Authors: Gabi Kreslehner
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Thrillers, #Suspense
Franza frowned. “Blood? How is that mysterious? That’s what you expect in a car accident.”
“True,” Felix said, “next to the body and around it. But not a hundred yards away in a rest area.”
“Oh,” Franza said, thinking it over for a moment. “But it’s been raining for hours. Everything would have washed away.”
“Right again,” Felix said, “but not underneath a shelter.” He paused and grinned. “Water usually comes from above, not below.”
She was grinning, too. “We’re onto something,” she said.
Almost all of their work was in the field. Their jobs were hard. There were more and more dead bodies: the man who shot his wife and child, the junkie in the dumpster full of slaughtered pigs. The girl on the autobahn.
Ben saw Marie on the side of the road, noticed her nice tits. He zoomed past at a hundred miles an hour, the road a blur.
They had covered her with a tarp to protect her from the rain and the prying eyes of passing drivers, who were slowly being directed past the accident scene.
She was so young, too young to die, and she had a tenderness about her—the tenderness of the dead who were still between worlds, neither here nor there. The newly dead were still able to communicate what Franza needed to know to tell their stories. If she didn’t listen, who would?
In two days’ time the girl would be completely transformed: anything still linking her to this world would fall away, and she would be as clear and straight as never before, and truly gone. By then, everything in the girl’s life would have passed on to Franza.
Felix didn’t understand, he thought her introspection was a waste of time. But he always let her have those moments, left her the time to ask what had happened, even if the dead weren’t answering yet. They just lay there, twisted or straight, dirty or clean, but always taken by death, always silent.
“Prepare yourself,” Felix had said, “she’s young.”
But she was never sufficiently prepared. Franza shook her head, no, never enough, and she held back a sob.
I can’t do it anymore,
I can’t do it anymore. I’m too old. I need a different job.
That was what she always thought before examining a body, before looking into its eyes and receiving its messages—and then she stayed, and investigated, and solved. It was like an addiction. Or a mission.
The girl was lying on a grassy strip alongside the road, small and skinny, a little bird fallen from the sky—and from life.
Rain had soaked her face, filled her still-open eyes—hazel eyes. They seemed to be staring into an endless space, understanding something that no one still living could know.
Her hair was a tangled mess of blood, rain, and dirt—impossible to tell the color, dark brown maybe, bordering on black. A strand lay across her face, dividing it into two halves. Franza kneeled next to the girl and carefully brushed the strand of hair to one side, putting the halves back together.
Rest, my darling.
She paused for a moment, looking down into the girl’s open eyes before closing them.
Finally she got up and took a step back. The girl had no shoes on, no stockings, and her dress was pushed up on her thighs. It must have been a party dress, with its spangles and strings of pearls on silver fabric. It was like a precious gem that was no longer sparkling, smashed and soaked with blood and dirt—like its wearer.
“We don’t have a name,” Felix said. He had approached quietly and for the last few moments had been standing next to Franza. “She had no ID on her, no bag, no backpack, no cell phone—nothing.”
“She’s not much older than Ben,” Franza said.
“I know,” Felix said.
The sky was a muted blue, a halfhearted melody. The rain had ceased.
Marie on the side of the road, tits like honeydew melons.
“Hey, Ben!” she said, after he had turned around and pulled up beside her. “Can I get a ride?”
When Marie laughed with her mouth wide open, you could see a tiny moon, sparkling jewelry against her white teeth.
She asked whose car it was. “It’s my dad’s second car,” he said. “But I can use it when he doesn’t need it. And he pretty much never does since he has another.” He grinned.
“Great!” she said. “That opens up the possibilities.”
He shot her a sideways glance and struggled to keep the car on the road. “You think?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, “I think.”
She turned away and looked out the window, smiling faintly, tapping her foot to the beat of the song that filled the car, leaving no room for anything else.
“Let’s run away,” she said finally, but too softly for him to hear. He turned the music down.
“Run away!” she repeated. “Let’s just take off! Anywhere. Somewhere where no one knows us, where we’re strangers.”
He was startled. He didn’t like the idea at all, but didn’t want to let it show—he liked her, and he wanted her to like him. So he just shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Are you serious?”
She turned to face him, still tapping to the beat. Her eyes were shining like freshly polished apples. “I want to take a bite out of you,” she said. “I think you’re sweet.”
Her hand brushed down his arm to his knee, and he felt shivers running down his spine. His pants tightened. He pulled over to the side of the road.
Marie chuckled quietly. “Yes,” she said, “very sweet indeed.”
Then she kissed him. On the ear. It went BANG. She kissed him in the hollow just above his collarbone. Light as a breath of air.
“You are . . .” he whispered breathlessly, “I don’t know.”
She laughed quietly and he stopped talking. The tip of her tongue gently circled his eye. He was trembling. Just a little, but still.
“Tell me what happened,” Franza said, trying to engage the man. He looked terrible—tired and pale, his tie loosened, and brown stains on his otherwise immaculate shirt.
An hour earlier when he was getting tired of waiting around a policeman had given him a cup of coffee from a thermos. It had been so hot he’d burned his lips and then spilled it, ruining his shirt.
Now this woman was standing in front of him, a homicide detective, and he couldn’t understand why he had to repeat everything all over again, and why everything was taking so long.
It’s just typical,
he thought angrily,
government workers! Regular salary, regular hours, all the comforts!
He longed for his office, for his secretary, even for his wife—simply for something from his normal life.
It had taken forever for this detective lady—Franza Oberwieser, if he’d gotten the name right—and her partner to show up. What a strange name. They didn’t even bother apologizing for keeping him waiting. Typical cops, did as they pleased and he had to pay for it.
“Listen,” he said, his anger rising. “I’ve told this to you guys a million times now.”
She gave him an understanding smile. “Yes,” she said, “Herr Bohrmann, I know. But please tell me again anyway.”
He took a deep breath. “All right,” he sighed. “All right. I was on my way home, not really thinking of anything, listening to music, and then all of a sudden she was just there. Out of nowhere. Right in front of me, in less than a second—like a ghost. Believe me, there was nothing I could do. She just ran right out in front of my car. Just like that. Smack.”
He fell silent, pain showing in his face. Franza prompted him. “And then? What happened then?”
He lifted his head and looked at her, pulling himself together.
“Then?” he asked quietly. “Nothing. I saw her eyes, just briefly. Almost not at all. It was raining. And she screamed, I think.”
He fell silent again and looked down at his shoes.
“Where did she come from?” Franza asked.
He shrugged and pointed in various directions. “I don’t know. From . . . somewhere. Maybe from somewhere back there. I think it might have been the rest area. Yes, that’s right, the rest area. Where else could she have come from? From the fields? At night? I don’t know.”
Franza nodded. “Did you notice anything else?”
He shook his head. She could see he was confused and tired, but she kept asking questions anyway. She had to. First impressions were crucial.
“Is it possible she was being followed? Did you see anyone?”
“What? Followed? No idea!” He was startled, beginning to shake. “No! How should I know?”
“Calm down,” Franza said. “Herr Bohrmann, just calm down. We’re almost finished. Tell me if you saw anyone following her.”
“No,” he said, getting control of his voice and becoming calmer. “I didn’t see anyone. Except for the man who called the police and ambulance and all that.”
He pointed to the middle-aged man who was waving his hands around excitedly while being questioned by Felix. Franza glanced at the man and nodded.
“Listen,” Bohrmann said, “are we finished yet? I’m dead tired and I’ve got work to do. My wife will be worried.”
“Almost,” the detective assured him. “Soon. One of my colleagues will take you home. Haven’t you spoken to your wife yet?”
At that Bohrmann became suddenly nervous again. Franza raised her eyebrows with surprise and smiled to herself. It was always the same.
“Listen, I . . .” he stammered, “I haven’t had a chance yet.”
He swallowed, his anger rising again. “That’s personal! It’s none of your business!”
“Oh!” Franza said softly. “In this type of situation, everything is our business. You ran over a person, remember?” She wasn’t surprised at the nasty tone in her voice, and thought briefly of Port.
He looked down at the ground, chewing on his lips.
“All right, then, let’s forget about your wife. Back to you. Where were you coming from? What were you doing on the autobahn in the middle of the night?
He didn’t answer, just folded his arms on his chest and stared past her with hostility.
She sensed his despair.
but I can’t do anything about it. You’ve fallen into my clutches now
He sighed, and it sounded like a sob. “All right,” he said. “Shit. I was at . . . my girlfriend’s, twenty miles south of here. As you can imagine, my wife doesn’t know anything about it.”
Franza whistled softly through her teeth. It really was always the same. “What did you tell your wife?”
He swallowed. “Weekend meeting in Hamburg. We just wanted a few days to ourselves for once, not just two or three hours like usual.”
“Well,” Franza said, “that really is tough luck. You’ll have a few things to figure out.”
The floodgates were now open, and he wanted to talk. He took Franza’s hand, but she pulled it away.
“Listen, you’ve got to help me. She thinks I’m coming from Munich, from the airport. She’s waiting at home. I was supposed to be back two hours ago.”
Franza looked at him in disbelief. “Two hours ago? And you haven’t called her yet? You just let her wait? She’ll be worried! She’s probably made a few phone calls and found out you weren’t even on that plane!”
“She already tried calling me several times.”
“I didn’t pick up.” He looked at her helplessly. “What am I supposed to say?”
She shook her head and gave a little laugh. “You’re asking me? How should I know? You should’ve thought of that before.”
He became angry again. “How could I know this was going to happen? Shit like this only happens on TV!”
“You think?” Franza asked and thought of Port and his bizarre plan to sleep with the director of the next play to get the lead role.
usually happened only on TV.
“Tell her the truth,” she said, and turned to leave.
He panicked, realizing that his world was collapsing. “I can’t do that!” he said. “I just can’t.”
“The truth is always the best way out,” she said, knowing it was complete bullshit.
She nodded to him and started to walk off, but then she turned around one more time. “You can leave now, by the way. My colleagues will take care of you. But keep yourself available in case we need you again.”
He looked at her with drooping shoulders, lost for words. But then lifted his head high once more to have the last word. “Stupid bitch!” he yelled. “You can take the ‘truth’ and shove it!”
She didn’t bother turning around. One of the officers would take care of him. Poor bastard. Wrong place, wrong time.
As she slowly made her way back to Felix, she thought of Port and the director of the play, whom she’d seen in a photo, and of Max and how he had become suspicious and thought it was Felix. Then the girl came back to her mind, her hazel eyes.
How the downy tufts of the dandelion seeds used to float through the air when they were children! Released in one puff, their white seeds rose, quivering and light, dancing into the sky. Marie squinted and sneezed again and again because she had looked into the sun for too long.
“You must have been crazy as a child,” Ben said, holding a lavender stalk under her nose. It smelled wonderful, which didn’t surprise her, and she knocked it out of his hand, stood up, and ascended to her heavenly kingdom.
What a weird dream, Ben thought in his dream. He felt his full bladder and woke up.
“So,” Felix said, “what have we got so far?”
They were looking around the rest area about a hundred yards from the accident scene. The coroner, Dr. Borger, and the forensic team had finished their preliminary examination and were on their way back to the city. The girl had been placed gently into a gray metal coffin and taken away. Noon was approaching, and Franza was getting hungry.
The detectives were standing in front of a long wooden table with a bench on either side. There was a canopy overhead covered with shingles like an ordinary roof. On two sides it reached almost to the ground, offering protection from the weather. Beyond the table and benches but still underneath the roof, was a pile of large, jagged stones partially covered with moss. Ferns and low rosebushes covered with blossoms grew alongside.