The Crypt Of Timur

In an alley behind the Dorussiadat Mausoleum is a bunker with a wooden door leading to an underground room, the Crypt of Timur. The room, plain except for Quranic quotations on the arches, is nearly filled by a single stone casket. On the casket are biographical inscriptions about Timur, from which it was inferred (when the room was discovered in 1943) that this crypt was intended for him. Inside are two unidentified corpses.
Lonely Planet: Central Asia

Or rather, inside were two unidentified corpses. Now the tomb has been ramsacked, and it's up to you to find out who, how, and why.

A dusty Toyota land Cruiser rolls into town. It does look quite beaten-up, but the motor sounds just fine and the tires are in excellent condition. It nimbly navigates the cluttered streets and stops in front of the Orient Star Hotel. The door to the drivers seat opens and Fjäder, looking annoyingly alert and rested, steps out.

*

SA Nordman also exits the Toyota, goggle like glasses firmly afixed to his head, and does a slow scan of the surroundings. He looks first at the buildings around the hotel; rooftops, upper floor windows, ground level, then at the street level; people, cars, livestock if any, then finally at the road in front of them, looking intently at the surface, the curbs and the litter and debris of a Third World town.

After doing this sweep, he steps away from the Toyota, unzips his binder and looks at his map, then his notes. He checks his watch and makes a addition to the page and closes it, before looking to Fjäder and Hsi. "Shall we check in, or get right to the site?"

*

"I'll just have the porter get our nonessential luggage, I called in ahead." Fjäder waves at two mustashioed men in threadbare bellboy-suits and hands them a threadbare canvas bag. "Then we head on to the tomb, it's not far."

*

Dr. Lowell, sitting in the car a moment longer while he pours the bag of candies into his jacket pockets, rolls his eyes at Nordmann. Where does he think he is, the Third World?. Getting out, he pulls his new sunglasses off. "No, Matthias, it's not far at all." He stretches and looks around — Shahr-i-sabz in 2009 is more like Tashkent was in 1989, and Lowell likes that. But he doesn't go far from the car. No sense in dawdling here, now that they've made the trip…


At the Crypt

Two minutes later the Land cruiser rolls away from the hotel, through and towards the more touristy parts of town. After a few minutes it pulls into a parking lot next to the mausoleum complex. Fjäder steps out, looks around and heads over to a street vendor to buy some issik-non and a cup of tea.

Lowell climbs out and strides toward the entrance of the mausoleum, then recalls that he objected to coming along on this visit and would not want to give his teammates the impression of inconsistency. So he veers sharply toward the same street vendor Fjäder is at — but then he jumps as if something in his trousers had bitten him. Extracting an obsolete PDA from a pocket, he pokes at it and reads - standing in the forecourt, oblivious to all around him.

Sharaf Bukhari sits on the front of a police car, chatting to local police and smoking while he waits for the visitors to arrive.

**

The arrival of police and westerners causes the usual crowd of small children, old men with donkeys, impatient young men on motorscooters stuck behind the donkeys, saucy young women trying to catch the eyes of the young men, etcetera. They chatter and point excitedly.

The stonework in front of the fenced-off crypt door is slightly stained a reddish colour, as if a coloured liquid had pooled there before evaporating in the dry steppe air.

Nordman and Fjäder note that many of the local cops look tired, and are rubbing their eyes a lot. Lack of sleep? Conjunctivitis outbreak?

Mattias Fjäder takes a bite and a sip, walks over to Sharaf and is just about to say hello as he sees the reddish colour by the door. Thoughtful and distracted he crouches and studies it, careful not to touch it.

Sharaf jokes good naturedly to the cops but with the slight patronising that rank allows:

«I think there might have been a river of vodka last night, you rookies need to learn to handle your drink without tired eyes and headaches if you want to go far…»

Mattias Fjäder shares the laugh, with both Sharaf and the cops.

«No, you wouldn't get drunk while watching over the desecrated tomb of Amir Kulal, it would be disrespectful. But you really do look like shit, what's the matter, cant get any sleep?»

He stands up, looks at the constable Sharaf was chatting with and asks.

«Did you know the guards who died that day?»

(trying, with a modicum of respect and feigned sympathy, to find out where the bodies of the dead guards are, and if they have been buried already.)

«He was a new guy. I mean, this place - no one ever thought anything would happen… It's just one of those jobs that new guys get…»
«He's in the hospital morgue»

, another guard chips in.

***

Dr. Lowell wanders vaguely toward the entrance, turning his PDA over and over in his hand while his mind races elsewhere. Spotting the red stain on the ground — he sniffs at it curiously — he veers sharply off towards the edge of the courtyard and begins searching through his pockets. Soon his hands are full with the PDA, the hotel keys, a strange coin, another keychain, half a pad of sticky notes, the thong for his new sunglasses… The next pocket is full of loose candies in their wrappers. He curses in an ancient tongue and shoves a handful of them towards the nearest group of spectating children.

«Lo, my sons, receive these items into your custodianship for me,»

he says in his stilted, Chaghatai-flavored Uzbek.

«Two hands are insufficient to find my heart's desire, to wit, my Blackberry… machine, device, um, thing. I swear its location must be proximal. But we can't find anything. Did any of you braves see the bandits yonder?»

***

The kids goggle at Dr Lowell, eyes, mouths and minds agape. One yells loudly that his Young Timurid leader told him that the tomb of the Holy Imam was robbed by the wicked Americanski! Some of his friends start yelling nationalist slogans. Another insists loudly that Americanski jeeps don't sound like that, and accentuates his point by wresting some candy from the first one. A fist-fight is rapidly in progress.

The professor loudly lies, in a tone of hurt disappointment, that he has always read and heard that the Great Timur's followers never fought amongst themselves or squabbled for tawdry baubles. Irritably he delves into yet another pocket and produces a forgotten note-to-self and a few more candies, which he holds thoughtfully in his hand. "Now what's this I'm hearing about a noise? Not an American jeep… well, no, I don't suppose anyone here could say what it did sound like…"

A babble of non-consensus emanates from the children, but a slight majority seem to hold that the loud driving the other night was some ex-Russian army vehicles. Central Asia is full of Russian army-surplus.

"Verily, verily? Perhaps you would do me the kindness, while I search for a pen, of holding this as well…" Lowell distributes the candies (this time with Timur-like evenhandedness), finds a pen, and jots this down on the back of the old note he found. "And consequently thereunto, I ask: At what hour of the clock did these noises disturb the night? And how many jeeps, I wonder? Russian jeeps are certainly good strong, um, steeds. Brave young patriotic boys should ride on them, not bandits who spread defilement. Don't you think so?" Meanwhile he gazes in confusion at the old note. This is my handwriting, but when did I write this — and what was I trying to remind myself of? Something about Lutf Ali Azur? Is this supposed to be Pahlavi? If so, the grammar is atrocious!

The kids are not old enough to have a strong sense of time, and so the only answer you can get is "late" - but it does seem that they headed west.

Lowell distractedly jots this down on the slip of paper, also noticing the activity around the bloodstain. He hesitates, considering whether it would be an affront to his dignity to {spend a point of Flattery on children}. He concludes that yes, it would be, so walks over to the main entrance after issuing a confusing homily to the children about the importance of staying in school, just saying no to mothers against drunk driving, not looting manuscripts or archaeological artifacts or they'll be gutted like fish and torn to pieces by wild dogs, and the excellent career opportunities awaiting them in the field of classical philology.

"Why don't I have any children of my own?" he wonders to himself. "I'm great with kids. Well, first things first. Tenure."

***
SA Nordman again surveys the surrounds as he exits the Landcruiser, following a similar “roof to ground” sweep, paying close attention to the crowd before turning his eyes on the road leading up to the crypt. He takes another look at the crowd then moves to the back of the Landcruiser and opens the back door.

Manoeuvring the others luggage slightly, he frees the equipment case marked “1” and opens it. He pulls out a pouched bag, and slings it over his shoulder, as well as a large, professional looking camera before locking both the case and the Landcruiser and heading to the entrance of the Crypt with the others. He photographs the approach, the areas around the fence, and the areas around the entrance, getting both stained, unstained areas, and the “undisturbed” areas down each wall on either side of the entrance.

***

While photographing, SA Nordman notes that the door lock was, as stated, burned through. Droplets of slag and formerly molten metal hang from the ex-lock and in drips on the ground. It was clearly a very intense heat, perhaps a large blow-torch, arc welder or shaped thermite charge? Having drawn closer, a dark, greasy area on the ground with traces of ash presumably indicates where the guard's body was burned, but, judging from the drag marks, it has obviously been removed. Very sloppy forensics.

***

After taking a series of photos, he slings the camera, and unzippers his note book, making some more notes. Following this, he reaches into the bag and takes out some blue nitrile gloves, a narrow plastic scoop, and several yellow capped specimen jars. He stoops to collect soil from the undisturbed areas, and both the unstained and stained areas, with clinical precision. Similarly he takes scrapings from the stonework, labelling all the way, and pausing now and then to look around, make notes, and do spot checks on the crowd.

Mattias Fjäder walks over, stopping a good two meters behind Nordman. "Need any help? I could try finding out how much they have been stomping on the crime scene."

Nordman turns his head, fixing Fjäder with his black goggles and looks over at the cops, then back to Fjäder, face impassive and lips tight, then breaks into a broad West-coast smile and replies "sure, man, that would be good. I need to get a base-line for my samples and then we can head in, is that alright with you?"

"You're the boss!" Mattias fires off a smile just as wide. "I'll get right on it!" he heads back to Sharaf and the local cops.

***
A bit of cajoling by Mattias (charging a point here) reveals that in addition to being a bit tired (and also spooked), several of the cops who attended the site are complaining of itching eyes, headaches, and running noses. "It's the dust" one opines. "The crypt was full of dust".

Mattias Fjäder (to the cop):

«"Dust? Is it still there or did someone clean it up?"»

"Er", says the cop, glancing nervously in Sharaf's direction,

«We started to clean it up, but, well…»


He tails off, gesturing vaguely at the stain on the ground.

Mattias Fjäder

«Yes, tell me more about these red stains.»

Sharaf volunteers an interjection in English: "They were from the guards, I think. The police started to clean it up but then decided to leave some evidence for your guy over there to look at", he nods in the direction of Nordman. He continues with an aside, helpfully clarifying the cop's statement.

«The blood is from the guard, isn't it. And then you received our orders to save some evidence and clues for the Americans to look at?»

«Yes, yes, that's right»

agrees the guard eagerly.

***

Reaching to the pockets on his vest, SA Nordman selects a long plastic probe and gingerly pokes at the now solid droplets of slag in the sand, before dislodging one and putting it into its own plastic specimen container, pausing to make some more notes in his binder. Stowing both, he reaches into the investigation bag and takes out a swab kit. Pulling a swab out, he adds a couple of drops from a small bottle to the tip, and runs it over the stained area of sand, before examining the tip of the swab. Once satisfied, he takes a second dropper and turning to shade himself, adds two more drops, looking for a tell-tale colour change. (Examination for blood residue)

The colour change is there, but it is faint - what one might expect from an aged or diluted sample, or a crime scene that had been inexpertly scrubbed. Certainly not a full-strength blood splatter.

Mattias Fjäder walks over. "It seems they have made a half-hearted attempt at cleaning this place up, but stopped after the dust got to much for them. Seems the dust gave them all a severe case of pinkeye. And the bodies of the dead guards are still at the morgue. Found anything interesting so far?"

***

"Looks like blood. Maybe. Been here in the open for a while, got some degradation to account for. Wait? Dust? Where's the dust? Pink eye? Are they still here? Better check them out…" SA Nordman bags the now stained swab and very slowly turns on the spot. Placing one foot almost in the same footsteps he made leading to where he was working, SA Nordman leaves the site, and follows Fjäder over to the loitering local police. As he makes his way over, he swaps one set of gloves for another, from nitrile blue to regular medical examination white. "Can you tell them i'd like to check them out, that i'm a Doctor."

There are no objections, so Nordman carefully inspects the guard's eyes. Definite redness beyond lack of sleep or alcohol. Could be early-stage viral or bacterial conjunctivitis - it usually takes a few days to fully manifest. Using a swab, Nordman takes samples of the corners of their eyes. The guards wake up to the fact that he is indeed a doctor and start (Fjäder translating) describing their various aches and pains, the ailments of their wives and children, etcetera…

Fjäder: "…and her feet gets swollen in the evening. What do you say, two more minutes of medical advice for continued goodwill from the guards and then I'll tell them off? And she's really cranky in the mornings."

***

SA Nordman nods and proceeds to lay out a regime of hour long foot massage, with butter or olive oil, that the guard should conduct for his elderly mother’s aches. He suggests that strong male hands are the best for the task, and it is a duty that should not be fobbed off onto women or children. He nods to Fjäder, and suggests that the guards should be informed that most of time is spent exhuming bodies of mass graves investigating war crimes and looking for potential WMD’s, but that he was only too happy to finally be able to offer assistance to the living. With a broad Southern Californian smile, he re-affixes his goggle-like glasses back over tan-lined eyes and looks again at the faces, and hands of the guards, the children, and any other people near by. Scanning back over the nearby buildings, he skims the rooftops, the upper and lower story windows, and the sides of the road, then heads back over to the Land Cruiser, to drop off his samples and make some more notes.

Fjäder follows him after a few minutes of chatting with the guards "Where were the bodies found? Did anyone take pictures? Yes, he's really a doctor, you should probably do what he tells you. I don't know why your eyes are red, but of course we will let you know as soon as the tests come through. Oh, I'm sure it's nothing serious."

Walks over to the car and asks: "Time to look inside? It would probably be prudent to wear masks and goggles inside the crypt, but it will freak the guards out a bit. What do you think?"

Dr. Lowell has sidled up and is looking at the pink stain critically. "Even allowing for poetic diction, that is one sorry excuse for a 'river of blood'," he mutters sotto voce. "Or is there more gore inside?"

Mattias replies, just as quietly: "I think they cleaned up the stuff outside the crypt. I don't think Sharaf wants us asking too much about it, and the guards sure aren't voluntering information about it. As I understand it, the started cleaning the dust out of the crypt and got the bodies out, and then this happened. Then they cleaned up the outside, but I think they are to freaked out by it to go inside."

Mattias continues more loudly now: "Anyroad, I'm getting another cup of tea and wait for you guys to get the gear in order." quieter "That hole-in-the-wall snack salesman, I'm guessing that place is open more or less around the clock. I'm checking it out, to see if he's seen anything."

He wanders over, gets some tea, a small bag of cookies, some issik-non and some fruit. He bargains, but is generous about it, and starts to chat while he's sipping the tea. In Uzbek, of course:

« "This break-in, it sure seems to draw a crowd, is it good for business or does it just scare off the tourists?"»


The salesman quotes a proverb to the effect that Allah alone could create a world in which attracting rats was good for business. A furtive hand-gesture towards the police emphasises the metaphor.

SA Nordman returns once again to the Land Cruiser, makes another mechanical sweep of the area, and almost-casually of the vehicle, before opening the back, and pulling out another of the chests, marked “3” . Unfastening the lid, he rummages a bit, looks over at Dr Lowell, Sharaf and Fjäder before pulling out three drab olive green plastic bags, and several padded envelope looking packages. He walks back to the entrance of the crypt, and waits, gesturing at his associates. Standing inside the doorway, out of sight of the majority of the crowd, he waits to hand out a set of blue paper hospital overshoes, a set of nitrile gloves, and an M95 gasmask in a bag.

Sharaf finishes a conversation with one of the police guarding the scene and hurries back over to the crypt, looking over the equipment and Nordman before turning to Mattias and speaking neutrally in Uzbek:

«What is he doing now? I need to know before anything gets done to anything. Why do you have gas-masks?»

Mr Fjäder's smile is almost mischevious, but the answer is in English, for everyone to understand: "It's time to look inside the crypt. Paper overshoes and gloves are for not disturbing the evidence. Gasmasks are… well…" He looks a bit sheepish "The gasmasks are a terrible case of overkill. Those guards might have been infected with something, but most likely the dust just irritated their eyes and lungs. We don't want that to happen to us. The ideal would be goggles and a simple breath mask, but this is what we got, so we're using it. Are you coming or are you going to wait outside?"

Fjäder fiddles a bit with the gasmask, obviously not accustomed to wearing one, but gets suited up in a minute.

Dr. Lowell fails miserably to conceal his glee at the kit, and wriggles into the outfit like an excited eel. "So, are we ready? Shall we go in? Before the evidence oxidizes and vaporizes and whatever?"

**

SA Nordman takes a moment to adjust and inspect each persons gasmask, if they look to be unfamiliar with the process. He does so with methodical calm, with the distinct air of a “by the numbers” adherence to protocol, once they are fitted, he opens a pocket on his carry-bag and takes out a much smaller, half-mask and fits it smoothly. Bug-eye tinted goggles already cover his eyes, and he snaps on the nitrile gloves “alright, gentlemen, lets do this thing.” and gestures inwards.

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