The Spider Killings (9)

They just were not men enough to do anything about prostitution, not like Sharif


The Spider Killings (9)
by laleh haghighi

A fictional series based on real events that happened in Iran known as the "Spider Killings". [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]

-- “If you ask me, you are spending your time unwisely on this woman instead of solving the problem at the root, which is to eradicate prostitution from our neighborhoods.”

-- “He is absolutely right. These women are shameless. They parade around proud as peacocks in front of our wives, our children. But you never do anything about it.”

-- “Na digeh. They only come here to clean up after the inevitable has already happened!”

A crowd of civilians had gathered around the crime scene, vociferating their complaints to the police officers. Ramin could hear various angry and bitter voices. He did not have the strength to turn around to look at them for now. Leaning against the side of his Jeep, it was taking every ounce of his will not to double over and vomit. His officers thought he had just become queasy at the sight of the dead woman. Little did they know Ramin was still going through the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

Even in the awful state he was, Ramin could not help but pay attention to the voices of the men. He was outraged at their cavalier attitude. They were standing around chatting about their own problems as if it was a dead dog that lay inches from their feet instead of a human being. What hypocrites! These were probably some of the same men who had been at the ”root” of the problem, for how could prostitution thrive in this city without eager clients? Maybe some of them had even slept with this poor woman, who now lay dead in the middle of a busy street, the eight victim of the Spider Killer. Well, the eighth that Ramin knew of, at least.

Things were definitely taking a turn for the worse. The previous seven bodies had been found scattered in the outskirts of the city, in the wooded area where it had taken days, sometimes weeks, for them to be discovered. Now, for the first time, the killer had, with arrogance and impunity, lay the cadaver almost at the feet of the Brigadier-General, on one of Mashad’s busy streets. He is not finding resistance and he feels invincible now, Ramin thought. This did not bode well for the women of the city.

Ayatollah Kazemi would be irate at this new turn of events. He had put a moratorium on the local media mentioning any of the murders and so far had succeeded in keeping the general population of Mashad ignorant of a serial killer in their midst. With this very public crime scene however, this silence was about to end.

Asghar, Ramin’s chief officer, was trying to contain the crowd, along with a few others, while the rest were gathering evidence before hauling the body off to the coroner. The civilians were not making it easy for them, heckling and arguing with the verve of demonstrators at a political rally. One in particular was even leading the crowd in chanting slogans now. It was getting too unruly.

With an effort, Ramin shook himself and turned around, zeroing in on the seeming leader among the troublemakers. He was a short man in his late thirties, in a full beard whose jet black contrasted with the already prominent white in his hair. Standing one hand on his hip, the other in a fist stretching above his head, an arrogant smirk on his face, he was leading the crowd in chants of:

-- “Down with corruption! Down with prostitution!”

As Ramin weakly made his way towards the crowd, he and the man locked eyes. But before he could reach him, Asghar had preceded him.

-- “Sir, if you don’t calm down, I will be forced to take you in for interfering with official work.” Asghar threatened the man.

To Ramin’ surprise, the man did not become angry nor did he look scared. He just looked completely shocked and stood there frozen, finally speechless. His supporters though were more vocal.

-- “Leave him alone, he is a war hero.”

-- “How dare you threaten him?”

-- “He has the right to speak his mind. He is speaking the plain truth!”

But the man shrugged his shoulders and turned on his heels.

-- “I have to get back to work anyway.” He said, as he walked towards his taxicab, to the great consternation of the crowd. He turned around one last time to look at Ramin. Then he got in his car and sped off. And like sheep, once their leader was out of sight, the rest scattered, leaving Ramin and his police force to do the remainder of their work.

* * *

For a split second, Sharif thought he had been identified. When the police officer threatened him with arrest for being unruly at the crime scene, he thought it was a trap, a pretext to haul him in and interrogate him about the dead woman. That’s why he bolted instead of standing his ground. But thankfully, it was plain that the police was clueless or else why let him go? Still, Sharif kept checking his rearview mirror for a few blocks before he was completely convinced that he was in the clear.

Sharif had often thought about the day that he would be caught. He was certain that day would come eventually. He had already decided he would not put up any resistance. In fact, he would confess to everything. He almost looked forward to it, because he could finally explain to everyone, the public as well as the authorities, the importance and necessity of his mission. Once they realized what Sharif had done, they would undoubtedly celebrate him instead of condemning him.

Indeed, the reason why he had decided to place the woman's corpse on a busy street was so that he could come back later and test the crowd’s reaction. He had been pleased to see that he had not been wrong in his estimate. Everyone else, like him, deplored the situation of the prostitutes taking over the streets. They just were not men enough to do anything about it, not like Sharif. Perhaps now that civilians had bore witness to his feats, he would become known around the city. Maybe he would even make it into the newspapers, and become known in the entire country! As he thought about that possibility, the smirk returned to his lips.

* * *

-- “Khanoom-e Joneidi, Aghaye Hashemzadeh roo Khatt-e Avval baraye shoma. Ms. Joneidi, Mr. Hashemzadeh is on Line One calling for you.”

Not hearing a response, the secretary added:

-- “Shall I tell him you’re out?”

Roxanne grudgingly stubbed out her cigarette and flicked it out the window, then jumped down from the windowsill where she had been comfortably perched, smoking and gazing out at the Tehran landscape.

-- “No, that’s okay. I’ll get it.” She sighed.

Peyman Hashemzadeh, her old chum from the university days, had never given up on the possibility that one day, they might become more than friends. Even the sixteen years that had passed since their graduation from journalism school and Roxanne’s subsequent marriage to Manou, the editor of Tehran Daily, the newspaper where she continued to work til this day, had not cooled his passion. On the day her divorce had finalized from Manou, five years ago, Peyman had even made a special trip from Mashad with a bottle of Russian vodka to celebrate, she remembered with amusement.

-- “Che khabar Peyman jaan? What’s new, Peyman, my dear?” She greeted her old friend.

-- “Valla, khabara peeshe shoma hasstan, the news is all yours” He answered with the common formula.

The two friends chitchatted for a few minutes, catching up. After graduation, Peyman had returned to his native city of Mashad, where he reported for a local radio station. But he had made sure not to lose touch with his former classmate.

-- “How’s that asshole of a husband of yours?” He joked. “Still giving you shitty assignments?”

-- “Ex-husband” Roxanne corrected pointedly “And I would prefer that you do not name-call the father of my child.”

-- “Oh yes, how is little Setareh?”

-- “Not so little anymore, she is all of fourteen now.” Roxanne answered proudly. “As for the shitty assignments, he still sends me on those, yes. But in between, I’ve actually been working on an interesting story for a while, about the rise in teen-aged girl runaways in Tehran.”

-- “Sounds juicy.” Peyman said sarcastically.

-- “Yeah, it would to you!” Roxanne fired back. “Quite a number of them disappear you know, without leaving a trace. There have been bodies found of young women with their faces burned off. The rumor is they get involved with gangs that force them into prostitution and when they want to leave, they kill them and burn their faces off so that they won’t be identified.”

-- “So I guess you guys have your own spider killers up there, uh?”

Roxanne arched her eyebrows.

-- “What are you talking about? Are you calling these girls insects? Do you think they deserve to be exterminated?”

Peyman chuckled.

-- “Cool down Roxanne, will you? I see Miss Feminist of Tehran University has not changed after all these years. No, I am talking about… Well, we have something kind of similar here in Mashad. Apparently, some maniac has been going around town killing prostitutes, and that’s his nickname: The Spider Killer. At least unofficially.”

-- “How on earth…? I have been researching my story for ages and have not heard of anything like that.”

-- “That’s because it hasn’t been in the official news here in Mashad and consequently it has not been picked up by any other news agencies either.”

-- “Why ever not?”

-- “Well…”

Peyman’s voice trailed off.

-- “Yes, I understand Peyman jan. Listen, we’ll talk later over some Chinese tea.”

This had been their code phrase since they were students in the same class when they had not wanted to continue conversing about some topic or other for fear of nosy eavesdroppers. You could never be careful enough if you were a journalist, or even a journalism student, in Iran. The first rule was to never assume you had any right to privacy.

Later that afternoon, Roxanne checked her email and sure enough, Peyman had described briefly for her what had been going on in Mashad for the past few months, which he had gained exclusive knowledge of through his handsomely paid police contact.

This story had all the making of a real scandal, in no small part due to the authorities’ deplorable effort to cover up and thus put the lives of their citizens in danger. Roxanne could not battle the urge to go down to Mashad to investigate herself. Even if it meant another set of headaches to battle it out with Manou, justifying why she should go without revealing to him the true nature of her trip. She would also have to make arrangements for Setareh to stay with her father for a few days.

-- “Well, the asshole owes me that and much more.” Roxanne thought to herself, forgetting how she had chided Peyman for name-calling Manou earlier in the day.

She hopped up on her windowsill again, her favorite spot in her office, and lit another cigarette. As she looked out at the mixture of the timeless and the temporary that made up Tehran’s landscape, she promised herself that this would be one battle she would win, and not just against her ex-husband>>>Part 10
PARTS [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]  [19] [20] [21]


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