“Good morning, Vezér,” Kasza said amiably as he entered Istvan’s private office within the Polizeipräsidium. Istvan waved him to the chair in front of his desk. Kasza opened a pack of Admiral cigarettes and offered one to his chief.
“No, thanks, Kasza,” he said, noting again the somewhat disheveled appearance of the RHG Inspector. Kasza worked well after the normal quitting time and was often back in his office at the crack of dawn, poring over papers, reports and so forth. His pale complexion and long hair may have been the result of his lack of exercise and outdoor activities, Istvan assumed. He didn’t ride and seemed to have no hobbies or interests at all beyond his police work. Even women. For a young man, Istvan never saw him about the small town socializing or enjoying the company of the local ladies his age.
Istvan began the conversation by inquiring into the disappearances of Ema and Janos Novotny.
“Are they part of your larger investigation?” Istvan inquired.
“Actually, yes, Vezér.”
“Well, what can you tell me about them?”
Kasza methodically ticked off the known facts. Novotny Ema had been having an affair with a cavalry officer who had recently settled in Bistritz; a Hungarian by the name of Györky András. It had been going on for some time. Janos had learned of the affair from an informer and had confirmed it himself. This much had been clear. Then she had disappeared. Györky had been confronted as the prime suspect, but it became obvious he was also distraught by her sudden disappearance and knew little of any consequence. He had last seen the woman in the afternoon and early evening hours of January 25, he admitted under questioning. She was returning home at nightfall. She left cheerfully but hastily to her home, given the circumstances. After a few days, Györky made inquiries and learned she had been missing. He was obviously in an awkward position and had not known what to do. All this had been established by Kasza himself through interrogation. Györky had been eliminated as a suspect; at least for now.
A manhunt had been organized but it went nowhere. Janos had become more and more agitated as the days went by, according to the staff here. Understandably, of course. Then he was gone too. There was his note. Written in his own hand. Gone to Bucharest. The authorities there had never seen him or heard of him when inquiries were made later.
“I remember when I first heard about this from the Bürgermeister,” Istvan said when Kasza paused. “I remember thinking how strange it all sounded. A member of His Majesty’s Civil Service does not simply disappear like that. It’s not credible. Something obviously happened to his wife. Something untoward. And something likely happened to him, too. Don’t you think?”
“Yes. And this is the pattern one sees with a serial killer, Vezér. People just disappear. Years go by and it keeps happening. Sometimes in bunches. Sometimes in isolated ones and twos. And all the while, the killer is right in the midst of his victims. Waiting and watching until the moment comes, often after careful study of the next victim. Then he pounces.”
“Perhaps he had been watching Ema’s affair with Györky and ambushed her on the way home?”
“If it is a serial killer, that is definitely possible. Something about her attracted his attention. He watched her. And then he made his move.” Kasza stubbed out his Admiral in a brass ash tray on Istvan’s desk. “May I show you something?”
Istvan followed Kasza back to his office. He had tacked to the wall a large map with many colored pins stuck into it and threads leading to pictures and names of individuals missing or found murdered. Notwithstanding the piles of paper heaped on chairs and tables, overflowing ashtrays and other debris, Kasza had assembled a filing system of dossiers with meticulous diligence; one for each victim. Everything known about the victim and his or her disappearance was in their dossier. Istvan was impressed with his organization.
“It’s very good, Kasza, but is it helping?”
“I think so. There are some interesting facts when you start to look at it this way.”
Istvan turned to look at the map again, putting on his reading glasses and moving closer. There were dozens of pins; perhaps fifty or more he guessed without counting them. There were clusters of pins in some of the cities like Bistritz. A number of pins were also in Vatra Dornei, the nearest major town on the other side of the Carpathians in the next province of Bukovina. The remaining pins were scattered about the countryside, some in little villages and hamlets, others on farms and estates located in the hills.
“What do you see, Kasza?”
Kasza moved closer to the map, staring intently.
“Look at the pins and then this.”
His hand traced an imaginary line between Bistritz and Vatra Dornei along the highway between them that passed through the Carpathians.
“This ancient road that leads east from Bistritz is a virtual cart path as it goes into the mountains through what the Wallachians call ‘Tihuta’ and we Hungarians call the ‘Borgo’ Pass. As the road passes down again into the Bukovina, mainly northeast but then almost due east, there is a forest known as Tinovul Mohos.” Kasza paused and lit another cigarette.
“What of it?” Istvan inquired.
Kasza shrugged his shoulders. “Roma live there.”
Istvan grunted. So, that was it? Istvan shared the usual Hungarian suspicion about the Roma. They were dark-skinned and strange. As a policeman, he knew there were many petty thieves and horse rustlers among them, no matter what they said. They were close knit and kept to themselves, moving from one place to another.
“How long have they been there?” Istvan asked.
“A long time. Nobody knows exactly, but for many years.”
“What? That is unusual for them isn’t it,” Istvan said.
“Yes, it is. They are nomadic for the most part. This tribe is Sinti. They have been in Europe for a long time, especially in this part of the world. These have stopped roaming and live in a little hamlet not far off the road. You can see their camp as you pass by. They sometimes come out of the forest and do day labor for the farmers and on the big estates, especially at harvest time. Some of them tinker in the towns and villages. They keep to themselves, for the most part.”
“Is this forest on crownland or an estate?”
“An estate, Vezér.”
“The Count Dracula.”
“Who is he?”
“Old family; well-known name: Dracula. They go back to the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Something like that. One of the old Transylvanian voivode that fought the Turks.”
Istvan made a mental note of it. Another aristocrat he would probably do well to meet and cultivate.
“Where does he live?”
“We’re not sure. In Budapest or Bucharest. But for some reason, he has given permission for these Roma to squat on his land, in his forest, and there they stay.”
“I see. And do you think the serial killer is among these Roma?”
“It is my working hypothesis at the moment, Vezér, but there are some problems with it.”
“They are close knit. Tribal, really. For one of them to stray from their camp for long, on his own … That would be unusual. It would be noticed. Kidnapping victims and bringing them back to their camp would be noticed. There is no place to hide the victims or their bodies. These killers are pariahs, even in the world of the Roma. They strike in the dark. In secret. The Chicago killer, Holmes, for example, built an elaborate fake hotel where he imprisoned his victims, tortured and killed them, out of sight. In secret. He was a loner. The Whitechapel murderer had the anonymity of the slums of London where he could mutilate his victims in the darkness of their fog and narrow alleys, unseen. Again, secrecy. I don’t see how this could work with the Roma. For a pure killer, yes, but not for the kidnapping type. Where would he hide the victims in a Gypsy camp?”
“I see. Interesting, Kasza. When Török Ferenc arrives, I would like to meet him and pursue this further.”
“Of course, Vezér.”
Istvan told him about his encounter with the Baroness.
“I’m sure Ferenc would like to meet you,” Kasza said. There is a lot more to this that I haven’t told you.”
“Yes. How much time do you have?”
“I tell you what, Kasza. This is all very interesting and important, but it would be good for me to learn more about the basics. For example, I have never been to the Borgo Pass or this Forest. I think I will take a ride.”
Istvan moved near the map again and peered at its details, particularly the winding road leading east from Bistritz that, to the Hungarians was known as the Közúti Moldvában, or the Moldavian Road. Within the city limits, it was a major boulevard, cobbled and busy during the day and lined with stately homes and buildings in the commercial center.
Near the road, a few kilometers south of the peak of the Pass, was a tiny Wallachian hamlet by the name of Piatra Fantanele, Istvan saw as he used his glasses to read the very small print denoting the tiny population of the place. Next to the dot on the map was a pin and a thread.
“What happened here?” Istvan asked. Kasza followed the thread to its end. There was a name on a slip of paper. Stela. Lucescu. Kasza went to the files and found her dossier.
“Wallachian female. Peasant’s daughter. About sixteen when she disappeared. Last seen by her parents feeding livestock just before sunset. She was missed for dinner. This was in ‘95. Never seen again.”
Istvan felt his heart sink as Kasza related more details. He had visited the parents of comrades killed in the wars. Many of them he had seen years after their sons had died. Grief from that could destroy you, he knew. A part of your soul is lost forever when a child dies.
“Good, Kasza. I think I will take a look around there.”
“May I go with you, sir?”
Istvan thought about it for a moment. “Why not? Do you have a horse, Kasza?”
“Well no, actually. But I have a friend and can borrow one.”
Istvan had his horse from Budapest and had arranged for it to be kept by a Saxon farmer at his stable just outside of town.
“How far is it to the Borgo pass?”
“It’s about 50 kilometers, Vezér”.
Istvan calculated it would take a day to ride there, especially on a road that eventually reached an elevation of over 1100 meters at the pass. There would be no inn or lodging in such a small town. Guessing his thoughts, Kasza continued. “There is a monastery in Piatra Fantanele. I would imagine they take in travelers for a small amount of coin. From there, we could also see the Forest of Tinovul Mohos. I’ve been wanting to do this since I got here, but I just haven’t had the time and with Török Ferenc coming, well, it’s embarrassing really.”
“You need to get outdoors more, Kasza,” said Istvan reprovingly. “Get some fresh air and sunshine. I’ve heard these parts are quite beautiful. Yes, we’ll go together. I’ll check with the Abbot here in Bistritz about the monastery just to be sure. See if they can put us up for a couple of nights, eh?”
Kasza nodded vigorously.
It was the first time Istvan had noticed a sparkle in his eyes and a wide smile of enthusiasm. A bookworm, Istvan thought. That was the trouble with these young intellectuals. They had never done any soldiering. Just stayed in schools and office buildings. They lost touch with the people, Istvan thought. Istvan needed to see things with his own eyes. Get his fingernails dirty, as his father used to say.
As he left Kasza’s cluttered office, Istvan took a last look at the map. So many pins. Could these all be the work of one man? If there was just one man, a single killer, he must be caught and hanged. They would have a look around the Borgo Pass. Yes, they certainly would. All this second hand book investigation was good, but Istvan wanted to talk to the people. Another thought entered his mind. He stopped, turned on his heel and walked back to Kasza’s office.
“Kasza, with regard to the Baroness’ daughter, Ema. You say nobody came forward?”
“This morning, post a police bulletin on all of the kiosks in Bistritz. Offer a 100 Karona reward for any information regarding the disappearance of the Edle Herrin Ema von Jelna on the evening of 25 January 1896 that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Make clear that any information and the identity of any person coming forward will be kept completely confidential.”
“Yes, Vezér!” Kasza smiled and smartly clicked his heels together with another broad smile. It was clear he was glad to have gained a comrade in his lonely investigation. Istvan smiled also and gave a casual salute with his hand to his forehead as he turned again to leave. In spite of his bookish, intellectual tendencies, Istvan realized he did like this young man and was looking forward to their little trip.