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3-D Cover of Less Than a Shadow
PART ONE:
THE ASIAN MOON
Chapter 1

The moon, waning but breathless, poured pale light on the Bosporus. The whole city turned out to watch, crowding the restaurants and bars as the moon rose over the hills, releasing a column of light into the water that spread wider and brighter as it rose higher. In no other place on earth did it happen so well, so fine a thing it had been given a name-mehtap. Not even the flashers from the patrol cars could detract from the beauty of Istanbul by the Asian moon.

Levent left his driver at the wheel of the Renault in the parking lot by the foot of the quay and walked to the street fronting the Bosporus. Six uniformed police cordoned the waterside, and two more stood at the entrance to the third building on the left. It was painted yellow with Ottoman blue trim at the windows. An unfortunate choice. A counter at the left in the lobby should have been occupied by a doorman, but was vacant. Nor was a uniform in sight with so many outside.

Levent pushed the button for the lift. Told by the machine it was engaged, he took the stairs to the third floor. As he climbed the marble steps, he realized he had some memory of the building. How long ago? Twenty years? In those days, the area was a slum uncomplicated by the demands of the tourist trade. In this building--invaluable today--was a painter's workshop, and a painter. He was a demented man said to have some talent when sober. That happened as often as the bars ran out of raki.

Levent had met him one night about this time--two o'clock in the morning. He and several of his friends were found hanging from the trees in the small park that once stood across the street. The artistes were as talkative as monkeys as they swung in the air. The painter said he was a plum. The poet said he was a pear. The ceramist said he was a bunch of grapes, which he emphasized by draping his balls out of one pocket.

Such was the fruit of the raki tree, which could be blamed for most of the crime in Istanbul. The rest was Mafia. Levent was sure he could smell alcohol, or one of the seven major crime syndicates in the city, as he entered the third floor hall by the stairwell.

The first things he saw were three uniformed police and Sergeant Mehmet Besh. Worse, Besh had seen him.

"Inspector, this way," he said, indicating the door to Number Six. "Pending your arrival, nothing has been disturbed."

"That would be an improvement. After you tell me who found the body, see that a uniform is put in the lobby."

Besh had never understood an insult in his short life. He drew himself up to his full height, which was slightly more than five feet tall. Even so, he was more stunted than small.

"The doorman found the body, Inspector. He was alerted by the smell."

Levent was beginning to be. Some odors stormed the senses like an army, while others crept in from a distance until nothing existed or could exist but that singular thing.

"Where is the doorman?"

"At the hospital, sir. He sickened when he saw what had happened. He is not a strong man."

"What did he have to say about the occupant of these rooms?"

"That he knew the man only by sight," said Besh. "He suggested talking to the owner of the apartments."

The landlord was probably in Bodrum for the weather. He would know nothing and refer matters back to his doorman. As Levent moved into the apartment, he saw no obvious reason for the doorman to require medical attention. The bath was clear of blood, and most of the single spacious room. There was, however, a victim.

Male. His skin was pale, more white than pink. He lay slumped face down at the table before the window that looked out to the Bosporus, as if he had enjoyed the view until the last moment.

At the base of the victim's skull his light brown hair was matted with blood. A rather large entry wound. That was certainly what had killed, or over-killed, him.

"The crime scene was quickly secured, Inspector. Even the money is intact."

A disordered mound of paper bills lay on the table, too. The pot. Three hands were face-down. Poker hands. Five-card draw. The discards had been put aside--seven. They lay in a pile to the right of the pot that contained thirty million lira. Fifteen dollars more or less, given the rate of inflation, which was said to be moderating but could still be called hyperinflation. So there must have been fifty million when the patrolmen arrived. Possibly more.

"Those two at the entrance," said Levent, "are they the ones who took the call?"

"Yes, sir."

"Find out how much they got."

Besh's small eyes, brown but crabbed, widened. "Inspector?"

"The patrolmen left enough on the table to make this look plausible," said Levent. "Find out what they took. Tell them it will come from their pay if I have to guess."

"Sir, I do not think--"

"That's correct, Besh. Never think. Do what I say."

"Yes, sir."

Besh did not mean that and in fact was angry, which was not a good thing. Six months ago, on the theory the police force required purity of faith to match that of the government, Besh had been assigned from Traffic Division to Homicide. His talent was his kinship with the mayor of one of the suburban districts. Like all barbarians, the mayor and his protégé thought everyone but them was corrupt.

Levent had little hope Besh would discover the truth of the embezzlement. The Inspector of Homicide simply wished to be alone in the room with nothing to disturb his impressions.

The victim's hair to the right of the entry wound was singed. Powder burns. The weapon had been discharged at a close distance. No, an intimate distance. Levent stood in the position the killer had taken. Three feet. Possibly less. Hello, friend.

Could it have been a friend? The pattern of blood spatters was consistent with a bias to the right, scattered along the victim's ear, the collar of his shirt, and ending in a dark gob on the spindle of the chair.

Judging by the discards, the killer could have folded his hand after the bet and gone to the bathroom, which lay directly behind. On his return, he paused to part his victim's skull with a nine-millimeter or better. That assumed he was concerned with being neat, which he seemed to have been. One bullet with no expended round marked him as a practiced assassin or a concerned environmentalist.

The victim apparently sat down to gamble with professionals of one sort or the other. That bothered Levent because the Mafia rarely chose to hide their crimes. They liked the public to know what risk came to anyone who opposed the gangs. Often their assassinations were carried out in daylight on public streets with no thought for anything but the kill. If the hit made the evening news, so much the better.

But there were always exceptions to murder. One thing seemed clear: this was no raki killing. No Turk, drunk or sober, would leave behind thirty million lira, or even ten. That meant no one would appear in the morning at the station, saying that he had done it, that he was sorry, and wanted to make a confession for the good of his soul.

A great shame. Levent had three unsolved homicides on his desk in last twenty days. Another would be insupportable. If it turned out the victim was well known, or well connected, the pressure would become more than insupportable.

Levent loosened the collar of the victim's shirt and examined the label. Vakko. That was an expensive way to cover a man's body, but not much of a clue. Until the last few years, Vakko, an old Jewish firm, rarely sold outside its own shops, but now their goods were available all over the city and in the malls. Then there were the counterfeits. No one in this city was without his Gucci or Versace, even in the slums of Kasimpasha.

Levent guessed the victim's shirt was genuine. He had a bad rambling nose that was not Turkish, brown but remarkably Occidental eyes, and a mouth twisted like crepe paper. The twist might have been caused by trauma. It was a myth that sudden death was welcome to the mind. The richer they were, the more deeply the experience of forsaking their pleasures was imprinted on their face. This one had been shocked.

His wallet was in the left back pocket of his pants. That probably meant he was right-handed. Levent examined the wallet but found nothing. Someone had taken the contents elsewhere. Nor had they replaced the wallet in his pants properly. The curve of the leather, which had become natural with time, faced outward rather than conforming to the slope of his hip. The thin cloth tongue separating the compartments for paper bills was also askew.

So a professional killing without advertisement. Who did that leave as suspects? Gamblers engaged in a game of low-stakes poker who saw the chance to improve their winnings--or losings--with a gun?

Just then the elevator, which was opposite Number Six, swished to stop. Besh came through the door in a shambling rush. The fanatic was happy. A smile sat under his two-story nose--a tremendous thing that might be responsible for his lack of vision.

"Inspector, the interrogation you ordered is complete," he said too loud. "The patrolmen denied stealing the monies, even though they had more than could be good for them. But I had them searched. Everything, including their shoes."

"I'd be glad to hear the results."

From his coat pocket, and with pride, Besh produced a passport in a blue jacket. "This document was found in the left shoe of Patrolman Fatih Pilich."

Levent wondered how long the patrolmen had been at their search, and what else they had stolen. That would have to be looked at, he supposed.

Levent's heart murmured, and then seemed to answer itself, as he examined the passport. It was American, issued in the last year by the United States government to a man called Alfred Rydell. He was forty-two years old and widely traveled by the pages and pages of visas and stamped entries and exits. His occupation was "journalist."

Here was an American reporter--an experienced man--who carried his passport like sunglasses. No one did that unless he planned to leave the country within hours.

And if he had been? Was he such a gambler that he spent his last hours playing poker with men who wanted his life more than his money?

Levent had the feeling that failing to solve this case would mean the end of his career. Cases involving foreign nationals were dangerous. Given the current political situation, cases involving Americans were more complicated.

"The Rydell murder will assume the highest priority, Besh. I want the doorman brought back here immediately even if his stomach is being pumped. The owner of the apartments is to be located tonight. This area will be canvassed now, in the morning, and again in the evening. When we have time of death from the technicians, we'll re-canvass with twice the manpower."

"Yes, sir. And the Americans?"

"I'll take care of that."

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From Chapter 2

"I understand there's been no progress in the case."

Inspector Levent looked uncomfortable for long enough to make it known it was not his natural state. He had the interrogator's gift of putting others at ease, but it was a subtle thing that was not flaunted. His image was avuncular. He had fair skin with a dark undercurrent of beard, brown eyes rimmed by an outer core of hazel, and a mouth with some elevation. His grooming and clothing were fresh and careful. Everything about him was well thought out, including his English, which was slow but correct.

"I'm afraid there's been little progress," he said. "We've been unable to place a suspect at the scene of the crime. Mr. Rydell was murdered thirty-six hours before the body was found. We spoke to several people who recalled seeing him at various times in the area, but no one saw him on the night he died. As you know, memories fade the more time passes between the event and recollection. Here, people do not to retain their memory of unpleasantness longer than they must."

"Is that an observation?" asked Ender. "Or do you think someone is influencing the memories?"

Levent shrugged in a way that might mean anything. "I have no reason to believe that, but until we have a definite lead anything is possible."

"Is that what I should tell my people, Inspector? 'Possibilities are infinite, avenues of approach zero.' "

"You might put it more diplomatically."

"That's not my way," said Ender.

"Yet you're with the American Department of State."

"I'm on assignment from Field Reconnaissance. It's a special branch."

"I see," said Levent. "But I don't quite understand why the death of a journalist would draw such attention from a special branch of the Department of State."

Ender was not sure either, but saw no point in saying so. He had been told to obtain the facts of the investigation and create movement. The victim was said to have a prominent and influential father. A businessman in textiles and ceramics. A contributor. Of course, they often said that when they thought misdirection was best.

"Mr. Rydell made a career of ringing people's bells," he said. "He had a nose like a bloodhound and apparently was smarter. If his murder is related to something he was investigating, the American government would like to know."

Levent smiled with good teeth. "No matter what comes to light?"

"Correct."

"Yes," said Levent. "It's always like that in the beginning, isn't it?"

Ender asked himself how long Levent had been at this work. He seemed to be in his late-forties or early fifties, but experience like his could add a decade to the count.

"I don't see any reason to be pessimistic, Inspector. No one at State will ask for your head."

He nodded his as if it was there for the taking. "Not yet."

"I'm sure they won't if they know that you're doing all you can."

"And they will know that I am."

"When I know it," said Ender in a very even tone. "When I've had the chance to see it first hand."

Levent came forward in his chair in the room where the walls were plastered and painted to look like tile. The patterns were intricate and ornate. They seemed to cluster about him like a landscape of auras.

"Would you like to see my case file?"

"That would be generous," said Ender.

Levent reached into his desk for a plastic folder with the name Rydell printed on it. He handed the folder to Ender as if he had anticipated the request.

"Thank you, Inspector," said Ender.

"Call me Onur."

It was Levent's first name, which had the same meaning in English and Turkish, though not quite the same sound. Ender said that his was Jason. The Inspector accepted the exchange like a gift from a relative.

"You have a perfect front U, Jason. Do you speak Turkish?"

"A bit," said Ender. "I spent most of the last three years in the 'Stans. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, etcetera."

"Etcetera," said Levent. "I see."

"Please don't see too much," said Ender. "Most of those countries speak Turkic languages. That's what I meant."

"Of course. But I'm not sure how closely the languages are related. You seem to move between them easily."

"There are some differences," said Ender. "I once asked for a glass in Astana and was given a whore instead."

"I'd consider that a major inconvenience. I'm sure you rectified the error."

"I tried very hard."

Levent's smile, which rested between all-knowing and teleportation, became warmer. Two men who could not banter about women, or more properly, ass, were not friends of the first sort and hardly the last. That was now in order.

The rest was not quite. Ender had been surprised when they jerked him from his assignment, which consisted of questioning the answers obtained from prisoners of war. He was called to the office of the Theater Operations Commander, given a plane ticket, and told to look into Rydell's death. "You'll have a week," CTO Gunning had said. If Ender had not known the man in a previous life, he might have objected, but a week in Istanbul was worth six months in any other city in the East.

"You could do well here," said Levent. "Your name has resonance in Turkish. Ender. It means rare."

"That's helped me at times in my work. With superstitious people."

"Yes, those. I'm beginning to understand what field reconnaissance means."

"Then we can work together, Onur."

"If you tell me what you'd like me to do. Exactly."

-----[Snip]-----

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Read along as Jason Ender soon discovers the murder of Alfred Rydell has taken on vast proportions that threaten to rearrange the map of the Middle East in a single night...

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