burglar?”

“No, but you could have shot him in the leg or fired a warning shot.”

”Well, I suppose I could have. It was his fault any ways.”

”So you’re claiming self-defense, am I right?”

”Absolutely, wouldn’t you, if a stranger holding a large knife showed up at your bedroom door in the middle of the night?”

”Right, but did you have to unload your gun on him?”

”I didn’t, fired just four shots.”

”I see.”

”And I haven’t shot any one before in my whole life, you gotta understand that detective.”

”I know, I‘ve already done background check on you,” I replied and then, peeking at his file again, asked one more time, “you’re sure you hadn’t seen him ever before?”

”That’s my statement, you read my statement, didn’t you?” he answered coldly. I couldn’t stand his sight, gave him my card and stood to leave. “That’s all for now, you can go, but don’t go too far. I’ll be dropping by for more questions soon.”

With a sigh of relief, Ed examined my card, as if to ascertain I was for real. “Muchas gracias detective Qiroga.”

Connecting the dots is what detective work is all about and sometimes as in my investigation of that particular burglary in Bronx it is a matter of pure coincidence. In that case it meant running into my old buddy from the police academy working for another precinct whom I hadn’t seen for months; sharing a meal at an Italian joint, he was pissed off that he had been overlooked for promotion, cursing the superiors’ racism, and then told me about his various assignments including the murder of a 64 year old black guy three days ago while he was crossing the park along the Hudson near 134th Street early at night.

“I kind of knew him, he was a nice, harmless fellah and used to bartend at a couple of Jazz clubs in Harlem some years back,” Jorge said, adding that the killer had jumped him from behind and slashed his throat. I then shared bits of my own investigation – of Jamal’s death -- and loudly wondered, “it just doesn’t make any sense, his profile I mean. This guy was no thief, he was a Rutgers graduate and worked at a lab in New Jersey, so what was he doing breaking into an apartment complex in Bronx?”

”Are you sure that’s what he was doing?”

”Yeah, absolutely.”

“Well, you know how it is brother, with people leading a double life. After 9/11 I believe everything now.”

“Could be. I suppose you’re right.”

A few minutes later, half way toward the station, my mind raced back to a photo adorning Ed’s kitchen, showing him arms to arms with an older black guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt and beaming with smiles. Could it be the guy that Jorge was talking about? I was about to dial Jorge and didn’t since it was premature to think that the two murders had anything to do with each other -- except timing. Had I stayed with that conclusion, I would have never connected the dots but, a couple of hours later when my boss ordered me to close the file on “that Arab” and take on a new case, I reluctantly agreed and, yet, found myself calling Jorge, out of pure intuition.

”Hey, what’s up buddy?”

”Not much, listen, I was wondering if I could take a look at that guy’s apartment?”

”Which guy?”

”The black guy you were telling me about, you know the one killed in the park, what’s his name?”

”Bob, right, but why?”

”I’m not sure. Can I?”


The next morning, I was unprepared to climb up the stairs to the seventh floor and had to pause to catch my breath before following Jorge inside Bob’s two bedroom apartment, filled with water color paintings, obviously done by a professional artist.

”Nice works, so he was a painter?”

Jorge corrected me, “no he wasn’t. These belong to this Dutch lady who owns the apartment and let Bob stay here, as caretaker you know. They rented rooms, mostly to European tourists, to the starving artists who can’t afford the downtown hotels.”

”I see, and where is she now?”

”In Holland.. She’s absolutely heartbroken, sounded like they were lovers or something. You know how it is with white European chicks and black guys man,” he laughed and I said, “yeah, too bad can’t say that about them and us.”

“Speak for yourself buddy. Look here.” He was pointing at a photo album and, sure enough, one good look at Bob’s photo and I had no doubt whatsoever that it was the same face on Ed’s refrigerator. It was time to give that red neck another courtesy call – at his job, taking one of Bob’s photos with me.

But the bastard, busy in the assembly line of a meat packing factory, started running the moment I withdrew Bob’s photo from my pocket and Jorge and I had to exceed ourselves to finally catch up to him and subdue him several hectic blocs later.

”I know nothing man,” Ed, sitting in the back of Jorge’s cruiser with his hands cuffed from behind, repeated.

”Is that the fact? Why did you run then?”

”I don’t know. I thought you guys are thinking I had something to do with Bob’s murder. I swear I didn’t.”

”No? Can you prove it?”

”Of course I can. I was at the gym. Just call and they’ll tell you.”

It turned out he was right and had solid alibi and we had to let him go after several hours despite my growing suspicion that Ed was holding back vital information. Forming a de facto team, Jorge and I then went to Jamal’s apartment the next day and found it to be neat and orderly with nothing to raise our suspicion, except several pictures of him and his blond girl friend identified as Karina; A couple of old postcards from Karina indicated that they had met in Amsterdam and he was sending her gifts. After a long search, we were finally able to locate her telephone number.

”Who is going to call her, you or me?” Jorge asked rhetorically even though he knew I should.

”Hello, is this Karina?”

”Yes,” she answered.

“My name is Qiroga, I am a police detective in New York.”


”Did you know a man by the name of Jamal?”

”Yes,” she answered after a pause, “but not any more. We broke up a long time ago.”

”I see. When was the last time you saw or talked to him?”

”Oh, a long time ago, may be two years. Why? What has he done?”

”Well, I am sorry to tell you, he is dead.”

There was a long silence and then with a low voice she said that she had to go and hung up. Jorge and I looked at each other, trying to make sense of everything and then a question jumped in my head.

“Did you say Bob rented rooms to Europeans?”

Jorge nodded and then preempted my next question, “I know what you’re thinking. You want to know if those two stayed there at some point, right?”

The answer was affirmative, and this we learned a couple days later when we questioned the grief-stricken Dutch painter right after Bob’s funeral. She only knew Karina and had never seen Jamal. Karina had visited her flat in Amsterdam to ask about the New York apartment she was advertising on the web and as far as she knew her 8 day stay had been normal and uneventful.

“What about Bob, did he ever tell you that there was any problem during their stay?”

“No, nothing,” the lady answered, “as far as I remember, and this was over two years ago you know, they had paid in full and had thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We go through a lot of renters year long you know.” She said she didn’t know Ed at all.

Could be a pure coincidence, I was beginning to entertain in my head until we learned from the coroner’s office that Jamal’s curvy dagger fit the description of slashes at Bob’s throat, sufficient reason to revisit Ed and subject him to serious interrogation, but to no avail as Ed had bailed out of town and was nowhere to be found. Suddenly we had two unsolved murders on our hands and only one viable witness who could shed some lights.

“I’m sorry I have nothing to tell you, please stop calling me,” Karina repeated every time I called her. And it was bothering the hell out of my boss that I couldn’t let go and, instead, was getting rather obsessed about it.

”John, I know you don’t give a damn about a black ass and a measly Arab, but we’ve got to get to the bottom of this. I’ve got to go to Amsterdam and talk to this bitch face to face.”

“Don’t throw this kind of shit at me ever again, you listen?” I had obviously hit a raw nerve in him. “Are you nuts? You think I’m running the Rockefeller foundation here to splurge like this?”

“You can take it out of my salary, my vacation, I don’t care, besides, don’t cost that much any way, two grands max. I’ve already found a cheap joint there.”

“How cheap?”

”Well, less than a hundred a night.”

”Yeah, it’s probably in the red light district and you come back with AIDS or something.”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you, I already have it,” I said sarcastically that jolted him a second.

“Okay, go ahead but make it quick, two days maximum, and stay out of trouble if you can help it.”

“Hi, I’m detective Qiroga, remember from New York? I’m here on official police business,” I told Karina when she opened the door, half-naked; reluctantly she let me in.

As expected, she was completely uncooperative and made me think that it was a waste of effort, by basically repeating what the lady painter had told me.

”Just one final question: Why, and exactly when, did you break up with him?” I asked on the way out after the ten to fifteen minute interview in her small poorly lighted apartment was cut short by her insistence that she had to rush to work.

“I am sorry, that is a private question, as I told you before we broke up almost two years ago, right after my last trip to the US. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful to you detective.”

Resting on the bed in my hotel room a little while later, glaring at the ceiling deep in thoughts, I got a call from Jorge and relayed that she had been completely unhelpful. “But she seemed genuinely sad about Jamal, and has this guilt feeling about her, don’t know why.”

”Did you ask him about Bob?”

”Yes of course. She said there was nothing unusual, that he kept to his room during their stay and had minimal contact with them. And she said she had never met Ed either -- by the way any news from that sicko?”

”Nothing yet, but I’m going to his work to poke my nose around a little. I’ll let you know. Well, enjoy the trip buddy.”

That was an excellent suggestion and the next day I got on a tour bus and visited a museum and at night hit a couple of bars and toward midnight I was walking back toward the hotel when all of a sudden a couple of guys on a motorcycle jumped me and were trying to steal my wallet but couldn’t and sped away after sustaining some blows thanks to my self-defense skills.

Nursing my slight head wound in the bathroom, I returned to bed and was dosing off when I got another call from Jorge, informing me that he had received a tip from one of Bob’s neighbors saying that he remembered seeing Jamal and Karina and had heard them argue vehemently on the stairs once. “That’s not all,” Jorge hurried his sentences, “guess what, the guy says one night he heard Jamal banging on Bob’s door for a long time and that he had then heard Jamal speaking with a police officer.”

”A police officer?!”

”That’s right. So I looked into it and sure enough there is a report, not a complaint, about a late night disturbance at the complex. It turns out that one of the neighbors had called the police after hearing Jamal’s noise outside Bob’s apartment and the cop I talked to, his name is Vince, has only vague recollections of it, because as I said there was no complaint, and Vince says Jamal had left the building peacefully after they had knocked on the door and no one had opened, apparently since no one was inside.”

”Really? So where was Karina then?”

”Beats me, that’s for you to find out buddy. By the way, I also got a tip about Ed’s whereabouts, might be staying with a cousin in lower East side, so I’m going to check it out.”

“Great,” I said, “good job amigo. Let me see what I can get out of this girl now.”

That meant extending my stay one to two more days and putting her under surveillance first. It turned out that she was waitress at a beer garden and after closing rode her bike to a noisy underground club and was soon joined by a familiar tall skinny guy – who had attacked me the night before and still had the black eye I had given him.. Once outside, I called Karina from a distance and, again, found myself wrestling with the guy until he was sufficiently bloodied on the ground. “Let him go you American savage, you’re all savages,” she yelled and a second later was racing away. I ran after her and reached her at the tip of a bridge.

“Leave me alone. What do you want from me?” She screamed, her long blond hair dangling in the air by a mild wind. Suddenly it dawned on me that she was so damn pretty.

“The truth, I want to know the truth”

”What truth?”

”Where were you the night when he was banging at the door all night? Why didn’t you let him in?”

My question froze her and after a moment of vacant stare in my eyes, she lowered her head and, throwing her hand slightly in the air in a gesture of hopelessness, began walking, with her bike on the ground. I picked it up and followed her, we crossed the bridge and she then sat on a bench, deep into herself.

“You’re bleeding, here,” she said, pointing at my lower lip, offering her handkerchief.

“Thanks” I said and, wiping the trickle of blood off my chin, I was about to utter something else when my cell rang – Jorge’s voice, barely audible, . “Listen, it’s me. Ed is dead. The asshole got scared and rushed me and I had to shoot him.”

”My god, are you okay?”

”No, I’m not. He crushed…” I then heard the sound of the phone falling, with a faint music from a radio in the background. I screamed his name in my cell repeatedly but there was no response. I then called my station and told the duty officer to trace Jorge’s cruiser and find him as he was probably dead or seriously wounded. His cell was not working any more and I gave up after several minutes, pacing in a circle and holding my face in my hands fighting tears. Karina sat silently the whole time just watching me. I couldn’t stand her sight any more and started walking. Her voice stopped me. “I’ll tell you everything.” Reluctantly I turned around.

“All I want to know is where were you that night?” I asked in a somber voice.

”I was inside – with Bob and his big friend.”

”You mean Ed?”

”Yes. Whatever his name was.”

“Why? No, better yet, tell me the whole story again, from the beginning.”

She paused reflectively and with a sad sigh began.. “As I told you, I had just met Jamal here several months earlier and we decided to spend a couple of weeks in New York together, so I found that apartment and this woman who rented it to me assured me that we would be alone and Bob would occasionally come in just to check things with her paintings, the mail, etc. But that wasn’t true. Bob was there when I first arrived, and Jamal came a half day later, and we were both surprised to find him so inquisitive about everything. The second day, Jamal had to go back to New Jersey for work and Bob took me to see some photography exhibitions in downtown – I am a photographer you know. Any way, I found out that Bob was a regular at a program he called EST, sort of group psychology I suppose, and he kept insisting that we should go to one of the events as his guests, but Jamal didn’t want to and when Bob kept insisting he got upset and almost got into a verbal argument with him. So for a few days Bob left us alone and we did a lot of sightseeing and then, one night, when we came home we saw Bob smoking pot and asked us to join him and then all of a sudden I noticed that Bob was staring at my chest and avoided him and then I went to the kitchen and he followed me and pretending to be opening the refrigerator, he had a body contact with me and that made me really nervous but I didn’t tell Jamal anything. Poor Jamal. He wasn’t a smoker and the pot made him a little bit paranoid and later at night, when we were in bed and I wanted to go to sleep and he wanted to make love, we argued a little bit and he suddenly insinuated that I was interested in Bob. I told him that that was nonsense and Bob was almost my father’s age, etc., but the next morning when I was stepping out of the shower and saw Bob’s heading checking me through the door, I covered myself and slammed the door. Any way, we, Jamal and I, went out again and on the way back home in the train I finally told Jamal about the bathroom incident. That was my mistake and I shouldn’t have. He got infuriated and immediately called him and told him that he should get out of the apartment since we had a deal with the owner that he would only come in to check the mail. Bob hung up on him and that triggered more anger in Jamal who kind of blamed me for his behavior. That was nonsense and I decided to take a walk by myself and meet him at the apartment. But when I arrived, Jamal was not there. I found out later on that he had left a few minutes earlier after being misinformed by Bob that I had come in and left in a rush, saying that I would be going to such and such a Jazz club to take some photos and would be back in a few hours. However, Bob was not alone and had this big friend who suddenly came out of his room. I then went to my room and I was about to call Jamal when Bob came in and said, “don’t worry I will take care of you.” I asked him to leave but he didn’t and sat next to me on the bed and started touching me. I repelled his hands and stood to leave but he grabbed me from behind and threw me on the bed and started ravaging my body, putting his hand on my mouth. But I resisted and pushed his body away and ran to get out, only to find his friend blocking the entrance, practically naked. I yelled for help but they had put the television on high and no one could hear me. So I just stood there in the middle of the living room and pleaded with them to let me go but they didn’t. They attacked me and put me on the floor and started raping me – all night, and then, when Jamal came back and kept knocking on the door, they took me to the bedroom and continued and this went on until morning. Then they threatened to kill me if I said anything to anyone, especially Jamal who they kept referring to as “Atta’s brother.” . Any way, I picked my stuff and went to the airport and came back here without a word to Jamal, just couldn’t, and avoided him for months until he showed up here one day out of the blue and then I couldn’t hold it in any more. He just listened without showing any emotions, as if he had already figured it out already and was just there to confirm it from my own mouth. Oh yes, he did say that he had pleaded with the cops that night to help him but they had been very rude to him and had escorted him out of the complex and threatened to arrest him for disturbing the neighbors. He then left abruptly without saying anything, except “thanks for telling me the truth.” But that was nearly a year ago, and I suppose he took his time plotting a revenge.”

“I see. I am going to need a statement from you, about everything you just told me.”

It was getting cold and she was shivering. I was tired and exhausted and deeply sad about Jorge. We said good bye to each other and I was heading the opposite direction when I heard her voice, “detective?”


“Do you want to come with me?”

“Hell, why not.” I imagined Jorge watching us from the clouds, with a sad grin etched on his face.


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