The Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus is the 3rd international thriller in the Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein Series about a murdered Holocaust survivor who is not who he seems (available January 13, 2015).
The body of 92-year-old Jossi Goldberg, Holocaust survivor and American citizen, is found shot to death execution style in his house near Frankfurt. A five-digit number is scrawled in blood at the murder scene. The autopsy reveals an old and unsuccessfully covered tattoo on the corpse's arm—a blood type marker once used by Hitler's SS. Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein are faced with a riddle. Was the old man not Jewish after all? Who was he, really? Two more, similar murders happen—one of a wheelchair-bound old lady in a nursing home, and one of a man with a cellar filled with Nazi paraphernalia—and slowly the connections between the victims becomes evident: All of them were lifelong friends with Vera von Kaltensee, baroness, well-respected philanthropist, and head of an old, rich family that she rules with an iron fist. Pia and Oliver follow the trail, which leads them all the way back to the end of World War II and the area of Poland that then belonged to East Prussia. No one is who they claim to be, and things only begin to make sense when the two investigators realize what the bloody number stands for, and uncover an old diary and an eyewitness who is finally willing to come forward.
No one in his family could understand his decision to spend the twilight of his life in Germany; he certainly couldn’t, either. All of a sudden he had felt that he didn’t want to die in this country, which had been so good to him for more than sixty years. He longed to read German newspapers and to have the sound of the German language in his ears. David Goldberg had not left Germany voluntarily. At the time, in 1945, it had been a matter of life and death, and he had made the best out of losing his homeland. But now there was nothing left to keep him in America. He had bought the house near Frankfurt almost twenty years ago, shortly after Sarah’s death, so that he wouldn’t have to stay in anonymous hotels when his numerous business or social obligations took him to Germany.
Goldberg gave a deep sigh and looked out the big picture windows at the Taunus hills, bathed in a golden light by the setting sun. He could hardly remember Sarah’s face. The sixty-plus years he had spent in the States often seemed erased from his memory, and he had a hard time even recalling the names of his grandchildren. But his memories of the years before he went to America, which he hadn’t thought about in a long time, were that much sharper. Sometimes when he woke up from a brief nap, it took him a few minutes to realize where he was. Then he would look with contempt at his gnarled, trembling old-man hands, the scaly skin covered with age spots. Getting old was no picnic—what nonsense to think otherwise. At least fate had spared him from becoming a slobbering, helpless vegetable, like so many of his friends and acquaintances who hadn’t been fortunate enough to be carried off in time by a heart attack. He had a solid constitution, which kept astounding his doctors, and he seemed immune to most signs of old age—thanks to the iron discipline with which he had mastered every challenge in his life. He had never let himself go, and even today he paid attention to correct attire and the proper appearance. Goldberg shuddered at the thought of his last unpleasant visit to an old folks’ home. He was repelled by the sight of the aged people shuffling along the corridors in bathrobes and slippers, their hair wild and their eyes empty, like ghosts from another world, or simply sitting around forlornly. Most of them were younger than he was, and yet he wouldn’t for a moment have stood for being lumped into the same category with them.
He gave a start and turned his head. The housekeeper, whose name and presence he forgot from time to time, was standing in the doorway. What was her name? Elvira, Edith … it didn’t matter. His family had insisted that he not live alone, and had hired this woman for him. Goldberg had rejected five applicants. He didn’t want to live under the same roof with a Pole or an Asian, and looks did matter to him. He had liked her at once: big, blond, forceful. She was German, with degrees in home economics and nursing. Covering all the bases, Goldberg’s eldest son, Sal, had said. He was undoubtedly paying this woman a princely salary, because she put up with his quirks and disposed of the traces of his increasing frailty without ever batting an eye. She came over to his easy chair and scrutinized him. Goldberg returned her stare. She had makeup on, and the neckline of her blouse revealed the roundness of her breasts, which sometimes appeared in his dreams. Where could she be going? Did she have a boyfriend she met on her evenings off? She was no more than forty and very attractive. But he wasn’t going to ask her. He didn’t want to be on familiar terms with her.
“Is it all right if I go now?” Her voice had a slight hint of impatience. “Do you have everything you need? I’ve prepared your supper and your pills, and—”
Goldberg cut her off with a wave of his hand. Sometimes she treated him like a mentally disabled child.
“Just go,” he snapped. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be here tomorrow morning at seven-thirty.”
He didn’t doubt it. German punctuality.
“I’ve already pressed your dark suit for tomorrow, and the shirt, too.”
“Yes, all right. Thank you.”
“Should I turn on the security alarm?”
“No, I’ll do it later. Just go. And have fun.”
“Thank you.” She sounded surprised. He had never before told her to have fun. Goldberg heard the heels of her shoes clack across the marble floor of the foyer; then the heavy front door closed. The sun had vanished behind the hills of the Taunus, and it was twilight. He stared out the window with a somber expression. Outside, millions of young people were heading off on dates, seeking carefree amusement. Once he had been one of them: a good-looking man, well-off, influential, admired. At Elvira’s age, he had wasted no thoughts on the old men who sat shivering with aching bones in their easy chairs, a woolen blanket over arthritic knees, waiting for the last great event in their lives: death. He could hardly comprehend how time had caught up with him. Now he, too, was one of those old fossils, a remnant of the dim past, whose friends, acquaintances, and companions had long since left him behind. There were three people left in this world with whom he could speak about the old days, people who remembered him when he’d been young and strong.
The sound of the doorbell tore him out of his reverie. Was it already eight-thirty? Probably. She was always on time, just like the housekeeper. Goldberg got up from his chair with a muted groan. She had wanted to speak with him urgently again before the birthday party, in private. It was hard to believe that she was already eighty-five, the one little. He crossed the living room and hall with stiff steps, casting a glance in the mirror next to the door, reaching both hands up to smooth back his still quite full head of white hair. Even though he knew that she would be arguing with him, he still looked forward to seeing her. Always. She was the most important reason why he had come back to Germany. With a smile, he opened the front door.
Saturday, April 28
Oliver von Bodenstein took the saucepan of hot milk off the burner, stirred in two spoonfuls of cocoa powder, and poured the steaming mixture into a pitcher. As long as Cosima was breast-feeding, she did without her beloved coffee, and he occasionally showed solidarity with her. Besides, a cup of hot chocolate was nothing to be scoffed at. His eyes met those of Rosalie, and he grinned when he saw the critical expression on his nineteen-year-old daughter’s face.
“That’s got to be at least two thousand calories,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “How can you!”
“Now you see what sacrifices we make for our children’s sake,” he replied.
“I certainly wouldn’t do without my coffee,” she said, demonstratively taking a sip from her cup.
“Just you wait.” Oliver took two mugs from the cupboard and set them on a tray next to the pitcher of cocoa. Cosima had gone back to bed because the baby had roused her at 5:00 A.M. Her whole life had changed completely since the birth of Sophia Gabriela last December. The first shock at the news that he and Cosima were going to be parents again had brought a sense of happy anticipation, which then gave way to apprehension. Lorenz and Rosalie were twenty-three and nineteen, respectively, grown up and done with school. How would it be to start over again? Could he and Cosima even do it? Would the child be healthy? Bodenstein’s secret concerns had proved groundless. Cosima had continued to work until the day before the delivery, and the reassuring results from a test of her amniotic fluid had been confirmed when Sophia was born: The baby was perfect in every way. And now, after scarcely four months, Cosima was going to the office every day, taking the baby with her in a carrier. Actually, Oliver mused, it was all much easier than it had been with Lorenz and Rosalie. Sure, he and Cosima had been younger then and more energetic, but they hadn’t had much money and lived in a small apartment. At the time, he had also sensed that Cosima was depressed about having to give up her job as a TV reporter, which she loved.
“Why are you up so early anyway?” he asked his eldest daughter. “It’s Saturday.”
“I have to be at the castle at nine,” Rosalie replied. “We have a gigantic event today. A champagne reception and then a six-course dinner for thirty-five people. We’re giving a party for one of Grandma’s friends who is celebrating her eighty-fifth birthday.”
After finishing her exams last summer, instead of going to university, Rosalie had decided to serve an apprenticeship as a cook at the elegant restaurant owned by Oliver’s brother Quentin and his wife, Marie-Louise. To her parents’ surprise, Rosalie was full of enthusiasm about the job. She never complained about the barbaric working hours or her strict and choleric boss. Cosima suspected that it was this very boss, the temperamental star chef Jean-Yves St. Clair, who was the real reason behind Rosalie’s choice of work.
“They’ve changed the menu, the wine list, and the number of guests at least ten times.” Rosalie put her coffee cup in the dishwasher. “I’m anxious to know whether they’ve come up with any more changes.”
The telephone rang. At 8:30 on a Saturday morning, that seldom boded well. Rosalie picked it up and soon returned to the kitchen with the cordless phone. “For you, Dad,” she said, holding the phone out to him and then leaving with a brief wave. Oliver sighed. He supposed nothing was going to come of his planned walk in the Taunus and a pleasant dinner with Cosima and Sophia. His fears were confirmed when he heard the tense voice of Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff.
“We’ve got a body. I know I’m on call today, but maybe you should take a brief look, boss. The man was a big shot, and an American.”
It was sounding a lot like a ruined weekend.
“Where?” Bodenstein asked curtly.
“It’s not far. Kelkheim. The address is Drosselweg Thirty-nine a. David Goldberg. His housekeeper found him at around seven-thirty this morning.”
Bodenstein promised to hurry, then took Cosima her hot chocolate and broke the bad news to her.
“Dead bodies should be banned on weekends,” Cosima murmured with a big yawn. Oliver smiled. Not once in their twenty-four years of marriage had his wife ever reacted with anger or displeasure when he suddenly had to leave, ruining their plans for the day. She sat up straight and grabbed the cup. “Thanks. Where do you have to go?”
Oliver took a shirt from the wardrobe. “Over to Drosselweg. I could actually walk. The man is named Goldberg, an American. Pia Kirchhoff is afraid it might get complicated.”
“Goldberg,” Cosima said with a frown. “I’ve heard that name recently, but I can’t remember where.”
“Apparently he’s some big shot.” Oliver decided on a tie with a blue pattern and slipped on a jacket.
“Oh yes, now I remember,” said Cosima. “It was Mrs. Schönermark at the flower shop. Her husband delivers fresh flowers to Goldberg every other day. Six months ago, he moved here for good. Before that, he stayed at the house only occasionally, whenever he was visiting Germany. She said she’d heard he was once an adviser to President Reagan.”
“Then he must have been an elderly man.” Oliver leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. In his mind, he was already imagining what awaited him. Every time he was called to some location where a body had been found, this mixture of heart-pounding anxiety and trepidation came over him. It disappeared only after he had seen the body.
“Yes, he was pretty old.” Cosima sipped absentmindedly at her chocolate, now lukewarm. “But there was something else.…”
* * *
Besides himself and the priest with his two sleepy altar boys, the only people who had showed up for Mass at St. Leonhard were a few old ladies, driven so early to church either by fear of the approaching end or the prospect of another desolate, lonely day. They sat scattered throughout the front third of the nave on the hard wooden pews and listened to the droning voice of the priest, who occasionally stifled a surreptitious yawn. Marcus Nowak knelt in the last row, staring blankly into space. The accident had led him to this church in the middle of Frankfurt. No one knew him here, and he had secretly hoped that the comforting ritual of the holy Mass would restore his spiritual equilibrium, but it had not. Quite the opposite. How could he have expected it to, when he hadn’t been to church in years? He imagined that everyone could see what he’d done the night before. It wasn’t one of those sins that could be absolved in the confessional or atoned for by saying ten Our Fathers. He wasn’t worthy to sit here hoping for God’s forgiveness, because his repentance was not genuine. The blood rose to his face and he closed his eyes when he thought about how much he had enjoyed it, how much of a rush it had given him, how happy it had made him. He could still see the man’s face before him, the way he had looked at him, and finally had knelt down before him. My God. How could he have done that? He rested his forehead on his folded hands and felt a tear run down his unshaven cheek as he realized the full implication. His life would never be the same again. He bit his lip, opened his eyes, and looked at his hands with a trace of repugnance. He couldn’t wash away this guilt in a thousand years. But the worst thing was, he would do it again as soon as a suitable opportunity presented itself. If his wife, his children, or his parents ever found out, they would never forgive him. He heaved such an abysmally deep sigh that two of the old ladies in the front rows turned around to look at him. He hurried to lower his head again and cursed his faith, which made him a captive of his acquired moral standards. But no matter how he twisted and turned it, there was no excuse as long as he did not sincerely repent of his action. Without repentance, there was no atonement, no forgiveness.
* * *
The old man was on his knees on the mirrorlike marble floor in the entry hall of the house, barely ten feet from the front door. His upper body was slumped forward and to the left, his head lying in a pool of blood. Bodenstein didn’t want to imagine how his face looked, or what was left of it. The fatal bullet had entered the back of his head, and the small dark hole seemed remarkably inconspicuous. The exit of the bullet, however, had caused considerable damage. Blood and brain matter were sprayed all over the room, sticking to the subtle pattern of the silk wallpaper, to the door frame, the paintings, and the big Venetian mirror next to the front door.
“Hello, boss.” Pia Kirchhoff stepped out of the doorway at the end of the entry hall. She had been a member of the K-11 team at the Regional Criminal Police in Hofheim for about two years. Although she was usually a real morning person, today she looked as if she’d overslept.
Bodenstein had a hunch why, but he stifled a remark and nodded to her.
Their colleagues from the evidence team arrived, took one look at the body from the front door, and stepped outside to put on white disposable overalls and booties.
“Superintendent!” called one of the men, and Bodenstein turned to the door.
“There’s a cell phone lying here.” With his gloved right hand, the officer fished out a phone from the flower bed next to the front door.
“Bag it,” said Bodenstein. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and it belongs to the perp.”
He turned around. A sunbeam coming in the doorway struck the big mirror and lit it up for a moment. Bodenstein stopped short.
“Did you see this?” he asked his colleague.
“What is it?” Pia Kirchhoff came closer. She had plaited her blond hair into two braids and wasn’t even wearing eye makeup, a sure sign that she’d been in a hurry this morning. Bodenstein pointed to the mirror. In the middle of the blood spatter, a number had been scrawled. Pia squinted and scrutinized the five figures.
“One one six four five. What could that mean?”
“I don’t have the foggiest idea,” Bodenstein admitted, tiptoeing past the corpse so as not to disturb any evidence. He didn’t go into the kitchen right away, but he looked into the rooms off the entry hall and the foyer. The house was a bungalow, but bigger than it looked from the outside. The decor was old-fashioned—heavy furniture in the late-nineteenth-century style, walnut and oak, with carved details. In the living room, there were faded Persian area rugs on top of the beige carpet.
“He must have had a visitor.” Pia pointed to the coffee table in front of the couch. Two wineglasses and a bottle of red wine stood on the marble surface, and next to them was a small white porcelain dish containing olive pits. “The front door wasn’t damaged, and from the first cursory examination, there were no signs of a break-in. Maybe he offered his murderer something to drink.”
Bodenstein went over to the low coffee table, bent down, and squinted to read the label on the wine bottle.
“Unbelievable.” He reached for the bottle but remembered just in time that he wasn’t wearing gloves.
“What is it?” asked Pia Kirchhoff. Bodenstein straightened up.
“It’s a 1993 Château Pétrus,” he replied with a reverent look at the unprepossessing green bottle, so sought after in the world of wine, with the red type in the middle of the label. “This one bottle costs about as much as a small car.”
Bodenstein didn’t know whether his colleague was referring to the crazy people who would pay that much money for a bottle of wine or to the fact that the murder victim, shortly before his death—and perhaps in the company of his murderer—had partaken of such a noble vintage.
“What do we know about the deceased?” he asked after determining that the bottle was only half-empty. He felt genuine regret at the thought that the rest would have to be poured down the drain before the bottle was sent to the lab.
“Goldberg had been living here since last October,” said Pia. “He was born in Germany, but he spent over sixty years in the United States, and he must have been quite an important man there. The housekeeper thinks his family was very well-to-do.”
“Did he live alone? He was pretty old, after all.”
“Ninety-two. But quite physically active. The housekeeper has an apartment in the basement. She has two nights off, on the Sabbath and another evening of her choosing.”
“Goldberg was Jewish?” Bodenstein glanced around the living room until he caught sight of a bronze seven-armed candelabra on a sideboard. The candles in the menorah had not yet been lit. They went into the kitchen. In contrast to the rest of the house, it was bright and modern.
“This is Eva Ströbel,” Pia said, introducing her boss to the woman sitting at the kitchen table, who now stood up. “Mr. Goldberg’s housekeeper.”
She was tall, and despite her flat shoes, she hardly had to raise her head to look Bodenstein right in the eye. He extended his hand and scrutinized the woman’s pale face. Her shock was clearly visible. Eva Ströbel told them that she had been hired seven months ago by Sal Goldberg, the victim’s son, to be his father’s housekeeper. Since then, she had lived in the basement apartment and taken care of the old gentleman and the household. Goldberg had still been very independent, mentally alert, and extremely disciplined. He set great store by a regular daily routine and three meals a day, and he hardly ever left the house. Her relationship with Goldberg had been formal but good.
“Did he have frequent visitors?” Pia asked.
“Only occasionally,” Eva Ströbel replied. “Once a month, his son comes from America and stays for two or three days. He also had friends come to visit now and then, but mostly in the evenings. I can’t tell you any of their names, because he never introduced me to his guests.”
“Was he expecting a visitor last night, as well? On the table in the living room, there are two glasses and a bottle of red wine.”
“Then somebody must have been here,” said the housekeeper. “I didn’t buy any wine, and there’s none in the house.”
“Could you tell if anything was missing?”
“I haven’t checked yet. When I came in and … and saw Mr. Goldberg lying there, I called the police and waited by the front door.” She made a vague motion with her hand. “I mean, there was blood all over the place. It was obvious that there was nothing I could do to help him.”
“You did precisely the right thing.” Bodenstein gave her a kindly smile. “Don’t worry about it. What time did you leave the house last night?”
“Around eight. I fixed dinner for him and set out his pills.”
“And what time did you return?” Pia asked.
“This morning just before seven. Mr. Goldberg appreciated punctuality.”
Bodenstein nodded. Then he remembered the numbers on the mirror.
“Does the number one one six four five mean anything to you?” he asked.
The housekeeper gave him a quizzical look and shook her head.
Bodenstein heard voices in the hall. He turned to the door and saw that Dr. Henning Kirchhoff had arrived. Kirchhoff was the acting head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Frankfurt and the ex-husband of his colleague Pia Kirchhoff. When he used to be with K-11 in Frankfurt, Bodenstein had enjoyed working with Henning Kirchhoff. The man was an eminent authority in his field, a brilliant scientist with a professional work ethic bordering on obsession, in addition to being one of the few specialists in Germany in the field of forensic anthropology. If it came to light that Goldberg had at one time been an important personage, public and political interest would put considerably more pressure on K-11. So much the better that a noted specialist like Kirchhoff would be doing the postmortem examination and autopsy. Because Bodenstein would rely on the autopsy, no matter how obvious the cause of death might seem.
Bodenstein heard Pia’s voice behind him. “Hello, Henning. Thanks for agreeing to come.”
“Your wish is my command.” Kirchhoff squatted down next to Goldberg’s body and examined it closely. “So the old guy survived the war and Auschwitz, only to be executed in his own house. Unbelievable.”
“Did you know him?” Pia seemed surprised.
“Not personally.” Kirchhoff looked up. “But he was highly regarded in Frankfurt, and not only in the Jewish community. If I remember correctly, he was an important man in Washington and an adviser to the White House for decades, as well as being a member of the National Security Council. He was involved in the defense industry. He also did a great deal for the reconciliation between Germany and Israel.”
Bodenstein heard Pia ask skeptically, “How do you know that? Did you do a quick Google search on him so you could impress us?”
Kirchhoff got up and gave her an offended look.
“No. I read it somewhere and filed it away.”
Pia accepted that. Her ex-husband had a photographic memory and his IQ was far above average. In interpersonal relationships, however, he possessed some striking flaws; he was both a cynic and a misanthrope.
The ME stepped aside so that the officer from the evidence team could shoot the necessary photos of the crime scene. Pia directed his attention to the numbers on the mirror.
“Hmm.” Kirchhoff inspected the five numbers up close.
“What could that possibly mean?” Pia asked. “The killer must have written them, don’t you think?”
“I presume so,” said Kirchhoff. “Somebody wrote it in blood when it was still fresh. But what the numbers mean—no idea. Take the mirror and have it checked by the lab.”
He turned back to the corpse. “Ah yes, Bodenstein,” he said lightly. “I’m waiting for your query about the time of death.”
“Usually I don’t ask before ten minutes have passed,” Bodenstein replied drily. “Despite my high regard for you, I don’t consider you clairvoyant.”
“As a nonbinding estimate, I’d say that death occurred at twenty past eleven.”
Bodenstein and Pia exchanged a baffled look.
“The glass on his wristwatch is shattered”—Kirchhoff pointed to the dead man’s left wrist—“and the watch has stopped. It’s going to cause quite a stir when people find out that Goldberg was shot.”
Bodenstein found that a fairly restrained statement. He also was not thrilled by the prospect that a discussion of anti-Semitism might deflect the focus of the investigation in the mind of the public.
* * *
The occasions when Thomas Ritter felt like a bastard always passed quickly. The end actually did justify the means. Still, Marleen believed it was pure coincidence that had led him on that November day into the bistro in the Goethe Passage where she always ate lunch. The second time they had run into each other “by chance” was in front of the office of the physical therapist on Eschersheimer Landstrasse, where she always exercised at 7:30 in the evening in order to regain the muscle strength she’d lost. He had actually resigned himself to a long courtship, but everything went astoundingly fast. He had invited Marleen to dinner at Erno’s Bistro, although it was way more than he could afford and had taken a worrisome bite out of his publisher’s generous advance. He gently inquired as to how much she knew about his present situation. To his relief, she had absolutely no idea and was only glad to have run into an old friend. She had always been a loner; the loss of her lower leg and the prosthesis had made her even more reserved.
After the champagne, he had ordered a fantastic 1994 Pomerol Château L’Eglise Clinet, which cost about as much as he owed his landlord. He skillfully induced her to talk about herself. Most women like to talk about themselves, and so did lonely Marleen. He learned about her job as archivist for a large German bank and about her boundless disappointment when she found out that her husband had fathered two children with another woman during their marriage. After two more glasses of red wine, Marleen had lost all her inhibitions. If she’d had any idea how much her body language was betraying her, she undoubtedly would have been ashamed. She was starving for love, for attention and tenderness, and by the time the dessert came, which she scarcely touched, he knew that he would get her into bed that night. He waited patiently for her to make a move, and an hour later it happened. Her breathless whispered confession that she’d fallen in love with him fifteen years earlier did not surprise him. During that period in which he had gone in and out of the Kaltensee house, he had seen her often enough. She was her grandmother’s favorite, and he had paid her compliments that she never heard from anyone else. By doing that back then, he had already won her heart, as if he’d known that one day it might prove useful. When he saw her tastefully decorated apartment—sixteen hundred square feet in an Art Nouveau building of classic design, with ornamental plaster ceilings and parquet floors in the ritzy Westend of Frankfurt—he became painfully aware of what he had lost because the Kaltensee family had chosen to ostracize him. He had sworn to recover everything that had been taken from him, and a great deal more in the bargain.
All that had been only six months ago.
Thomas Ritter had planned his revenge with farsightedness and patience, and now the seed was sprouting. He turned over on his back and stretched. He heard the toilet in the bathroom flush for the third time in a row. Marleen suffered from severe morning sickness, but for the rest of the day she felt fine, which meant that so far no one had noticed her pregnancy.
“Are you all right, darling?” he called, suppressing a smug grin. For a woman with her sharp intelligence, she had been surprisingly easy to dupe. She had no idea that after their first night of love he’d replaced her birth-control pills with ineffective placebos. After about three months, he’d found her sitting at the kitchen table when he came home, her face swollen and ugly, with proof of the positive pregnancy test lying in front of her. It had been like hitting all six numbers in the lottery, plus the power ball. Just the thought of how she would go wild when she found out that he was the one who had gotten her beloved crown princess pregnant had been the purest aphrodisiac for him. He’d taken Marleen in his arms, acting at first a bit baffled at how in the world this could have happened but then utterly enthusiastic, and he’d ended up fucking her on the kitchen table.
Marleen came out of the bathroom now, pale but smiling. She crept under the covers and snuggled up to him. Although the smell of vomit prickled his nose, he pulled her closer. “Are you sure that you want to do it?”
“Of course,” she replied seriously. “If it doesn’t bother you to marry a Kaltensee.”
It was obvious that she hadn’t yet spoken about him and her condition with anyone in her family. What a good girl! The day after tomorrow, on Monday at a quarter to ten, they had an appointment at the registry office at city hall. By no later than ten o’clock, he would be an official member of the family that he hated with all his heart. Oh, how he was looking forward to meeting her as Marleen’s lawfully wedded husband! He could feel himself getting an erection from his favorite fantasy. Marleen noticed and giggled.
“We have to hurry,” she whispered, “In an hour, I have to be at Grandma’s house and—”
He sealed her lips with a kiss. To hell with Grandma! Soon, soon, soon it would be time; the day of vengeance was near at hand. But they would announce it officially only when Marleen had a seriously fat belly.
“I love you,” he whispered without a hint of a guilty conscience. “I’m crazy about you.”
* * *
Dr. Vera Kaltensee, flanked by her sons Elard and Siegbert, was sitting in the place of honor at the center of the sumptuously laid table in the great hall of Schloss Bodenstein, wishing that this birthday would finally be over. Naturally, the entire family had accepted her invitation without exception, but it meant little to her, because the two men in whose company she would have liked to celebrate this birthday were not present. And for this, she had only herself to blame. Just yesterday, she had argued over a trifle with one of them—how childish that he chose to hold it against her and hadn’t come today—while the other she had banished from her life a year ago. Her disappointment over Thomas Ritter’s devious behavior after eighteen years of trusting collaboration still hurt like an open wound. Vera didn’t want to admit it, but in moments of self-reflection she sensed that this pain had the quality of genuine lovesickness. Embarrassing at her age, and yet it was true. For eighteen long years, Thomas had been her closest confidant, her secretary, her Dear Abby, her friend, but, unfortunately, never her lover. Vera wouldn’t have missed any of the men in her life nearly as much as that little traitor. Over the course of her long life, she’d come to the conclusion that the saying “Everyone is replaceable” was wrong. No one was easily replaced, and certainly not Thomas. Only seldom did Vera permit herself a look back. Today, on her eighty-fifth birthday, it seemed perfectly legitimate to recall at least in passing all those who had ultimately left her in the lurch. She had parted from some companions with a light heart, while it had been more difficult with others. She gave a deep sigh.
“Are you all right, Mother?” asked Siegbert, her second eldest, who was seated to her left, instantly concerned. “You’ve hardly touched your food.”
“I’m fine.” Vera nodded and forced herself to give him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about me, my boy.”
Siegbert was always so attentive to her welfare and eager for her praise. Sometimes she couldn’t help feeling almost sorry for him. Vera turned her head for a brief glance at her eldest. Elard seemed distant, as he had so often lately, and was clearly not following the conversation around the table. Once again, he had not slept at home the night before. Vera had gotten wind of the rumor that he was having an affair with the talented Japanese painter who was currently being sponsored by the foundation. The woman was in her mid-twenties, almost forty years younger than Elard. But in contrast to plump, cheerful Siegbert, who had not had a hair left on his head by the time he was twenty-five, the years had been kind to Elard. At sixty-three, he almost looked better than ever. No wonder that women of any age kept flocking to him! He fancied himself a gentleman of the old school, eloquent, cultivated, and pleasantly laconic. It was unthinkable to imagine Elard in bathing trunks at the beach. Even in the heat of summer, he preferred to dress all in black, and this attractive combination of nonchalance and melancholy had for decades made him the object of desire for all female creatures in his vicinity. Herta, his wife, had resigned herself to it early on and had accepted without complaint that she would never be able to have a man like Elard all to herself. She had died a few years ago. But Vera knew that things looked quite different behind the handsome facade that her eldest son presented to the world. And for a while now, she had thought she could discern a change in him, an unease that she had never noticed in him before.
She toyed absently with the string of pearls she wore around her neck and let her gaze move on. To the left of Elard sat Jutta, her daughter. She was fifteen years younger than Siegbert, a latecomer and actually not planned. Ambitious and determined as she was, she reminded Vera of herself. After an apprenticeship at a bank, Jutta had studied economics and law, and twelve years ago, she had gone into politics. For the past eight years, she’d held a seat in the state parliament of Hesse, and had also become a party chairwoman. In all probability, she would run in the state elections next year as the top female candidate of her party. Her long-term plan was to win the position of prime minister for Hesse and enter national politics. Vera had no doubt that she would succeed. The Kaltensee name would help her chances considerably.
Yes, Vera could truly count herself lucky with her life and her family. Her three children had all made their way in the world. If only this matter with Thomas hadn’t surfaced. As far back as she could remember, Vera Kaltensee had acted prudently and played her cards right. She had kept her emotions under control and made important decisions with a cool head. Always. Until now. She hadn’t foreseen the consequences and had acted rashly out of anger, wounded pride, and panic. Vera reached for her glass and took a sip of water. A feeling of menace had pursued her ever since that day when she had severed all ties with Thomas Ritter; it hovered over her like a shadow that could not be chased away.
She had always succeeded in circumventing dangerous precipices in her life with farsightedness and courage. She had mastered crises, solved problems, and successfully averted attacks, but now she felt vulnerable and alone. All of a sudden, the huge responsibility for her life’s work, for the company and the family, no longer seemed to her a pleasure, but, rather, a burden that made it hard for her to breathe. Was it merely her age slowly closing in on her? How many years did she have left before her strength deserted her and control inevitably slipped away?
Her eyes swept over her guests, all those happy, carefree, smiling faces; she heard the buzz of voices, the clatter of silverware and plates as if from a great distance. Vera looked at Anita, her dear friend from her youth, who, unfortunately, could no longer go out except in a wheelchair. It was incredible how fragile the resolute Anita, so hungry for life, had become. To Vera, it seemed only yesterday that they had gone to dancing school together, and later to the League of German Girls, like almost all the girls had in the Third Reich. Now Anita sat huddled in her wheelchair like a delicate, pale ghost. Her once-shiny dark brown hair was now nothing but white down. Anita was one of the last of Vera’s friends and companions from her youth; most of them were already pushing up daisies. It was no fun getting old, deteriorating and watching her friends die off one after the other.
Gentle sunlight on the leaves, cooing doves. The lake as blue as the endless sky above the dark forests. The smell of summer, of freedom. Young faces excitedly following the regatta with sparkling eyes. The boys in their white sweaters shoot across the finish line first in their boat. They beam with pride, waving. Vera can see him. He has the tiller in his hand, he’s the captain. Her heart is pounding in her throat as he leaps with a lithe motion onto the quay wall. Here I am, she thinks, waving with both arms; look at me! At first, she thinks he’s smiling at her, so she calls out congratulations to him and holds out her arms. Her heart takes a leap; then he comes straight toward her, smiling, radiant. The disappointment pierces her like a knife when she realizes that his smile is not for her but for Vicky. Jealousy chokes her throat. He hugs the other girl, puts his arm around her shoulder, and vanishes with her into the crowd that is wildly cheering him and his crew. Vera notices the tears in her eyes, the bottomless emptiness inside of her. This insult, this rejection in front of everyone else, is more than she can bear. She turns away, quickens her step. Disappointment turns to fury, to hate. She balls her fists, running down the sandy path along the shore of the lake—she has to get away, away!
Shocked, Vera gave a start. Where did these thoughts suddenly come from, these unwanted memories? With an effort she sneaked a look at her wristwatch. She didn’t want to appear ungrateful, but all the commotion, the stuffy air, and the din of voices had made her feel quite dazed. She forced herself to bring her attention back to the here and now, the way she had done for sixty years. In her life, there had always been a “forward,” no nostalgic looking back at the past. For this reason, she had never let herself be used by any group of exiles or cultural association of citizens expelled from the eastern regions of the Reich after the war. The baroness of Zeydlitz-Lauenburg had vanished for good on the day of her wedding to Eugen Kaltensee. The former East Prussian she had once been never reappeared. And that was as it should be. That part of her life was over and done with.
Siegbert rapped on his glass with his knife, and the hum of conversation stopped; the children were sent to their places.
“What is it?” Vera asked her son in confusion.
“You wanted to make a brief speech before the main course, Mother,” he reminded her.
“Ah, yes.” Vera smiled apologetically, “I was just thinking about something else.”
She cleared her throat and got up from her chair. It had taken her a couple of hours to compose the speech, but now Vera put aside her notes.
“I’m happy that you all have come here to celebrate this day with me,” she said in a firm voice, looking around the room. “On a day like this, most people take a look back at their lives. But I would like to spare you the reminiscences of an old woman; you all know everything there is to know about me anyway.”
As expected, there was a brief surge of laughter. But before Vera could go on, the door opened. A man entered and stood discreetly at the back of the room. Without her glasses, Vera couldn’t tell who it was. To her dismay, she broke out in a cold sweat and her knees felt wobbly. Could that be Thomas? Did he really have the nerve to show up here today?
“Is something wrong, Mother?” asked Siegbert softly.
She shook her head emphatically and quickly reached for her glass. “It’s so lovely to have you all here with me today!” she said. At the same time, she racked her brain about what to do if that man really was Thomas. “Cheers!”
“Three cheers for Mama!” Jutta called out, raising her glass. “Happy birthday!”
They all raised their glasses and gave the guest of honor three cheers, while the man came over to stand next to Siegbert and cleared his throat. Her heart pounding, Vera turned her head. It was the manager of Schloss Bodenstein, not Thomas! She was relieved and disappointed simultaneously, and annoyed by the intensity of her emotions. The French doors of the great hall opened, and the waiters of the Schlosshotel marched in to serve the main course.
“Excuse me for disturbing you,” Vera heard the man say softly to her son. “I have a message for you.”
“Thank you.” Siegbert took the note and unfolded it. Vera saw the blood drain from his face.
“What is it?” she asked in alarm. “What does it say?”
Siegbert looked up.
“A message from Uncle Jossi’s housekeeper.” His voice was toneless. “I’m so sorry, Mother. Especially today. Uncle Jossi is dead.”
* * *
Chief Commissioner Dr. Heinrich Nierhoff was not content to summon Bodenstein to his office in order to emphasize his authority as usual. Instead, he went into the conference room of K-11, where Chief Detective Inspector Kai Ostermann and Detective Assistant Kathrin Fachinger were preparing for a hastily scheduled meeting. After Pia Kirchhoff had called everyone that morning, they canceled their plans for the weekend and came in to K-11. On the still-empty whiteboard in the big conference room, Fachinger had printed GOLDBERG in her neat handwriting, and next to it the mysterious number 11645.
“What’s up, Bodenstein?” asked Nierhoff. At first glance, the leader of the Regional Criminal Unit seemed unremarkable; a stocky man in his mid-fifties, graying at the temples, a small mustache, and bland facial features. But this first impression was deceptive. Nierhoff was extremely ambitious and possessed a sure political instinct. For months, rumors had been flying that sooner or later he would be exchanging his chief’s position in the Regional Criminal Unit for the county manager post in Darmstadt. Bodenstein invited his boss into his office and informed him tersely of the murder of David Goldberg. Nierhoff listened in silence and said nothing when Bodenstein was done. At the police station, it was well known that the chief commissioner loved the limelight and enjoyed holding press conferences in the grand manner. Ever since the media circus surrounding the suicide of Chief District Attorney Hardenbach two years before, no one of such prominence had been murdered in the Main-Taunus district. Bodenstein, who had actually expected that Nierhoff would be excited at the prospect of a storm of clicking digital cameras, was a bit surprised by his boss’s restrained reaction.
“This could turn into a tricky situation.” The noncommittal amiable expression that Commissioner Nierhoff normally wore had vanished, and the crafty tactician now came to the fore. “An American citizen of the Jewish faith and a survivor of the Holocaust executed with a shot to the back of the head. For the time being, we should keep the press and the public out of it.”
Bodenstein nodded in agreement.
“I expect you to conduct the investigation with the utmost tact. No screwups,” he said, to Bodenstein’s annoyance. Since K-11 had been moved to Hofheim, Bodenstein couldn’t recall a single investigative screwup on his watch.
“What about the housekeeper?” Nierhoff asked.
“What about her?” Bodenstein didn’t quite understand. “She found the body this morning and was still in shock.”
“Maybe she has something to do with it. Goldberg was quite wealthy.”
Bodenstein’s anger grew. “For a registered nurse, there are probably less obvious opportunities than shooting someone in the back of the head,” he noted with light sarcasm. Nierhoff had been concentrating on his career for the past twenty-five years and hadn’t taken part in an actual investigation that whole time. Yet he still felt obliged to offer his opinion. His eyes darted here and there as he pondered and weighed the pros and cons that might emerge from this case.
“Goldberg was a very prominent man,” he said at last in a low voice. “We’ll have to proceed with the utmost caution. Send your people home, and make sure there are no leaks.”
Bodenstein didn’t quite know what to make of this strategy. In an investigation, the first seventy-two hours were crucial. Evidence grows cold very fast, and witnesses’ memories grow fainter the more time passes. But of course Nierhoff was afraid of precisely what Dr. Kirchhoff had prophesied this morning: negative publicity for his office and an abundance of diplomatic red tape. Politically, it might be a sensible decision, but Bodenstein didn’t see it that way. He was an investigator; he wanted to find the murderer and arrest him. An old man advanced in years, who had experienced abominable things in Germany, had been murdered in cold blood in his own house. It went completely against Bodenstein’s perception of good police work to waste valuable time for tactical reasons. Secretly, he was angry that he had even bothered to include Nierhoff. At any rate, Nierhoff knew the head of his department better than Bodenstein imagined.
“Don’t even think about it, Bodenstein.” Nierhoff’s voice sounded like a warning. “High-handed behavior could have a very unfavorable influence on your career. You probably don’t want to spend the rest of your life in Hofheim running after murderers and bank robbers.”
“Why not? That’s the reason I became a policeman in the first place,” said Bodenstein, irritated by Nierhoff’s implied threat and the almost contemptuous dismissal of his work.
With his next words, the chief commissioner made matters worse, even if they were meant to be conciliatory. “A man with your experience and your talents should assume responsibility and hold a leading position, Bodenstein, even if it’s uncomfortable. Because that’s precisely what it is, I can tell you that.”
Bodenstein was trying hard to keep his composure. “In my opinion, the best people belong in the field,” he said, his tone bordering on insubordination, “and not behind some desk, wasting their time on political squabbling.”
The commissioner raised his eyebrows and seemed to be pondering whether this remark was meant as an insult or not.
“Sometimes I ask myself whether it was a mistake for me to mention your name at the interior ministry with regard to deciding on my successor,” he said coolly. “It seems to me that you’re totally lacking in ambition.”
That left Bodenstein speechless for a couple of seconds, but he was able to exercise his iron self-control; he’d had plenty of practice concealing his emotions behind a neutral expression.
“Don’t make a mistake now, Bodenstein,” said Nierhoff, turning toward the door. “I hope we understand each other.”
Bodenstein forced himself to give a polite nod and waited until the door closed behind Nierhoff. Then he grabbed his cell phone, called Pia Kirchhoff, and sent her straight to the pathology lab in Frankfurt. He had no intention of canceling the autopsy that had already been approved, no matter how Nierhoff might react. Before he set off for Frankfurt himself, he stopped by the conference room. Ostermann, Fachinger, and the DIs who had showed up in the meantime, Frank Behnke and Andreas Hasse, all looked at him expectantly.
“You can all go home,” he said curtly. “I’ll see you on Monday. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”
Then he turned and left before any of his astonished colleagues could ask a question.
* * *
Robert Watkowiak finished his beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He had to take a piss, but he didn’t feel like walking past the rowdy idiots who’d been playing darts beside the door to the john for the past hour. Only the day before yesterday, those guys had stupidly harassed him, trying to start a fight over Robert’s regular seat at the bar. He glanced over at the dartboard. It wasn’t that he couldn’t deal with them; he just wasn’t in the mood for an argument.
“I’ll have another.” He shoved the empty glass across the sticky bar. It was 3:30. By now, they were all crowded together, dressed to the nines, guzzling champagne and acting as though they were overjoyed to be allowed to take part in celebrating the old snake’s birthday. What a bunch of phonies! Actually, none of them had much use for the others, but on such occasions they acted like one big happy family. Of course they hadn’t invited him. Even if they had, he wouldn’t have gone. In his daydreams, he’d smugly pictured throwing the invitation at her feet with scorn and sneering at her shocked and horrified face. It was only yesterday that he had realized they had denied him that satisfaction by not inviting him at all.
The bartender shoved a freshly tapped pilsner over to him and added another tick to his beer mat. Robert reached for the glass and noticed angrily that his hand was shaking. Shit! He didn’t give a fuck about the whole lot of them. They’d always treated him like dirt and made him feel that he didn’t really belong in their crowd because he was an unwanted bastard. They would whisper about him behind their hands, sending him meaningful looks and shaking their heads. What self-righteous, archconservative assholes! Robert, the loser. Had his driver’s license revoked again for drunk driving. The third time? No, the fourth time! Now he’ll probably get sent back to the joint. Serves him right. He had all the advantages in the world, that guy, and he never made anything of himself. Robert grabbed his glass and watched his knuckles turn white. That’s how his hands would look if he put them around her wrinkled chicken neck and squeezed till her eyes popped out of her head.
He took a big gulp of beer. The first one was always the best. The cold liquid ran down his esophagus, and he imagined it flowing with a hiss over those smoldering lumps of envy and bitterness inside him. Who was it that claimed hate was cold? A quarter to four. Damn it, he had to go to the john. He fished a cigarette out of the pack and lit it. Kurti would show up eventually. He had promised him last night. At least he’d been able to pay him back what he owed, after he leaned on Uncle Jossi a little. He was his godfather, after all, and that ought to count for something.
“One more?” the bartender asked in a businesslike tone. He nodded and looked in the mirror on the wall behind the bar. The sight of his slovenly appearance, the greasy hair falling to his shoulders, the glassy eyes, and the beard stubble threw him instantly into a rage. Ever since that fight with the asshole in the Frankfurt-Höchst train station, he was missing another tooth. It made him look like a thug. The next beer arrived. The sixth one today. He was gradually reaching operating temperature. Should he convince Kurti to drive him over to Schloss Bodenstein? Just the thought of how they would all stare when he sauntered in, climbed up on the table, and calmly emptied his bladder made him grin. He’d seen somebody do that in a movie once, and he thought it was cool.
“Could I borrow your cell for a minute?” he asked the bartender, noticing that he was having trouble speaking clearly.
“Use your own,” she replied pertly, pulling another beer without looking at him. But unfortunately, he no longer had it. What a bummer. It must have fallen out of his pocket somewhere.
“I lost it,” he slurred. “Don’t give me that look. Come on.”
“No way.” Then she moved past him and, carrying a full tray, went over to the guys at the dartboard. Looking in the mirror, he saw the door open. Kurti. Finally.
“Hey, man.” Kurti slapped him on the shoulder and sat down on the bar stool next to him.
“Order whatever you want; I’m buying,” said Robert magnanimously. The dough from Uncle Jossi would last for a couple of days; then he’d have to look around for a new source, and he already had a good idea. He hadn’t visited his dear Uncle Herrmann in quite a while. Maybe he should let Kurti in on his plans. Robert twisted his face into an evil smile. He was damn well going to get what he was entitled to.
* * *
In Henning Kirchhoff’s office, Bodenstein was searching through the contents of a carton that Pia had taken from Goldberg’s house and brought to the Institute of Forensic Medicine. The two used glasses and the wine bottle were already on their way to the lab, as well as the mirror, all the fingerprints, and everything else the evidence techs had collected. Meanwhile, downstairs in the basement of the institute, Dr. Kirchhoff was performing the autopsy on the body of David Josua Goldberg in the presence of Pia Kirchhoff and an assistant district attorney who looked like a second-year law student. Bodenstein scanned a few thank-you letters from various individuals and institutions that Goldberg had sponsored and supported financially. Then he glanced at several photos in silver frames and some newspaper articles that had been carefully clipped out and meticulously mounted. A taxi receipt from January, a worn little book in Hebrew. Not much. Apparently, Goldberg had kept the majority of his belongings elsewhere. Among all the things that must have had some meaning for their original owner, only an appointment diary was of any interest to Bodenstein. Goldberg exhibited amazingly clear penmanship for someone of his advanced age, with no shaky or wobbly letters. Bodenstein turned to the previous week, in which there were notes for each day. He was disappointed by what he found: nothing but names that were almost all abbreviated. Only on today’s date was a full name written: Vera 85.< Despite the meager results, Bodenstein took the appointment diary to the copier in the administrative office of the institute and began copying all the pages since January. Just as he reached the last week of Goldberg’s life, his cell phone buzzed.
“Boss.” Pia Kirchhoff’s voice sounded a little broken up because of the less than optimal reception in the basement of the institute. “You’ve got to come down here. Henning has discovered something strange.”
* * *
“I have no explanation for this. Absolutely none. But it’s quite clear. Utterly unequivocal,” said Dr. Henning Kirchhoff, shaking his head as Bodenstein stepped into the autopsy room. The ME had lost all his professional composure and cynicism. Even his assistant and Pia seemed stunned, and the assistant DA was nervously chewing on his lower lip.
“What did you find?” Bodenstein asked.
“Something unbelievable.” Kirchhoff motioned him closer to the table and handed him a magnifying glass. “I noticed something on the inside of his upper left arm, a tattoo. I could hardly see it because of the livor mortis on his arm. He was found lying on his left side.”
“Everybody who was in Auschwitz had a tattoo,” Bodenstein replied.
“But not one like this.” Kirchhoff pointed at Goldberg’s arm. Bodenstein closed one eye and examined the spot he was pointing to through the magnifying glass.
“It looks like … hmm … like two letters. Old Gothic letters. An … A and a B, if I’m not mistaken.”
“You’re right,” said Kirchhoff, taking the magnifying glass from him.
“What does it mean?” Bodenstein asked.
“I’ll resign if it turns out I’m wrong,” Kirchhoff replied. “It’s incredible, because Goldberg was a Jew.”
Bodenstein didn’t understand what was agitating the ME.
“Don’t keep me on tenterhooks,” he said impatiently. “What’s so extraordinary about a tattoo?”
Kirchhoff peered at Bodenstein over the tops of his half-moon glasses.
“This,” he said, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “is a blood-type tattoo, like the members of the Waffen-SS had. Twenty centimeters above the elbow on the inside of the upper left arm. Because this tattoo was a clear identifying mark, many former SS men tried to get rid of it after the war. This man did, too.”
He took a deep breath and began to circle the autopsy table.
“Normally,” Kirchhoff expounded, as if in a first-semester lecture in the auditorium, “tattoos are made by inserting a needle into the center layer of the skin, the dermis. In this case, the color has penetrated into the subcutis. Superficially, only a bluish scar was visible, but now, after the epidermis had been removed, the tattoo can again be seen clearly. Blood type AB.”
Bodenstein stared at Goldberg’s corpse, which lay with its chest opened on the dissection table. He hardly dared think what Kirchhoff’s incredible revelation might mean or what consequences it might have.
“If you didn’t know who this was on your table,” he said slowly, “what would you surmise?”
Kirchhoff stopped in his tracks.
“That the man in his younger days must have been a member of the SS. And probably from the very beginning. Later, the tattoos were done in roman letters, not in Old German script.”
“Couldn’t it be a matter of some other harmless tattoo that over the years somehow … hmm … changed?” Bodenstein asked, although he had no real faith in this theory. Kirchhoff almost never made a mistake; at least Bodenstein couldn’t remember a single occasion when the pathologist had had to revise his opinion.
“No. Especially not in this location.” Kirchhoff wasn’t offended by Bodenstein’s skepticism. He was just as aware of the implications of his discovery as everyone else present. “I’ve seen this sort of tattoo on the table before, once in South America and several times here in Germany. For me, there is no doubt.”
* * *
It was 5:30 when Pia opened the front door to her house and took off her muddy shoes on the enclosed porch. She had fed the horses and dogs in record time and was in a hurry to get into the bathroom to take a shower and wash her hair. Unlike her boss, she wasn’t upset about Nierhoff’s instructions not to start any investigations in the Goldberg case. She had been afraid that she might have to cancel her date with Christoph tonight, and that was the last thing she wanted to do. She had been separated from Henning for a year and a half now. The earnings from her stock portfolio had made it possible for her to buy the Birkenhof farm in Unterliederbach, and return to her profession in the criminal police. The icing on the cake was without a doubt Christoph Sander. They’d met ten months ago at a homicide scene at the Opel Zoo in Kronberg. The glance from his dark brown eyes had struck like a bolt of lightning. She was so used to finding a rational explanation for everything in her life that she was deeply confused by the attraction that this man had exerted on her at first sight. For the past eight months, she and Christoph had been … well, what were they? Lovers? Friends? A couple? He often spent the night with her. She went in and out of his house and got along well with his three grown daughters, but they hadn’t really shared much daily life yet. She still found it exciting just to look at him, be with him, and sleep with him.
Pia caught her reflection in the mirror, foolishly grinning. She turned on the shower and waited impatiently for the water to get warm. Christoph was mercurial and passionate in everything he did. Even though he was sometimes impatient and quick-tempered, he was never hurtful. Not like Henning, who was a real connoisseur when it came to poking around in open wounds. After sixteen years at the side of an introverted genius like Henning, who could effortlessly go for days without saying a word, who didn’t like pets, children, or spontaneity, Pia was constantly fascinated by Christoph’s straightforward nature. Since she’d gotten to know him, she had developed a whole new self-confidence. He loved her the way she was, even bleary-eyed and without makeup, in stable gear and rubber boots; he wasn’t bothered by a pimple or a couple of extra pounds on her ribs. And besides that, he possessed truly remarkable qualities as a lover, which, unbelievably enough, he had withheld from any other woman in the fifteen years since his wife had died. Pia still got palpitations when she recalled that evening in the deserted zoo, when he had confessed that he was attracted to her.
Tonight would be the first time she would be going out with him to a public function. There was going to be a gala reception at the Frankfurt Zoo as a benefit for the construction of the new ape house. All week long, Pia had been thinking about what to wear. The few clothes that had made the transition from her marriage to Henning into her new life were all size ten and, to her horror, no longer fit her properly. She had no desire to suck in her stomach all evening, full of anxiety that some seam or zipper might burst the next time she made a careless move. That’s why she’d squandered two evenings and a Saturday morning in the Main-Taunus shopping center and at the Zeil galleria in downtown Frankfurt looking for a suitable dress. But it was obvious that the stores were all geared to anorexic women. She had searched for a salesperson her own age who might have some sympathy for her problem areas, but to no avail: All the employees seemed to be exotic beauties who had hardly outgrown their teenage years and wore size double zero. They viewed with indifference or even pity her attempts to squeeze herself into various evening attire, sweating in cramped dressing rooms. She had found something at H&M, only to learn, to her chagrin, that she was in the maternity department. At last she’d had enough, and knowing that Christoph liked her the way she was, she’d decided on a little black dress in size fourteen. She’d rewarded herself for all the sweat-inducing fittings with a supersized meal at McDonald’s, including a McFlurry with M&M’s on top for dessert.
* * *
When Bodenstein got home that evening, he found that his family had gone out, and only the dog was there to give him an enthusiastic welcome. Had Cosima told him that she was going out? On the kitchen table he found a note. Discussion about New Guinea at the Merlin. Took Sophia along. See you later. Bodenstein sighed. In the past year, Cosima had had to give up a long-planned film expedition to the rain forests of New Guinea because of her pregnancy. He had secretly hoped that after Sophia was born she wouldn’t be interested in adventurous trips anymore, but obviously he’d been mistaken. He found cheese and an opened bottle of ’98 Château La Tour Blanche in the fridge. He made himself an open-faced sandwich, poured himself a glass of red wine, and went into his workroom, followed by his eternally hungry dog. Ostermann could probably have found the information he needed from the Internet ten times faster, but Bodenstein wanted to follow Nierhoff’s instructions and not involve any colleagues in his investigation of David Goldberg.
Bodenstein opened his laptop, inserted a CD by Sol Gabetta, the Argentine-French cellist, and sipped at his wine, which was still a little too cold. As he listened to the sounds of Tchaikovsky and Chopin, he clicked through dozens of Web sites, going through newspaper archives and jotting down anything worth knowing about the man who had been shot to death last night.
David Goldberg had been born in 1915 in Angerburg, in what was then East Prussia, the son of the grocery wholesaler Samuel Goldberg and his wife, Rebecca. He graduated from secondary school in 1933, and then all traces of him vanished until the year 1947. In a brief biography, it was mentioned that after the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, he had emigrated via Sweden and then England to the United States. In New York, he had married Sarah Weinstein, the daughter of a respected banker of German extraction.
But Goldberg had not joined the banking firm. Instead, he’d made his career with the American defense giant, Lockheed Martin. By 1959, he was already director of strategic planning. As a member of the board of the powerful National Rifle Association, he’d been one of the most important gun lobbyists in Washington, and several presidents had held him in high esteem as an adviser. Despite all the atrocities that his family had suffered under the Third Reich, he had always felt strong ties to Germany and cultivated numerous close contacts, especially in Frankfurt.
Bodenstein sighed and leaned back in his chair. Who could possibly have a reason for fatally shooting a ninety-two-year-old man?
He ruled out robbery as a motive. The housekeeper had not noticed anything missing, and besides, Goldberg had kept no really valuable items in his house. The surveillance system in the house was out of order, and the answering machine that had come with the telephone seemed never to have been used.
* * *
At the zoo reception, the usual Frankfurt mixture of the old moneyed aristocracy and the brash nouveau riche had assembled, interspersed with celebrities from television, sports, and the demimonde who had generously contributed to giving the apes a new roof over their heads. The superb caterers had made sure that nothing was lacking for the discriminating palates of the guests, and the champagne flowed in rivers. On Christoph’s arm, Pia made her way through the crowd. In her little black dress, she felt acceptably attired. She had also found a flat iron in one of the many moving boxes not yet unpacked and had used it to coax her unruly locks into a proper hairdo. Then she spent a good half hour on her makeup to create the effect that she wasn’t wearing any at all. Christoph, who knew her only in jeans and a ponytail, was deeply impressed.
“My God,” he’d said when she opened the front door. “Who are you? And what are you doing in Pia’s house?”
Then he took her in his arms and kissed her long and tenderly—while taking care not to ruin her look. As a single father of three teenage daughters, he was well schooled in how to deal with female creatures and made astonishingly few mistakes. For example, he knew what catastrophic effect a single offhand remark about a girl’s figure, hairdo, or clothing could have; very wisely, he refrained from commenting. His compliments tonight were not tactical, but sincere. Pia felt more attractive under his appreciative gaze than any of those skinny twenty-year-olds.
“I hardly know anyone here,” Christoph whispered to her. “Who are all these people? What do they have to do with the zoo?”
“This is Frankfurt high society, and those who think they need to belong to it,” Pia explained. “In any case, they’re going to leave a pile of money here, and that’s no doubt the whole point and purpose of the function. Over there by the table in the corner are some of the truly rich and powerful of the city.”
As if on cue, at that instant one of the women at the table craned her neck and waved at Pia. She had to be forty, and with her tiny figure she could effortlessly find a suitable dress in any boutique in town. Pia gave her a friendly smile and waved back. Then she took a closer look.
“I’m impressed.” Christoph grinned in amusement. “The rich and powerful know you. Who’s that?”
“I don’t believe it.” Pia let go of Christoph’s arm. The petite dark-haired woman made her way through the crowd and stopped in front of them.
“Püppi!” the woman cried, and threw her arms wide, grinning.
“Frosch! Is that really you? What are you doing in Frankfurt?” Pia asked, then she gave the woman a big hug. Many years ago, Miriam Horowitz had been Pia’s best friend. Together they had lived through some wild and fun times, but then they’d lost touch.
“Nobody’s called me Frosch in years,” the woman said with a laugh. “Man, is this ever a surprise!”
The two women looked each other up and down, curious and overjoyed. Pia could see that her friend had hardly changed—except for a few wrinkles here and there.
“Christoph, this is Miriam, my best friend from school,” said Pia, remembering her manners. “Miri, this is Christoph Sander.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Miriam extended her hand to him and smiled. They chatted for a while; then Christoph left the two alone and went to join some of his colleagues.
* * *
When Elard Kaltensee woke up, he felt completely bewildered, and it took him a few seconds to figure out where he was. He hated falling asleep in the afternoon; it threw off his biorhythms, but it was the only chance he had to catch up on his sleep. His throat hurt, and he had a terrible taste in his mouth. For years, he’d rarely had any dreams, and when he did, he couldn’t remember them. But a while back he’d started having ghastly, oppressive nightmares that he could avoid only by taking sleeping pills. His daily dose of lorazepam was now up to two milligrams, and if he forgot to take the pills even once, then the nightmares descended on him—vague, inexplicable memories of fear, of voices and bloodcurdling laughter, which left him bathed in sweat and jolted him awake, his heart racing. Sometimes the nightmares would cast a shadow over the whole next day. Dazed, Elard sat down and massaged his throbbing temples. Maybe everything would get better when he could finally go back to his daily agenda. He was relieved that with the family celebration the last of the countless official, semiofficial, and private festivities in honor of his mother’s eighty-fifth birthday were finally over. Naturally, the rest of the family had expected that he would take care of everything, simply because he, too, lived at Mühlenhof, and in their eyes he had little else to do. Only now did it dawn on him what had happened. The news of Goldberg’s death had put an abrupt end to the celebration at Schloss Bodenstein.
Elard Kaltensee smiled bitterly and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Goldberg had enjoyed a remarkable ninety-two summers, the old son of a bitch. No one could claim that he’d been yanked out of the middle of his life. Elard tottered into the bathroom, undressed, and stepped in front of the mirror. He gave himself a critical look. Even at sixty-three, he was in pretty good shape. No potbelly, no spare tire, no baggy turkey neck. He let the tub fill up, tossed in a handful of bath salts, and lowered himself with a sigh into the fragrant hot water. Goldberg’s death didn’t shock him; actually, he was glad that it had brought the celebration to an early conclusion. He had immediately complied with his mother’s request to drive her home. When Siegbert and Jutta had shown up only seconds later at Mühlenhof, he had taken the opportunity to withdraw discreetly. He badly needed some peace and quiet so he could contemplate the events of the past day.
Elard Kaltensee closed his eyes and rewound his thoughts back to last night, seeing with a pounding heart the sequence of the events that were equally rousing and frightening unfold before his inner eye like a clip from a video. Over and over again. How could things have gone so far? All his life, he’d had to wrestle with difficulties of both a private and professional nature, but this seriously threatened to derail him. He was filled with concern because he simply didn’t understand what was going on inside him. He was losing control, and there was nobody he could talk to about his dilemma. How was he supposed to live with this secret? What would his mother, his sons, his daughters-in-law say if it ever came out? The door flew open. Elard gave a start in alarm and covered his nakedness with both hands.
“Good Lord, Mother,” he said angrily. “Can’t you ever knock?”
Then he noticed Vera’s devastated expression.
“Jossi didn’t just die,” she gasped, sinking down on the bench next to the bathtub. “He was shot!”
“Oh no. I’m so sorry.” Elard couldn’t come up with anything but this hackneyed phrase. Vera stared at him for a moment.
“How heartless you are,” she whispered in a trembling voice. Then she buried her face in her hands and began to sob quietly.
* * *
“Come on, we have to drink a toast to finding each other again!” Miriam pulled Pia toward the bar and ordered two glasses of champagne.
“Since when are you back in Frankfurt?” Pia asked. “The last I heard, you were living in Warsaw. That’s what your mother told me a couple of years ago when I ran into her.”
“Paris, Oxford, Warsaw, Washington, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Frankfurt,” Miriam rattled off with a laugh. “In every city, I met the love of my life and left him again. I guess I’m just not suited for a steady relationship. But tell me about yourself. What are you doing, anyway? Job, husband, kids?”
“After three semesters of studying law, I joined the police force,” said Pia.
“You’re kidding!” Miriam’s eyes widened. “How come?”
Pia hesitated. She still found it hard to talk about, even if Christoph thought it was the only way to work through the trauma she’d endured. For almost twenty years, she hadn’t told anyone about the worst experience of her life, not even Henning. She didn’t want to keep being reminded of her weakness or fear. But Miriam was more capable of empathy than Pia had thought, and all at once she turned serious. “What happened?”
“It was the summer after I graduated,” Pia said. “I met a man in France. He was nice. It was a summer flirtation. We had fun. After vacation, it was over for me, but, unfortunately, not for him. He started following me, terrorizing me with letters and phone calls. He stalked me everywhere. And then he broke into my apartment and raped me.”
Her voice was calm, but Miriam seemed to sense how much it cost Pia to talk about the matter so calmly and with apparent nonchalance.
“Oh my God,” she said softly, taking Pia’s hand. “That’s just horrible.”
“Yes, it was.” Pia gave a wry smile. “Somehow I must have thought that as a police officer I wouldn’t be so vulnerable. Now I’m in the Kripo, the criminal police, in the homicide division.”
“So what else have you done to deal with it?” Miriam asked.
Pia understood what she meant. “Nothing.” She shrugged. Now that she’d begun talking, it seemed surprisingly easy to tell Miriam about the chapter in her life that had previously been taboo. “I never even told my husband. Somehow I thought I’d get over it soon enough.”
“And that didn’t happen.…”
“Oh yes, it did. For a while, I did pretty well. But then last year, the whole thing finally caught up with me.”
She gave Miriam the short version of the two murder cases from the previous summer, and the investigations, during which she had met Christoph and confronted her past.
“Christoph wants to persuade me to sponsor a self-help group for rape victims,” she said after a pause. “But I don’t really know if I should.”
“Of course you should! No question,” Miriam insisted. “A trauma like that could destroy a woman’s whole life. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. When I worked in Wiesbaden at the Fritz Bauer Institute and the Center Against Expulsions, I heard about the terrible fates of women in the eastern provinces after World War Two. The things these women lived through were unspeakable. And most of them never talked about what happened to them. It destroyed them emotionally.”
Pia was watching her friend attentively. Miriam had changed a lot. There was no trace of the carefree, superficial girl from a privileged family. Twenty years was a long time.
“What sort of institute is it that you work for?” she inquired.
“It’s a center for studying and documenting the history and effect of the Holocaust, connected to the university,” Miriam explained. “I give lectures there, organize exhibitions, and so on. Pretty crazy, don’t you think? Earlier, I always thought I’d own a disco or compete in show jumping.” Miriam giggled. “Can you imagine how shocked our teachers would be if they knew we’d both turned out to be so respectable?”
“Especially since they always prophesied that someday we’d both wind up in the gutter, at the very least,” Pia said with a grin. She ordered two more glasses of champagne.
“What’s the deal with Christoph?” Miriam asked. “Is it serious?”
“I think so,” replied Pia.
“He must really be in love.” Miriam winked at her and leaned forward. “He can’t take his eyes off you.”
Pia instantly felt the butterflies in her stomach again. The champagne arrived, and they clinked glasses one more time. Pia told her about Birkenhof and her animals.
“Where are you living now?” she inquired. “Here in Frankfurt?”
Miriam nodded. “Yes. In my grandmother’s house.”
For someone who didn’t know Miriam’s family background, that would not have sounded impressive, but Pia knew better. Miriam’s grandmother Charlotte Horowitz was the grande dame of the cream of Frankfurt society. Her “house” was a magnificent old villa on a gigantic estate in the Holzhausen district, which brought tears of avarice to the eyes of every real estate speculator. A thought suddenly occurred to Pia.
“Tell me, Miri,” she said to her friend, “does the name David Josua Goldberg mean anything to you?”
Miriam gave her a puzzled look.
“Of course it does,” she said. “Jossi Goldberg is one of Oma’s oldest friends. His family has supported projects in the Jewish community in Frankfurt for decades. Why do you ask?”
“Just because,” Pia said evasively as she saw the curiosity in her friend’s eyes. “At the moment, I can’t say any more.”
“Something like that. I’m sorry.”
“No biggie.” Miriam raised her glass again and smiled. “To our reunion after such a long time. I’m so happy!”
“Me, too.” Pia grinned. “If you want, come and visit me. We could go for a ride, the way we used to.”
Christoph came over to them at the cocktail table. The nonchalance with which he put his arm around Pia’s waist made her heart leap with joy. Henning had never done anything like that. He regarded tender touches in public as a “tasteless display of a primitive pride of ownership” and awkwardly avoided them. Pia didn’t share his opinion. The three of them drank another round of champagne, and then another. Pia told the story of her outing to the maternity-wear department at H&M, and they laughed so hard, they cried. It was half past midnight before she knew it, and Pia said she hadn’t had such a relaxing and fun time in ages. Henning would have wanted to go home by ten o’clock, or else return to the institute. Or he would have become engrossed in some important conversation in a corner of the room, having automatically excluded her. This time, it was different. In Pia’s secret rating system, Christoph had scored ten out of ten in the category of “going out.”
They were still laughing when they left the zoo reception hall and made their way back to the car, walking hand in hand. Pia knew that she couldn’t be happier than she was at that moment.
* * *
Bodenstein gave a start when Cosima appeared in the doorway to his workroom.
“Hi,” he said. “So, how did your discussion go?”
Cosima came closer and bent down. “Extremely constructive.” She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “Don’t worry, I don’t personally intend to go climbing through the jungle. But I did manage to land Wilfried Dechent as expedition leader.”
“I’ve been asking myself whether you planned to take Sophia along or whether I had to apply for a leave of absence,” he said, concealing his relief. “What time is it anyway?”
“Twelve-thirty.” She leaned forward and looked at the screen of his laptop. “What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for information on the man who was shot.”
“And?” she asked. “Did you find anything?”
“Not a lot.” Oliver gave her a brief rundown of what he’d found out about Goldberg. He liked talking to Cosima. She had a sharp mind and enough distance from his cases to help him make the leaps when he could no longer see the forest for the trees during prolonged investigations. When he told her about the result of the autopsy, her eyes opened wide in astonishment.”
“I don’t believe it,” she said emphatically. “That could never, ever be true.”
“I saw it with my own eyes,” he replied. “And Kirchhoff has never been wrong. At first sight, there was nothing to indicate that Goldberg might have had a sinister past. But in over sixty years, he could have hushed up a lot of things. His appointment book told me nothing, a few first names and abbreviations, that’s it. But under today’s date, there was a name and a number.”
He yawned and rubbed the back of his neck. “Vera and the number eighty-five. Sounds like some sort of password. My Hotmail password, for instance, is Cosi—”
“Vera eight-five?” Cosima interrupted him and straightened up. “This morning, something dawned on me when you mentioned Goldberg’s name.” She tapped the side of her nose and frowned.
“Oh yeah? What was it?”
“Vera. Vera Kaltensee. Today she celebrated her eighty-fifth birthday at Quentin and Marie-Louise’s place. Rosalie told me about it. Even my mother was invited.”
Oliver felt his fatigue abruptly vanish. Vera 85. Vera Kaltensee, eighty-fifth birthday. So that was the explanation for the cryptic note in the dead man’s diary. Naturally, he knew who Vera Kaltensee was. She had received numerous honors and awards for her philanthropic efforts, but also for her magnanimous social and cultural involvement. But what did this woman of irreproachable reputation have to do with a former SS officer? If connected to this man, her name would lend even greater shock value to the case, which was something that Bodenstein would have preferred to avoid.
“Kirchhoff must have made a mistake,” Cosima said straight out. “Vera would never in her life be friends with a former Nazi, especially since she lost everything because of the Nazis: her family, her homeland, the castle in East Prussia…”
“Maybe she didn’t know,” Oliver responded. “Goldberg had built up the perfect cover story. If someone hadn’t shot him, and if he hadn’t landed on Kirchhoff’s autopsy table, he would have taken his secret to the grave.”
Cosima was chewing pensively on her lower lip. “My God, this is really awful!”
“Above all, it’s really awful for my career, as Nierhoff let me know today in no uncertain terms,” said Oliver with a hint of sarcasm.
“What do you mean?”
He repeated what Nierhoff had said in his office.
Cosima raised her eyebrows in astonishment. “I had no idea that he wanted to leave Hofheim.”
“He does, and there’ve been a lot of rumors going around the station about it.” Oliver turned off the desk lamp. “Nierhoff is probably afraid of diplomatic complications. With a case like this, he isn’t going to win any kudos, and he knows it.”
“But he can’t just prohibit the investigations. That’s obstruction of justice!”
“No, it’s not,” Oliver said, putting his arm around Cosima’s shoulder. “It’s just politics. But the hell with it. Let’s go to bed; tomorrow’s another day. Maybe our little princess will let us get some sleep.”
Copyright © 2015 Nele Neuhaus.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Nele Neuhaus is one of the most widely read German mystery writers and the author of Snow White Must Die and Bad Wolf. More than four million copies of her books are currently in print. She lives near Frankfurt, Germany.