You emerge into the dusty, bright sunlight and with few words pack the gear into the car. A few inquisitive policemen are brushed off by Sharaf and told to remain at their posts. You drive off towards the medical centre and the local morgue.
In the car:
Fjäder: "Doctor Lowell, what do you make of this?" Fjäder hands him the coin in its evidence bag. Lowell holds it close to his face, turning it in the sunlight. (Spending 1 point of Art History to try to identify the coin/token.)
The coin looks like a gold-silver alloy. It is worn, suggesting it once saw much use. A hole has been drilled through it, which by the sharpness of the edges was clearly drilled much more recently than the coin was minted. On one side of the coin is a stylised depiction of an oasis, with not one but two moons in the sky above it. The other side has an inscription in Persian, giving the date of 162 AH, and a brief line of verse, "The petals of the rose of secrets are as 999 flames to the unbeliever". The date would place the coin in the unsettled times of struggle between the Ummayud and Abbasid dynasties for control of the Islamic empire. Many breakaway kingdoms and schismatic sects flourished briefly during the upheaval, and you think that this coin was probably produced by some such petty princedom. You could probably narrow it down further with a bit of library research.
The medical centre is a block of unpainted concrete with a long row of flagpoles in front of it. Vehicles of all types are coming and going at a constant stream, mostly relatives bearing meals for the sick. The car drives around to the back, parks next to three trucks with large diesel generators (silent for now) and you climb out. The small morgue is downstairs, through gray-and-green corridors, dimly lit. The building shows clear signs of disrepair and lack of funding; peeling paint, cracks, and puddles are common, cupboards labelled as containing medicines or medical equipment stand empty, and patient's families attempt to attract the attention of your guide as you pass, only to be ignored.
The centre does not appear to be overly crowded, but the staff are keeping busy, the nurse showing you the way clearly appearing hurried and excited. He explains (in Uzbek) that this centre lacks the facilities for a full autopsy, and so the corpse is being kept chilled until it can be transferred to a larger hospital.
As they are hurrying through the centre, Sharaf asks the nurse:
«Who has looked at the body so far? Bring them down here, I want to know what you have found already.»
The doors to the morgue opens. The chill room is even more dingy and run-down than the rest of the facility; it is nearly two minutes before a fluorescent tube grudgingly comes into flickering life, giving the slightly unnerving impression that you are entering another underground tomb. The nurse opens the fridge door and slides the gurney with the body out.
A slight odour of roast pork tickles your senses. The body is very badly burned, a blackened mummy with charred, grinning teeth. For most of you it's unpleasant, but nothing you haven't seen images of before. Those with medical training (not just First Aid), however, realise that something is very unusual about this corpse.
Fjäder looks away from the corpse with clear disgust and Sharaf keeps his distance from it.
"Nordman, do you want to start doing a quick-and-dirty autopsy here, or just airlift it to Termiz right away? You're the expert here… I mean, we should probably head there anyway, to start looking into what our airman has been up to." The general dinginess of the morgue seems to be getting to Fjäder, he's not at all his usual, jovial self.
SA Nordman frowns as he looks over the body, before reaching into the pocket of his investigators vest and drawing on more nitrile gloves and a surgical mask he leans in close to the copse and looks at it from a variety of angles before standing back, scowling through his black, insectile goggles. After a moments pause, he reaches into another pocket and takes out a plastic probe, and a flashlight, clicks it on and looks into the chest cavity, gingerly prodding and poking for a moment “Well, that’s some messed up shit, right there …” Stopping his probing, he looks to the others and waves them closer.
Fjäder covers his mouth and nose with a slightly soiled napkin and moves fractionally closer to the thing on the table, peering at whatever Nordman is poking at.
Sharaf gives an irritated grunt at the inspection of the body as he tries to pay close attention to Nordman's activities without actually getting close enough to smell the body.
Nordman probes carefully at the stump of a rib. "You see that? the way the bone is twisted outward? It looks like our departed friend here somehow exploded or burned from the inside out."
Fjäder, barely watching, "Explosion? Nonsense, if there was an explosion inside him, there would be no ribs left, and the body just torn into manageable chunks. Burned from inside? Being stabbed in the chest by the same exothermal cutting torch they used on the lock, would that explain it?
A grey-haired man with a faded white coat and an annoyed expression pushes open the door. "What? Some stukach wants to see me, nyet?". The name "Dr Tchernov" is embroidered on his coat pocket.
Dropping the probe into a near-by bio-waste bin, and stripping his gloves, pulling the second one off so that it encapsulates the first, whilst catapulting both into the same bin, SA Nordman looks to Fjäder as the grey-haired man enters, finishing his conversation "White Phosporous grenade maybe? low bang, big burn, in the belly? lets see what what they pulled out of him…"
Turning to the newcomer, SA Nordman flips out his CID ID badge and begins, "sorry for the intrusion, Doctor, i'm Special Agent Nordman, this is Mr Fjäder and over there is Mr Bukhari. We are investigating the incident at the tomb, and this unfortunate fella here."
"Dr Thcernov, how kind of you to take some time to see us. Apparently you have been working on this body, we would like to know what your conclusions were, and perhaps take a look at the samples you have studied."
"Da, OK Amerikanski, well, this zhmúrik here not looking too good, and I have seen some der'mó here when your stukachi friends play tricks, but raskolót'sja I have not seen this like before since the old days with the lashkar mujahadeen in DRA. bad biznis, what those kakáshka bandits did to our boys when they caught them. There was one group, near Kyber Pass, they cook boys like this, make a fire in the belly. Like this one, grenade maybe, but no, ah, no trace, no residue. Bad biznis."
"Well the zhmúrik here has done some raskolót'sja of his own I would say." Fjäder chuckles a bit at his own joke. "So you have seen this before then! Do you have any idea if there are some autopsy records from these cases in the archives here? Or do you know who investigated these cases back in the days? And this group, do you know what they were called?"
Dr Tchernov gives Fjader a look which makes it clear he considers him to be some kind of simpleton. "Investigation. Da, I tell you how we investigate them. We bomb their kakáshka villages and ratholes to bits until we certain all dead, then" (he pauses for effect) "we bomb them some more. As for what called, ah, Burning Tigers? Burning Flowers? They like burning so much, we give them plenty. Records? You want DRA records, go ask Kremlin! But maybe I have souvenirs from old days. Of course, old man, me, my souvenirs very valuable to me." He makes a thumb-passing-across-fingers gesture and looks at you expectantly.
SA Nordman lays down his MilSpec folder and tears open the Velcro tabbed map-section, reveiling on one side a sat-map the the crypt, and on the other page, a larger map of the region. "well, Doc, whilst Mr Fjader works out what the local exchange rate for Soviet era records is, maybe you can point out for me on this map where abouts these Burning Schmucks used to operate out of… "
Fjäder turns towards towards the good doctor with a friendly grin and says, in clear but swedish-accented russian "Finders will have their fee, and knowledge will be rewarded, of course!" He reaches for his wallet "Alas, I am a poor man…"
"Records? Nyet, I will check. My souvenirs much more interesting than old records! I go to get. Will return in half hour. Store on corner has not bad mint tea." Tchernov makes for the door.
Fjäder waits for a few seconds, then whispers to Sharaf: "I'll see what he's up to" and follows him discreetly out the door, hopefully without being noticed.
Tchernov makes his way purposely towards the back of the hospital. A sign pointing in that general direction says "Staff Accommodation". There is a line of shabby-looking houses towards the rear of the hospital grounds; presumably Tchernov lives there. Through a window, you see Dr Tchernov make his way to one of the houses, which he unlocks and enters; exiting about 10 minutes later carrying something which looks like a vase.
Whilst Dr Tchernov is out, SA Nordman has another scan of the body, taking some more photographs and measurements, as well as some scrapings and samples, all catalogued and bagged discretely. As soon as this is done, we swiftly pop the doors of the other morgue cabinets and checks that there weren't any other bodies of significance in residence.
The only other body, a young male, shows pretty clear signs of being a motorcycle crash victim.
Fjäder comes back, sees the others rifle the other corpses: "He's on his way, you have maybe two minutes. I'll try to stall him!"
In the corridor. "Ah, Doctor Tchjernov, back already, that was quick! I was just about to try that mint tea, where did you say the store was?"
"Eh? is on corner. You bring your friends, I take you there".
Fjäder pops his head in through the door and surveys the scramble to get the different bodies back in order"You done? Eh, need washing up? Me and the Doctor are at the corner tea shop, come joins us when you're done. Nonono, take your time washing, no rush on my account." A smile, a wink and he's gone.
Back to the doctor: "Let's go, they're cleaning up and will join us."
At the corner teashop, around a small, low, square, brass table in the back. The entire team sitting on moderately clean carpets or flat cushions. Islom Karimov watching from a faded picture on the wall and a heavy haze of cheap cigarette smoke shrouding the conversation. Strong, sweet tea (or coffe for the americanos) served scalding in small brass cups.
Fjäder: "You're right, it's really not bad!"
After slurping at his tea, Dr Tchernov picks up and places on the table a clay pot about 40 cm high. It is sealed with a cork and some tarry substance, and looks very old and rather primitively made. It also appears to have been through a fire at some point.
"This I get from Burning Tigers village. Is valuable antique, contains documents".
Fjäder leans back and shoots the oblivious Dr Lowell a look of "this is your alley".