Love and Other Murders

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Chapter 1

August, with its pervading smell of rotten fish and spleen, is a dreary month in any place and Prague is no exemption from the rule. She came back from the seaside; too soon as she has noticed too late. Aren’t we all mistaken occasionally? The smart ones make the best out of it. Well aware that adventures don’t befall an ugly duckling she dresses up to kill and departs with dancing step to challenge the fate on the streets of Prague seeming empty after the overcrowded beaches of the French Riviera. Though doesn’t “empty” mean you don’t know where to look?

“Miss!” The adventure lurking behind a corner lures her on.

“So sorry to incommode you but you are my only hope. I am lost, a stranger in this city and, not speaking Czech, I don’t know how to find my hotel. Help me, do!”

Isn’t this stranger offering her a diversion that, according to the frantic beat of heart, must be handled with care?

”Miss, have pity on me! I beg you!” The story in the shape of a green-eyed young man is hounding her.

-Take me or leave me but don’t let me be lonely! -The adventure surreptitiously uses Sinatra’s heady voice and the girl wavers in her determination not to be taken for an easy prey.

The sun breaks through the clouded skies enclosing the freckled face of her quest in a sparkling halo of his ginger hair.

“You won’t miss out on the exchange, Miss!”

She watches him undecided what to do. Feelings are a must for a nascent adventure and she doesn’t need to love him back which, really and truly, would be a fatal error. Besides, the ginger’s miraculous appearance is very suspect and she should watch out to make good use of him instead of being used.

“How do you know I speak English?” She asks suspiciously.

“Answer Nr 1. You look too smart not to!

“Answer Nr 2. I tried and succeeded. Is this a good enough explanation or shall I try harder?”

“Being magnanimous I won’t insist any further. Now tell me the truth about your hotel. Was it a pretext to chat me up?”

“No, Miss. I was a fool to leave this morning without taking the card. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Leo Trotsky… That joke always gets a laugh, evidently not with you! Then prosaically, I am Elijah Bronstein. I am working for a leftist rag which was, until this moment, my only reason why to be in Prague. Now I know: I am here to fall in love with you.”

“Love is a serious matter. You don’t know me at all!”

“Of course I do! You are the only woman of my life! Now, when I have found you I don’t need to look for the hotel anymore. Let’s take the first flight to Paris and live there happily ever after. I have seen enough of this dull city. Where shall we spend the night before taking wings?”

She watches him her interest awakened. The adventure is shaping up reasonably well with all the needful romantic ingredients waiting to be shaken up and enjoyed. Love, life threatening escape from behind the Iron curtain, Paris, the city of lights! Who and what could beat it?

“In principle I have nothing against your fancy. As “fancy” is all that is! I can even understand why you are mistaking it for love. We are both looking for something out of the ordinary, even if our reasons are not probably the same. We have one problem. You have landed in a totalitarian country. I have neither a passport nor a French visa and to acquire them touches the impossible.”

“Let it be my worry. A passport is one of those things money can buy. Believe me, there are no unsolvable problems, just those not yet solved. Let me treat you to a decent hotel for your last night in Prague. The Art Nouveau one on Vaclavske Square will be a watershed in our lives. It can’t be called starting anew as nothing before you existed. Now let’s stop at the “New Mornings,” the rag I work for to purchase your passport from one of my permanently broke colleagues. She will fall on my offer like a starving on a stew. Even if I hate it she must also do a couple of alterations so that you are reasonably alike to her passport photo.”

“You can’t ask her for it. In case I am caught she will be sent to jail and communist prisons are no recreation grounds”

“Of course you won’t be caught! Don’t be a defeatist! And as for her she doesn’t risk a thing. Once you are safely out of the country I will send her passport back via a friend who will be excited to visit Prague, all expenses paid, and getting a Czech visa for a member of the Communist Youth is a piece of cake.”

He hails a taxi and pushes her inside. They get out in front of a big grey house, the “International Students’ League” and climb the steps to the last floor, the elevator being notoriously out of order. She settles down on the window parapet and bides her time watching the imposing buildings on the opposite side, the former capitalist strongholds before the communist take-over in 1948.

“What’s wrong? You look unhappy. I hope that’s because you have missed me! Meet my colleague!” He grabs her hand and turns her around to encounter the girl he brought with him.

“Meet Ruth Miller, stranger!”

“Pleased to meet you, Ruth, my name is Nathalie.”

They are about the same height and size. Otherwise there is not the slightest resemblance between the two of them. Ruth is too exotic for Prague. Her make-up is excessive, her clothes are extravagant and her costume jewels are showy. It may be practical as being disguised as a hippie won’t be a problem. The difficulties will start later on.

“What do you think, Ruth? Can you do it?” Elijah ponders.

“It won’t be simple but it’s feasible. I have brought the hair colour from Paris and change blonde into black is less complicated than the other way round. Of course I have to cut her hair short. The only problem is the colour of her eyes. There we’d need contact lenses.”

“Rob might have some for his theatre club. I will give him a ring and find a plausible explanation in case he asks why I need them.” Elijah offers.

“He won’t pry. Just offer him the right amount of money. Rob is a junkie and dope is dear.”

“Sorry, stranger. It’s a shame to do these ghastly alterations to your gorgeous hair but I don’t see any other way.”

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