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Russia October 24, 2007
My First Russian Corpse
A Bum, A Bill, And A Body By Kirill Clausewitz Browse author

I saw a dead body the other day. It was the first one I've ever seen that I knew was a corpse. In the seven years I've lived in Moscow, I've seen several unconscious bums that I highly suspected were actually dead. But there were no doubts about this guy.

I had stayed home from work with a cold but decided to venture out and buy a five-liter bottle of water to keep myself hydrated and make one of these ridiculous financial transactions I always find myself making here. This particular one involved paying two tax bills -- one for 30 rubles, 39 kopeks; one for 23 kopeks -- for the 14 meters my wife owns in her parents' apartment. That was her property tax for last year: 30.62 rubles (a little more than $1). There was an urgency to this bill because it represented the final hurdle to reclaim a tax refund of several thousand dollars for the apartment we purchased last year. It was well worth braving the long lines and unfriendly cashiers at crusty Sberbank.

The Sberbank is about four minutes by foot from our apartment, on the way to the metro, and I was walking on the sidewalk, staring at the bills and contemplating the bizarrely small sum I was going to give the cashier in exact change, when I walked straight into a piece of red-and-white police tape suspended waist-high. It was anchored by a black SUV and a rusty metal bus stop shelter.

I looked over my left shoulder and saw him sprawled out flat on his back under the shelter, his grimy head under the bench and his boots reaching just short of the sidewalk. He was in his forties, wearing dark pants and a dark-blue sweatshirt -- both of which were dirty, but in the way that an automechanic's clothes are dirty--and had an overgrown buzz-cut and a three day beard. There was a reddish hue to the back of his skull, which made me think there may have been violent circumstances. Or maybe he had been struck and killed by the SUV, a probable enough death in Moscow.

But I surveyed the scene and noticed that the SUV likely belonged to the youngish plainclothes cop in dark pants and a black leather coat pacing around and waiting for the rest of the guys to show up. My first thought was: "What a lousy police tape job." What's the point of taping off just one side of the scene? It reminded me of the Police Squad! gag when the forensics guys walk through the doorway to the next office while Leslie Nielsen sidesteps the door and walks around the entire wall without breaking stride.

Anyway, I didn't have any identification on me, so I decided not to ask any questions and hurried along to the bank.

It was a painless sojourn at Sberbank, with lines backed up only for the windows dedicated to credit and deposits issues. After the cashier handed my receipts back, I went straight back home.

By this time a police van and a meatwagon were at the bus stop, though neither the body nor the lonely strand of police tape had moved. Some cops in uniform were now huddling near the car, while the plainclothes guy was talking to some babushka, who I suppose was expounding on what a ne'er-do-well drunk the dead man was. Before the advent of surveillance cameras, babushki were the eyes and ears of the city, parked on their courtyard benches spewing endless blather about who was fucking whose wife and what a shame it was little Natasha married a Jew, despite certain material benefits.

I was pissed at myself for having forgot my passport, because I really wanted to ask some questions. But having had nary a document check in the last several years, I decided to let it go. When I got home I switched on Ekho Moskvy and heard that two youngsters had found the body of a bum in a trash container in northern Moscow -- my part of town. I looked up the incident on the Internet, but it turned out to be a different street. Regardless, it was a dead bum, so it doesn't take Inspektor Derrik to determine that his heart probably just gave out after years of substance abuse and street living. I soon forgot about it.

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