Seven Little Girls

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Chapter Twenty-One

George met us in the lobby. Typical George, his first concern was for Hetty. “You sure you can do this?” he asked her.

“Somebody has to. I’ll be fine Mr. Pappas,” Hetty answered.

George detailed a uniformed officer to escort Hetty back to the morgue, and then he turned to us. “I’m involved here because the bastard who did this carved a message across the little girl’s stomach. I hesitate to call her lucky, but one of the first blows cut her femoral artery, she died within two minutes and the bulk of the wounds are postmortem. As brutal as it was, she didn’t feel most of it. Because the message was postmortem the bleeding was minimal, it is pretty easily readable. It looks like Arabic abjad, but none of the three interpreters I have had in can read it. I’m hoping you can.

“The counter terrorism division is under my command. It’s the week after the end of an American Arab war, so I’ll have control of the investigation. I’ll be putting together a task force on this, unless you can identify the writing as something beside abjad.

“I want to wait to go in until Hetty’s done. Her face wasn’t touched, but the rest of her body is a mess and Hetty doesn’t need to see it.”

“George Pappas and his little girls,” said Tori. George began his career in the San Francisco vice division at the height of the runaway years in San Francisco and he took a special interest in the young teens who drifted into ‘the life’ as prostitution was called. He never lost that soft spot. Kat, Deena and Chavy all profited from that and all three were grateful to George.

Hetty came out, crying softly. George had her taken into the squad room to fill out the paperwork, and told her we wouldn’t be long.

They spared us her lower body lowering the sheet to just below the writing. Her upper body was bad enough. It appeared to be a rage filled attack. More hacking than stabbing.

Tori just glanced at me when we saw the writing.

“All three of your interpreters read it,” I said. “It isn’t really that uncommon, but most Moslems wouldn’t speak it out loud. It’s an epithet and considered pretty vile. I can’t think of anything in English that would carry that kind of weight without swearing. Furthermore, superstition makes saying it unlucky.”

“Literally,” continued Tori, “It isn’t all that bad. It’s a very old phrase and the exact translation is a bit open. It says ‘Jewish (witch, bitch, whore)’. But, as Nick said, the connotation is pretty vile.”

“So, it’s more of a hate crime than terrorism?” observed George.

“Let’s hope your task force captures him before we find out,” I answered.

“If you’ll send me all you know on Monday,” said Tori, “I may be able to come up with a few things. Since we started publishing al-Qabas in Confidential the local Arab community is more likely to talk to us than the police.”

“Thank you,” answered George. “We’ll do that.”

The NYPD delivered us back to the lofts, without sirens, about nine-thirty. The company didn’t take up our offer of cable and remained in Hetty’s loft. They did, however, make sure Ray went up to bed at nine.

“Certain aspects of this,” said Tori, “have drawn a lot of scrutiny. I assume that the police will want to talk to all of you. Both Nick and I have been through three weeks of hell, so I won’t go into it right now except to say that the counter terrorism division will be conducting the investigation and we will be assisting them. So quickly, are any of you Jewish?”

Two of the dancers identified themselves.

“Do either of you live alone?”

Neither did.

“There is a strong suspicion that anti-Semitism played a role here so the two of you only go out with a group, and avoid being alone, anywhere.

“Next, I want each of you to remember the last two times you were with Jody. Set aside some time and sit down and recreate it in your mind. Take notes if it helps. Try to visualize it and note anything out of the ordinary. Nick and I will be interviewing those of you that are willing over the weekend.

“Now Nick and I really need a good night’s sleep. Any time after seven tomorrow morning we’ll be available.”

“Why is it that every time I think life is going to be normal and predictable, it comes down on our heads,” said Tori as she did her usual burrow into my stomach.

“Somewhere there is a group of Gods that we have seriously pissed off,” I said.

“Is that it?”

Hetty must have been waiting, clock watching, because she turned up at seven on the dot.

“Most of the company is downstairs,” she said. “How do you want to interview them?”

“What do you want to do?” Tori said.

“Let’s do it together, one at a time,” I said. “Hetty, see if you can get them to discuss it among themselves, see if they can conger up additional memories, and get some perspective from the others. Did anyone in the company dislike her? Or possibly be jealous of her?”

“We are all too self-involved for that, Uncle Nick. And Jody started with us last year when she was only sixteen, she was everybody’s little sister. And I explained the ensemble thing to you a hundred times. We aren’t jealous of each other because the better the rest of the company is, the better we are.”

“So, send the first one up.”

Steve Vargas, the male principal dancer, was the first up. He was a very athletic dancer whose idol was Edward Villela. He co-opted the joke that Villela had used when he appeared on the television show The Odd Couple, that he really wanted to be a football player and took up ballet dancing to meet girls.

We got his permission to record the interview, in fact none of the dancers minded being recorded.

We finished the interviews about three in the afternoon. One thing stood out. Five of the dancers mentioned that Jody had a fan who may have been stalking her. Since all of their descriptions of this ‘fan’ were close it was a significant enough development to call George and set up appointments with sketch artists at the police department.

After the interviews, we had them all up to discuss anything that might have surfaced since we interviewed them. The main development was that after hearing about the fan/stalker and listening to the description, four more dancers remembered him.

Sunday, we packed up copies of the interviews to George’s office at number One Police Plaza and watched Papa’s Delicate Condition, Casablanca, The Searchers and Duck Soup from our disk library. Our first real decompression since Saddam invaded Kuwait.

Monday morning George sent over the first reports from the task force and Tori started in on them. I walked into Gwen’s office to run it by her.

“George told me at breakfast,” she said as I hit her door. “Did Tori get started on it?”

“You have to ask?”

“So, what is so horrible about insulting Jews?”

“Basically, the origin of the phrase is Jewish witch,” I said. “It implies a God and a power that is not Allah, which is the sin of shirk, the worst offense under Islamic law and the only unforgivable sin.”

“What’s your judgement, terrorism or just a hate crime?”

“The implication is that the Jews invoked witchcraft, so I would assume that they are trying to say that Iraq was defeated by Jewish magic. That kind of statement makes it more terrorism than anything else. It’s just that the brutality of the attack doesn’t really fit. The little girl was hacked to pieces. A frenzied type of attack that would seem to belie a political motive.”

“Not from a fanatic, and it certainly invokes terrorism,” answered Gwen. “Where are you taking this?”

“Since James Baker is my new bosom buddy I thought I’d ask the State Department to dig me up a list of the usual suspects.”

“Could work.”

I got back to my office and found a note to call George, so I put the State Department on the back burner and called downtown.

“Nick,” said George, “the whole ballet company showed up for the sketches.”

“And this is a problem how?”

“They’ve taken over a whole squad room.”

“Well I can’t really explain ensemble art to you in a few minutes, especially as I don’t really understand it myself, but suffice it to say that this is a group of people who don’t do things alone. They are so used to working together that anything important they just naturally do together. If you think about it though it should be a plus for you and your team. Everything that the company knows is right in front of you, and I’ll bet that once a good sketch is produced, you’ll have a few more witnesses on this guy. Jody was the youngest, and she started at sixteen, last year. They all watched her, helped her. If she was being stalked pretty much the whole company saw it, whether it registered or not.”

I called the State Department and was switched to a Press officer without a note of telephone muzak. Apparently, Tori and I had made a bigger impression on the Secretary of State than we perceived. I explained what I needed and why. The State Department must have already prepared such a list because it took less than ten minutes to show up through the office fax. Then I went into Tori to see if George had sent a similar list, Jen actually had it and its basis was the FBI. I took it back to my desk, highlighted all of the organizations that had a New York presence, which was most of them, and started going through them one at a time.

While some, especially on the FBI list, were clandestine organizations, the majority of the organizations were charities. This was not too surprising to me as I knew enough about Islam to know that charity was one of the five pillars, an extremely important religious duty. Astoria, Queens had a number of them, but further examination showed most of them to be Egyptian. Just after lunch I got a bit of a shock. The New York branch of the Allatf Sadaqa Foundation was listed at my address. Sadaqa was a voluntary form of charity as contrasted with Zakat which was obligatory charity and usually enforced like a tax in Islamic countries. Allatf simply meant kindness.

The name tickled something in my memory. There was a hadith that expressed it. I knew the office library had a copy of Sahih al-Bukhari, one of the six major hadith collections, so I went in to look. The quote I was looking for was: “Your smile for your brother is a charity. Your removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is a charity. Your guidance of a person who is lost is a charity.”

I took it in to Tori to see if she knew anything about it. She seemed amused.

“Sometimes, for such a smart, observant person you amaze me by what you miss. Allatf Sadaqa is the big bulletin board in George’s store. It’s registered as a charity because George uses it to appeal for local causes as well as money to be sent to Syria. George uses it as a fulfillment of the third pillar.”

I felt like banging my head on the wall and begging it to work. “Your Smile For Your Brother” was at the top of the bulletin board.

“I guess I’ll have to drop in on George when we get home,” I said.

“Might be wise,” said Tori.

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