A Novelby Pierre Frei
“A far from ordinary thriller. Berlin uses history with a breadth and detail that is startling and convincing . . . One of the best novels I’ve ever read set in this era.” —John Lawton, author of A Little White Death
Set in a devastated Berlin one month after the close of the Second World War, Berlin has been acclaimed as “ambitious . . . filled with brilliantly drawn characters, mesmerizingly readable, and disturbingly convincing” by the Sunday Telegraph. An electrifying thriller in the tradition of Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst, Berlin is a page-turner and an intimate portrait of Germany before, during, and after the war.
Occupied Berlin, American sector, 1945. A German boy discovers the body of a beautiful young woman in a subway station. Blonde and blue-eyed, she has been sexually assaulted and strangled with a chain. When the bodies of other young women are discovered it becomes clear that this is no isolated act of violence, and German and American investigators will have to cooperate if they are to stop the slaughter.
Pierre Frei has searched the wreckage of Berlin and emerged with a gripping whodunit in which the stories of the victims themselves provide an absorbing commentary. There is a powerful pulse buried deep in the rubble.
“A far from ordinary thriller. Berlin uses history with a breadth and detail that is startling and convincing. Now that the mass murder has stopped, murder is once again a matter of individuals. One of the best novels I’ve ever read set in this era.” —John Lawton, author of A Little White Death
“It is Berlin itself, the city and its inhabitants, meticulously observed and depicted, that emerges as the true star of the story, flawed, cruel, seductively engaging and all too human. This is its best evocation since Len Deighton’s Winter.” —Peter Millar, The Times (London)
“A winding and gripping whodunit. . . . An intricately woven and fantastically plotted tale. . . . Engrossing, additictive.” —Buzz (UK)
“Riveting.” —Jake Kerridge, The Daily Telegraph
“In this winning mix of mystery and history set in 1945 Berlin, Frei personalizes the horrors of war. . . . Frei maintains the suspense of whether the killer will claim another victim to the final pages. . . . Fine storytelling.” —Library Journal (starred review)
The boy never took his eyes off the soldier. The American removed the last Lucky Strike from its packet and tossed the empty wrappings on the tracks. He lit the cigarette and waited for the U-Bahn train coming in from Krumme Lanke station to stop. If the Yank was going only one station up the line to Oskar-Helene-Heim, he’d throw the half-smoked cigarette away as he got out, it would fly through the air in a wide arc, and the boy could retrieve it.
A dozen cigarette butts of that length, once the burnt end had been neatly trimmed away with a razor blade, would earn him forty marks. But if the Yank was travelling further the prospects weren’t so good, because then he’d probably tread out that coveted cigarette on the floor of the car or chuck it out of the window, which was open in the summer weather. Yanks were entirely indifferent to such things.
With equal indifference, the US Army quartermaster had ordered that a square mile around the Onkel Toms Hütte U-Bahn station was to be fenced in with barbed wire, leaving only one narrow passage available to German passengers for access. The shopping streets on both the longer sides of the station were off limits too, and had become a centre for the soldiers billeted in the requisitioned apartment buildings around it.
Decades before, the landlord of an inn frequented by people going on excursions to the nearby Grunewald had called his establishment after Harriet Beecher Stowe’s affecting novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the Berlin Transport Company adopted the name for the new U-Bahn station built in late 1929. “Uncle Tom” soon became familiar to the American occupying forces when they arrived in 1945.
The U-Bahn train stopped. The Yank boarded it, cigarette in the corner of his mouth, and slouched against one of the upright poles you could hold on to. Another passenger followed him in and closed the door. The railwayman in the middle of the platform raised his signal disc. The conductor at the front of the train knocked on the window of the driver’s cab to pass the message on, and swung himself up into the car as it started moving.
The boy watched the train leave. He had decided not to pursue the cigarette end. As soon as the stationmaster with the signal disc turned his back, he jumped down on the tracks to salvage the empty cigarette packet.
The stationmaster’s head appeared above him. “What d’you think you’re doing down there?” he barked.
“Looking for cigarette ends.”
“Found any?” The man was thinking of his own empty pipe.
“No cigarette ends. Only a dead woman.” The boy pointed casually to something beside the tracks.
The stationmaster sat on the edge of the platform, put his disc down and lowered himself, grunting. Two slender legs in torn, pale nylon stockings were sticking out of one of the side bays which, if you bent double, enabled you to reach the cables below the platform. The feet were shod in brown, high-heeled pumps with white leather inserts, currently the latest fashion in the USA. The white inserts bore dark-red splashes of blood.
“She’s American. Go get the Yanks.” The man clambered back up on the platform and hurried to his booth, where he took the receiver off its rest and cranked up the phone. “Krumme Lanke? Onkel Tom stationmaster here. We got a dead woman under platform one. Stop the trains coming through from your end. Message over.”
The boy’s name was Benjamin, but everyone called him Ben. He was fifteen, dark-blond, and showed no ill effects of the events of the last few months—the British and American air raids, the chaos of the final days of the war, the havoc as the Red Army marched in. He had filed these experiences away in his head, making room for new impressions. New impressions included Glenn Miller, chewing gum, Hershey chocolate bars and automobiles a mile long, first and foremost the Buick Eight, closely followed by the De Soto, the Dodge and the Chevrolet. New impressions included brightly coloured ties, narrow, ankle-length trousers, Old Spice and Pepsi Cola. All these items arrived overnight when, in line with the agreement between the Allies, the Russians vacated half of Berlin and Western troops moved into the ruined capital.
Ben climbed the broad steps to the ticket windows and walked away down the barbed-wire passage and into the dusty summer heat, which instantly made him thirsty. In his mind he pictured a cold sparkling drink, woodruff flavour. When you took the top off there was a promising pop, and the fizz rose into the air like a djinn from its bottle. But there was no woodruff-flavour sparkling drink available, just the dusty heat and a lingering aroma of DDT insecticide and spearmint chewing gum. Even the smells were different now the Yanks were here.
Ben strolled over to the guard on duty at the entrance to the prohibited area. Haste would have suggested dismay. “Dead woman on the U-Bahn,” he said.
“OK, buddy. It better be true.” The man on duty reached for the phone.
The call came from the Military Police. Inspector Klaus Dietrich took it. “Thanks, yes, we’re on our way.” He hung up and called, “The car, Franke.”
“Just heating up. It’ll take a good half-hour.” Detective Sergeant Franke pointed through the window at an old Opel by the roadside. It had a kind of sawn-off bathroom geyser fitted at the back, into which a policeman was feeding scraps of wood. When they were burning hard enough they would generate the wood gas needed to drive the engine. There was no gasoline available for the Berlin Zehlendorf CID.
“We’ll take the bikes,” Dietrich decided. He was a tall man of forty-five, with grey hair and the prominent cheekbones of those who were living on starvation rations. His grey, double-breasted suit, the only one Inge had managed to retrieve from their bombed-out apartment on the Kaiserdamm, hung loose on him. He dragged his left leg a little. The prosthesis, fitted at the auxiliary military hospital in the Zinnowald School where he’d spent the end of the war, chafed in hot weather. His wound had saved him from imprisonment, and he’d been able to go home in May. Inge and the boys were living with her parents in Riemeister Strasse. Inge’s father, Dr Bruno Hellbich, had survived the Hitler years in compulsory retirement but otherwise unharmed. He’d returned to his old position as a Social Democrat district councillor at Zehlendorf Town Hall, and he had been able to get his son-in-law a job as a police inspector. The Zehlendorf CID needed a temporary head, and Klaus Dietrich’s pre-war work as deputy managing director of a security services firm and his lack of political baggage, compensated for the loss of his left leg below the knee and his absence of criminological training. In any case, he had soon found out that a sound understanding of human nature was perfectly adequate for dealing with black marketeers, thieves and burglars.
It took them fifteen minutes to reach the U-Bahn station, where their police passes got them past the gathering crowd.
“Oh shit, here comes my old man,” muttered Ben, making off.
An American officer was standing on the tracks with a military policeman and the stationmaster. They had laid the dead woman down on her back. She was blonde, with a beautiful face and regular features. Her blue eyes stared into space. Strangulation marks suffused with blood were notched in her delicate neck. Klaus Dietrich pointed to her nylon stockings, her nearly new pumps, and her fashionable, pale summer dress. “An American,” he said, gloomily. “If a German did this there’ll be trouble.”
Sergeant Franke scratched his head. “I feel as if I’ve seen her before.”
The American officer straightened up. “Which of you guys is in charge?”
Klaus Dietrich answered. “Inspector Dietrich and Sergeant Franke, Zehlendorf CID.”
“Captain Ashburner, Military Police.” The American was tall and lean, with smooth, fair hair. His alert, intelligent gaze rested on the inspector. “And this is Sergeant Donovan.” The sergeant was a stocky man with broad, powerful shoulders and a crew cut.
Dietrich raised the dead woman’s left arm. The glass of her watch was shattered; the hands stood at ten forty-two. “Probably the time of death,” he commented, beckoning to the stationmaster. “Who was on duty here yesterday evening, about quarter to eleven?”
“Me, of course,” said the man in injured tones. “Until the last train, at 22.48 hours, and then again from six in the morning. They hardly give us time for a wink of sleep.”
“Were there many passengers waiting for the last train?”
“Couple of Yanks with their girls, two or three Germans.”
“Was the dead woman among them?”
“Maybe, maybe not. I had to clear the 22.34 to Krumme Lanke for departure. You don’t look at the passengers separately. Nobody kind of caught my eye. Only that weirdo with goggles and a leather cap. Like a sky-pilot off on a tobogganing trip, I thought.”
“Goggles and a leather cap?”
“Well, kind of motorcycling gear, I’d say. But I didn’t really look close. The lights at the far end of the platform have been a write-off for weeks.”
“So he was standing in semi-darkness.”
“The only one who was, now you mention it. The other passengers were waiting where the lights still work.”
“Did you see him get in?”
“Nope. I have to be up at the front of the train to give the guard the signal to leave. Now excuse me, here’s the eleven-ten.”
“Hey, Kraut, take a look.” The MP sergeant handed Dietrich a shoulder bag. “Not an American, one of yours. Karin Rembach, aged twenty-five. Works in our dry cleaners’ shop over there.” He pointed to the shopping centre on the far side of the fence. “I guess her boyfriend bought her the shoes and nylons in the PX. Man called Dennis Morgan, stationed with the Signal Corps in Lichterfelde.”
Klaus Dietrich opened the bag. Her ID, with a pass for a German employee of the US Army, indicated where the sergeant had gathered his information. He also found a note bearing the soldier’s name and his barracks address. “I’d like to ask this Morgan some questions.”
“A Kraut wants to interrogate an American? Don’t you know who won the war?” barked the sergeant.
“I know the war’s over and murder’s a crime again,” Klaus Dietrich replied calmly.
For a moment it looked as if the beefy Donovan might take a swing at him, but the captain intervened. “I’ll question Morgan and send you the statement. In return you can let me have the results of the autopsy. A Medical Corps ambulance will take her wherever you like. Goodbye, Inspector.”
Sergeant Franke watched the Americans leave. “Not very friendly, that bunch.”
“Privilege of the victors. Franke, what do you think about this man in the goggles?”
“Either a nutcase, like the stationmaster says, or someone who doesn’t want to be recognized. Inspector, why do they keep calling us Krauts?”
Klaus Dietrich laughed. “Our transatlantic liberators believe we Germans live on nothing but sauerkraut.”
“With pork knuckle and pea purée.” A note of nostalgia entered the detective sergeant’s voice. A siren came closer and died away. Two GIs with Red Cross armbands carried a stretcher down the steps. The morgue in Berlin Mitte had been bombed out and was now in the Soviet sector, so Klaus Dietrich had the corpse taken to the nearby Waldfrieden hospital, where his friend Walter Möbius was medical superintendent.
“I’ll do the autopsy later,” said Dr Möbius. “I have to operate on the living while daylight lasts, and then until they cut off the electricity at nine. If you really want to watch the autopsy, we’ll have the power back at three in the morning.”
A young man clad in the best pre-war Prince of Wales check suiting nonchalantly lit an extra-length Pall Mall outside the U-Bahn station. Ben looked enviously at the thick crepe soles of his suede shoes. He knew the man slightly. Hendrijk Claasen was a Dutchman and a black marketeer. Only a black marketeer could afford such a sharp suit. Ben wanted a Prince of Wales check suit and shoes with crepe soles too. He imagined himself appearing before Heidi Rödel in his made-to-measure outfit, on soles a centimetre thick. Then it would be curtains for Gert Schlomm in his silly short lederhosen.
The boy walked home from the station, glad to have avoided his father. Papa would have asked questions. In this case, he would have wanted to know why Ben was finding dead women on the U-Bahn instead of being at school. Papa had a quietly sarcastic manner which hit the vulnerable spot.
Not that Ben had anything against school in itself, only its regularity. The chaos of the recent past had brought with it not only fear and terror but adventure and freedom too, and he was finding it difficult to get used to an ordered existence.
He made for the back of the house, went into the shed at the end of the garden, and fished his school bag out from under a couple of empty potato sacks. His grandmother was weeding near the veranda. She had dug up the lawn months ago to plant tobacco. The district councillor was a heavy smoker and she dried the leaves on the stove for him, filling the house with a horrible smell, which was the lesser of two evils. Hellbich was unbearable when his body craved nicotine.
“There’s a special margarine ration at Frau Kalkfurth’s. Ralf’s down there queuing already. Go and take over from him, Ben—your mother will relieve you later. She’s gone to the cobbler’s. With luck he can repair your brother’s sandals again—the poor boy’s going around in gym shoes full of holes.”
“OK.” Ben climbed the steep stairs to the attic room he shared with Ralf, and tossed the school bag on his bed. Before going downstairs again he put the empty cigarette packet away with the razor blade in a drawer. He’d work on it later.
There was no one in the kitchen. He pulled out the left-hand drawer of the kitchen dresser, reached into it, pushed the bolt down and opened the locked cupboard door from the inside. Inge Dietrich kept the family’s bread rations in that cupboard: two slices of dry bread each in the morning and again at lunchtime. They ate a hot meal in the evening.
Ben hacked himself off an extra-thick slice and clamped it between his teeth, returned the loaf to the dresser, shut the door and bolted it again. Then he closed the drawer and went off to take his little brother’s place in the queue. On the way he ate his looted slice of bread in bites as small as possible. That way you prolonged the pleasure.
Frau Kalkfurth’s shop had once been the living room of a terraced house in the street known as Am Hegewinkel, “Game Preserve Corner.” The surrounding streets, all with brightly painted houses, were named Hochsitzweg, Lappjagen and Auerhahnbalz, suggesting images of hides, hunting and capercaillies. A local mayor who was a keen huntsman had given them these names sometime in the past. The garage built on to the back of the house was used to store goods for the shop. It had once held the family car, for the Kalkfurths had owned a big butcher’s shop in eastern Berlin. The butcher’s shop had long been in ruins, and the car, an Adler, was only a memory now.
The widow Kalkfurth, having worked in a similar line before the war, was granted the coveted permit to run a grocery store after the fall of Berlin. Now, her former trainee butcher, Heinz Winkelmann, stood behind the improvised counter, while she oversaw the little business from her wheelchair, sticking her customers’ ration coupons on large sheets of newspaper in the evenings. Someone from the rationing authority collected them once a week. She lived alone in the Am Hegewinkel house: discreet gifts of butter, smoked sausage and streaky bacon to the people in the Housing Department saved her from having the homeless billeted on her.
The queue outside the shop was grey and endless. Many of the women were dressed in old pairs of men’s trousers and had scarves over their heads. There were no hairdressing salons these days. Ralf was standing quite a long way back, brushing a broken-off twig back and forth in zigzags over the pavement, while Frau Kalkfurth’s tabby kitten tried to catch it. The game came to an abrupt end when a dachshund at the very end of the line broke away and attacked the kitten, which shot off into the garage.
Ralf grabbed the yapping dog’s collar and hauled it back to its owner. “Can’t you keep your dog in order?” he asked loudly.
“None of your cheek, young man. Sit, Lehmann!” The man took the dog’s lead.
Ralf went into the garage. Old vegetable crates and broken furniture towered up in an impenetrable wall at the back. “Mutzi, Mutzi,” he called to the kitten. A plaintive mew came from the far side of the lumber. There was no way through. Or was there? The mouldering doors of a wardrobe were hanging off their hinges, and the back of it was smashed. The boy wriggled through. The little cat was crouching on a shabby eiderdown in the dim light. “Come on, Mutzi. That silly dachshund’s back on its lead.” He picked up the frightened animal, which had dug its claws into the eiderdown so hard that the quilt came up with it, revealing the saddle of a motorbike. Carefully, the boy freed the kitten’s claws and put the eiderdown back in place. Then he scrambled into the daylight with his protégé.
“There you are.” Ben greeted him reproachfully. “Where’s your place in the queue?”
“Behind that woman with the green headscarf.” Ralf let the kitten go and strolled away. Reluctantly, Ben took his slot in the queue. He hated standing in line.
He cut the waiting short by imagining a man in a white jacket with a steaming pan full of sausages slung on a tray in front of him, like that time on the Wannsee bathing beach. He had been very small then, and it was before the war. He could almost hear the squelch as the man squirted mustard on the paper plate from a squeezy bottle. It made a delightfully rude noise.
His mother arrived around six. Gritscher the master cobbler had repaired Ralf’s sandals for the umpteenth time. “That man works miracles,” she told the woman next to her. “Off you go and do your homework,” she said, turning to her son. “And take your brother with you.”
“What’ll it be, Frau Dietrich?” Winkelmann beamed at her over the counter, looking healthy and well fed. He had direct access to all good things.
“A loaf of bread, 150 grams of powdered egg and the extra margarine ration. Can you let me have the powdered egg as an advance on next week’s rations?”
“I’ll have to ask the boss about that. Come here a moment, will you, Frau Kalkfurth?”
Martha Kalkfurth had dark hair with strands of grey in it, and a smooth, round, ageless face with a double chin. She sat heavily in her wheelchair, steering it skilfully past sacks of dried potato and cartons filled with bags of ersatz coffee.
“Can Frau Dietrich have 150 grams of powdered egg in advance?”
“Please, Frau Kalkfurth, it’s only until Monday when the new ration cards begin.”
Martha Kalkfurth shook her head. “No special favours from me, even if your husband is with the police.” She turned the wheelchair and went back into the room behind the shop.
Ben found his brother outside the Yanks’ ice cream parlour. One of the soldiers was leaning down to hand him a large portion of ice cream. Ralf was a successful beggar; few could resist his angelic face. The two boys scooped up the chocolate and vanilla ice on their way home, using the wafers that came with it. Life was OK.
* * *
The soft strains of “Starlight Melody” drifted out of Club 48, combining with the tempting aroma of grilled steaks to arouse impossible longings in the Germans hurrying by. The US Engineers had put the building together from prefabricated components in three days, and within a week it was completely fitted out with a kitchen, cocktail bar, tables and dance floor.
The commandant of the American sector of Berlin, a two-star general from Boston, had handed over the club to the private soldiers and NCOs, dancing the first dance with his wife before withdrawing with relief to the nearby Harnack House, where the commissioned officers and upper ranks of civilian staff drank dry martinis.
Jutta Weber, a pretty blonde aged thirty, worked in the kitchen of the Club. She peeled potatoes, washed dishes, and heaved around the heavy pots and pans used by Mess Sergeant Jack Panelli and his cooks to concoct hearty, unsophisticated dishes from their canned and frozen supplies.
At just before eleven she set off for home. Her bicycle light barely illuminated her way back along Argentinische Allee. The buildings were in darkness; there would be no electricity in this part of town until three in the morning. The coal shortage and the state of the turbines in the city power stations, half of them destroyed in air raids, made power rationing essential. Next came Steglitz. A pedestrian emerged from the darkness. Jutta rang the bicycle bell on her handlebars, making a shrill sound, but he kept coming straight at her. She swerved, caught the edge of the pavement with her front wheel and lost her balance. For a moment she lay there in the road, helpless. Headlights approached, lighting up the face above her for a fraction of a second. The lenses of a large pair of goggles flashed. Then the face disappeared into the darkness again.
An open jeep stopped. The driver jumped out. “Everything OK?” He helped her to her feet, and she recognized a captain’s insignia and the Military Police armband. He was very tall, about one metre ninety, she guessed.
“Everything OK,” she told him. “I’m on my way home. I work at the Forty-Eight.” She showed him the ID card allowing her, as a German employee of the army, to be out after curfew. Somewhere nearby the engine of a motorbike started up. The sound rapidly receded.
“Your light’s not very strong. Easy to miss an obstacle.” Obviously he hadn’t noticed the man with the goggles. “I’ll take you home.”
“There’s really no need,” she protested, but he had already lifted her bike into the back of the jeep, and she had no choice but to get in.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Straight ahead, then right into Onkel-Tom-Strasse.”
He started the engine. She glanced at him, but couldn’t make out his face beneath his helmet in the darkness. “Are you always so late going home?” He had a calm, masculine voice that inspired trust. A bit like Jochen, she thought sadly.
“I never finish before eleven, except on Wednesdays, when I get off at seven.”
“You want to be very careful at night. You never know who may be prowling around in the dark.” He turned into Onkel-Tom-Strasse. Number 133 was one of the two-storey apartment buildings on the right, painted in bright colours in the twenties by an architect with gaudy tastes. He helped her out of the jeep and lifted her bike down.
“Thanks, captain. You were a great help.”
“It was a pleasure, ma’am.” He touched his hand to his white helmet.
Nice American, she thought. She opened the front door of the building, locked it from the inside, and took her bike down to the cellar, where she secured it with a padlock and chain. Then she went quietly upstairs. The little dynamo lamp hummed as she switched it on.
The top apartment on the left had fallen vacant when the Red Army marched in and its tenant, a Nazi local group leader, shot his wife and himself. It had three rooms. The Königs and their twelve-year-old son Hans-Joachim, Hajo for short, lived in one, Jutta had the room next to theirs, and the Housing Department had given the room opposite to Jürgen Brandenburg, just released from a POW camp, a small, dark-haired man in his late twenties who wore clothes made from blue Luftwaffe fabric.
The door of the Königs’ room was open. “Come on in, Frau Weber, sit down, this is just getting interesting,” cried Herr König, in high spirits. He poured out some potato schnapps. “From my brother’s secret still. He has an allotment garden in Steglitz. Like a little drink?”
“No, thank you, Herr König.”
“Well, where were we, captain?”
Brandenburg’s dark glasses for the blind reflected the candlelight. Hands tilted at an angle, he was demonstrating one of his countless fights in the air. “So the Englishman comes down from the clouds. A two-engine Mosquito. Dangerous craft, that, with three guns on board. I swerve aside. He dives down past me, it takes him a moment to regain height. I wait for him to climb past me, then I rake his underside. Ratatatat—boing —bull’s-eye! He’s flying round me in a thousand pieces. My twenty-fifth victory in the air. I got the Knight’s Cross for it—presented by him personally.”
“Bravo!” Herr König was beside himself. “The Knight’s Cross. Think of that, Frau Weber.”
Jutta’s reaction was icy. “I’d rather think about how it’s all over now, and he is frying in hell instead of handing out gongs. Haven’t you men had enough of this rot, with your murderous games of cowboys and Indians?”
Brandenburg leaped to his feet. “I’m not taking that about rot!”
“Then don’t talk it, OK? Goodnight, everyone.” In her room she lit a candle and took it into the bathroom to clean her teeth. The strong-tasting American dentifrice concealed the horrible chlorine flavour of the tapwater. As she fell asleep she pictured Jochen in her mind’s eye. He had been killed at the very beginning of the war. The men’s voices next door rose in excitement. She wondered, bitterly, Will it never end?
* * *
The motorcyclist was disappointed and angry. He had watched his victim for days before deciding she was worthy. Carefully, lovingly, he had chosen her from among a number of blonde, blue-eyed candidates. Not everyone passed the test.
He had been so close to her, and then the jeep ruined everything. Who knew how long he’d have to wait for another opportunity?
He took every precaution, but he had nothing to fear at this time of night. Unseen, he put the bike back in its hiding place, where he also kept the goggles, gauntlets and leather helmet. The rest of his route was hidden in darkness. It was not far to his home.
He went straight to bed, put out the light and waited patiently for the dream. It was always the same: he sank deep into the chosen one’s blue eyes, stroked her long blonde hair, kissed her beautiful full lips as she opened them to him. She sighed as he penetrated her. He was a wonderful lover, with strength and stamina. But when he woke up he was an awkward fool again, a clown who had no idea how to approach a girl.
It had been like that with Annie. Annie, blonde and blue-eyed, who worked in Brumm’s Bakery and Cake Shop opposite the U-Bahn station. He spent endless Sunday afternoons sitting in the front garden of the café, ordering countless cups of coffee and pieces of cake, following every move she made with his eyes. He financed his generous tips from the till of the family business. She said, “Thank you very much, sir,” nicely, and bobbed a little curtsey. He didn’t realize that she was laughing at him.
He gave her flowers and chocolate and a pair of silk stockings, but she just laughed. “You’re out of your league, kid!” His pink, youthful face belied his age; he was twenty-five. But the diamond ring from his mother’s jewel box made a difference. She put it on her finger and said, “Come up and see me tomorrow evening.” She had an attic room above the cake shop.
He arrived from work on his motorbike late that Monday, still dressed in his butcher’s overall. She was ready, waiting for him. Her naked body shone pale in the light of the big candle beside the bed. He stood there with arms dangling, not daring to touch her; not knowing where to look. She helped him out of his overall. Something clinked. “What’s that, then?” Embarrassed, he showed her the cattle chain he’d left in his pocket by mistake.
Quick-fingered, she undressed him. When she saw his tiny prick she spluttered with laughter. All the same, she tried hard. But it was no good, he was too tense. Shrugging her shoulders, she gave up. “Come back when you’ve grown up, little sissy!” she mocked him as she dressed.
He didn’t want to hurt her. He only wanted her to be his. That was the deal. He grabbed hold of her. She resisted and kicked out at him, like a calf resisting slaughter. He reached for the chain that had tamed so many recalcitrant animals. She soon stopped resisting. He pulled her panties down and took her by force, using the candle in its holder as a substitute for his manhood, imaging her stertorous breathing to be the sound of orgasm. An overwhelming climax shook him as he rooted about in her, letting her go only when she stopped moving.
No one saw him carry her out into the front garden in the dark and sit her at one of the tables, her dress pulled up to show her bloodstained sex. He wanted people to know he had possessed her. He removed the ring from her finger.
It had been like that the first time, and it was the same whenever his craving grew too strong and there was only one way to satisfy it: with a young, blonde, blue-eyed woman and a cattle chain.
* * *
It was three in the morning. The basement smelled of formalin and decomposition. Gratefully, Klaus Dietrich allowed the nurse to put a mask over his mouth and nose. The body lay on the marble slab, a well-grown young woman with slender limbs.
Walter Möbius had been a medical officer with the Afrika Corps. “We had refrigeration problems there too. Your Karin must be buried as soon as possible.”
“My Karin! Heavens, what do you think that sounds like? I never knew her. But I’d like to know how and when she died.”
“Last night, around eleven o’clock. Strangled with a chain about the thickness of your finger. Here, you can see the indentations its links left in her neck. But that’s not all.” The doctor pointed to the young woman’s vagina. Her blonde pubic hair was clotted with blood. He picked up a speculum and gently opened the dead woman’s thighs. The inspector turned away. “The monster,” said Möbius, after a brief examination. “Some sharp object. Forcibly inserted and then moved back and forth.”
“A chain with a toggle to lock it in place,” said the inspector, thinking out loud. “Using a chain like that, he could throttle her with one hand while he used the other to . . .” He stopped. “Around eleven at night? Probably just before the last train left at 22.48. The platform was almost empty and half the lights weren’t working. The murderer would have been waiting in the shadows. The chain would have stifled her screams. And when he’d finished with her he pushed the body down on the tracks, jumped after it, hauled the corpse out of sight into the bay under the edge of the platform, clambered up again and waited for the last train, cool as a cucumber. It could have been like that.”
The doctor put the speculum in a dish. “Nurse Dagmar undressed the body. She wasn’t wearing any panties. Does anyone know anything about her?”
“Sergeant Franke thinks he might have seen her before, but he can’t remember where.”
“I’m going to open up the body now. Want to stay and watch?”
“No thanks. I can’t promise not to keel over. One of our men will come and collect your autopsy report later.”
Dr Möbius looked at the beautiful corpse with pity. “I wonder who this Karin Rembach was?” He picked up his scalpel.