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Authors: Max Landorff

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Tretjak

BOOK: Tretjak
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TRETJAK

MAX LANDORFF

translated by

Baida Dar

 

 

 

 

Originally published as:
Der Regler
by Max Landorff

© S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2011

 

First published in English in the United Kingdom in 2013 by

HAUS PUBLISHING LTD

70 Cadogan Place, London SW1X 9AH

www.hauspublishing.com

 

English translation copyright © Baida Dar 2013

 

ebook ISBN 978-1-908323-35-4

 

A CIP catalogue for this book is available from the British Library

 

All rights reserved.

Prologue

He looked across the smooth, lead-grey surface of the lake and watched the ship come towards him, bow first. The invisible line along which she had been approaching for the past few minutes stood exactly perpendicular to the bench he was sitting on. It was a Wednesday in October, the first Wednesday in October to be precise, and it was a quarter past six in the evening. Apart from him and the employees of the ferry line, nobody was awaiting the arrival of the ship, which was called
Alpino
and which criss-crossed the Lago Maggiore on a regular schedule year-in year-out. In the summer, sometimes she was so packed with tourists and lay so low in the water that it looked like a refugee boat, pounding the water heavily. In this season, however, she appeared to be fast and elegant, and one could make out her white colour, white with dark blue lines at the side and around the doors and windows.

At the pier, two round signs indicated the arrival times of the next two ferries, one from Cannobio and the other from Luino: they looked like big white clocks with red arms on the dials, which were moved by the ferrymen – both showed these ferries were due at five past six. The sun had already set behind the mountains and the lake lay in shadow. The bow of the
Alpino
had appeared from the mist which had descended onto the water's surface. The ferry was late.

In the last few days, the weather had changed. The warm autumn had become a harbinger of winter. Up on the mountains the first snow had fallen, and down below freezing cold water flowed into the lake. Gabriel Tretjak wore a black cashmere coat and a dark grey scarf. He stood up, walked a few steps along the pier and stood next to the signs, his hands in his pockets. He was not wearing gloves, but the metallic surface of the gun in his right pocket felt warm.

In his line of business one could not avoid occasionally threatening people, and he had got himself into some quite dangerous situations. On principle, however, he did not use any weapons. Never. He did not even own one. However, this was something else. Never in his life had he been so afraid of anything as he was of the events which were about to unfold in the next few minutes on this pier.

The
Alpino
swung around and moored alongside the pier. An aluminium landing bridge was put across to let the passengers come ashore. There were only three of them. The first one was a tall man, who was holding a young boy with one hand and the child's yellow bicycle with the other. Then she came ashore. She was smaller than he remembered, somehow more fragile. The brown woollen coat, which she had wrapped around her, seemed a tad too big, the cap made her face look gaunt.

When she reached him she put down her bag on the wooden planks, looked up at him and asked in an almost embarrassed way: ‘Did you wait long?'

He nodded. ‘Twenty years.'

She threw him a strange glance. He picked up her bag from the ground and headed into town. She walked beside him.

‘There is only this one hotel in town,' she said and pointed at the cream-coloured building ahead. ‘What is it like?'

‘Not up to your usual standard,' he replied, ‘but alright.'

By the time the
Alpino
set off again, to cross the lake in the direction of Cannobio, they had reached the entrance to the hotel. In golden letters it said
Torre Imperial
on the glass door. And below were painted three stars.

PART 1

THE DECEPTION

 

First Day

11 May

Galle, Sri Lanka, 7.30pm

Gabriel Tretjak was sitting in a deep English armchair watching the waiter fixing him a G&T. The steward was dressed properly: black trousers, black jacket and a neatly buttoned white shirt. He was quite old and something about him – maybe his nose, slightly squashed and pushed upwards – reminded Tretjak of the rhinoceros he had observed in the Hellabrunn Zoo. The director of the zoo had been blackmailed by one of the keepers and had hired Tretjak to put an end to the unfortunate business, which concerned the administration of illegal drugs to exotic animals. Tretjak had waited next to the rhinoceros enclosure where the keeper was on duty that day. He loved rituals, so they kept on meeting in the same place from then on, until everything was settled. That is how Tretjak had learnt such a lot about the rhinoceros. They were quite touchy about even the slightest alteration of their environment: they immediately became suspicious and their actions became unpredictable. They had this in common with practically all animals: change spells danger. Gabriel Tretjak knew that it was no different for human beings. With humans, change brought about alertness, something he had often been able to use to his advantage. But compared to the rhinoceros, for human beings the transformation had to be on a larger scale. If only details were altered, if there were only small digressions from business-as-usual, human beings remained docile, good-natured, almost naïve. They misinterpreted and dismissed these details, and only understood their true significance later. Sometimes there were only a few minutes between misinterpretation and the realisation that something was wrong; at other times, decades lay between these two points.

The waiter asked him whether he would like something to eat. Tretjak declined. He had already made a reservation in the restaurant adjacent to the lobby area for 9pm, where the tables had been laid with white linen.

Tretjak was pretty sure that the man he was waiting for in the lobby would misinterpret the small change in his daily routine. The small alteration was the fact that his wife had not yet called him. If Tretjak knew the man well enough, he probably had not even noticed that the call had not been made – despite the usual routine on his business trips. Never mind, he would soon find out the significance of this vicissitude.

Tretjak looked at his watch: it was a quarter to eight. Suddenly he had this ‘feeling' again, a feeling which he had experienced quite often lately. It was a kind of tiredness, a sense of tedium and over-satiety. In the past, he had enjoyed precisely these moments, the moments of critical importance, the approach of a dramatic turning point in the life of the other, who as yet had no idea what was to happen to him. But for a few weeks now he had caught himself wishing that these moments would pass without any interference.

Tretjak was sitting with his G&T in the lobby of the New Oriental Hotel in Galle, a harbour town in the south west of Sri Lanka. An eleven-hour flight lay behind him – Lufthansa LH 2016 from Munich to Colombo – as well as a four-hour car ride. The short, silent driver of the Peugeot had smoothly negotiated huge potholes, donkey carts and swarms of
tuk-tuks
, as well as seriously dodgy lorries. In a few hours time the same driver would take him back the same way, to the airport in Colombo where he would board flight LH 2017, which would take off for Munich at sunrise. Tretjak was here only for this one evening – to tear a human being out of his lethargy.

It was hot in the lobby. The old wooden ceiling fans were going round and round rather drowsily. The one directly above the black piano in the left corner of the lobby, where the bar was located, was squeaking. A group of three Englishmen was sitting there, each with a cocktail in front of him, at times emitting short bursts of a strange hissing noise as one of them cracked a joke.

At this moment a brawny man in khaki trousers and a green Ralph Lauren polo shirt came through the wide open entrance door. He was sweating, his face was flushed, and he was wearing aviator sunglasses. He purposefully strutted towards the reception and said in a deep voice and with a slight German accent: ‘Room Number Seven, please.'

Tretjak got up and stood behind him, slightly to his side, at a distance of about two metres. ‘Congratulations, Mr Schwarz,' he said. ‘Number Seven is the best room in the hotel.'

The man turned around, pushed his sunglasses up, and looked at Tretjak with inquisitive blue eyes.

‘Are you enjoying your short holiday, Mr Schwarz?' Tretjak enquired.

The man was now obviously searching through his memory. Did he know this stranger from somewhere? ‘Yes, as a matter of fact, I am,' he replied in the end, ‘may I ask...'

‘We've got to talk, Mr Schwartz,' Tretjak interrupted. ‘I've booked a table in the restaurant for 9pm.'

‘I wouldn't know...' The man shook his head. ‘I don't know you and I have no idea what we should talk about.'

‘I beg your pardon. My name is Tretjak. We've got to talk about your life, Mr Schwarz. I've come here to change it. With your help, of course.'

The man, whose name was Schwarz and whose life was an open book to Gabriel Tretjak, was losing his patience and becoming indignant. ‘Look, you are mistaking me for someone else. I have no intention of changing my life. And even if I had I wouldn't talk to
you
about it.' An amused twinkle was noticeable in his eyes, a sign that he was regaining his composure. This was a madman he was confronted with, nothing else. ‘You know, this country offers many attractions. I am not one of them. Good evening.'

With these words he turned to the receptionist, took the brass key for Room Number seven from the counter and was halfway to the staircase on the left when Tretjak spoke: ‘If you can't work out the deal with Union Carry, you are going to lose your job as CEO. At least, that's what your Board of Directors says.'

Schwarz stopped in his tracks and turned around to look at Tretjak.

‘Shall we say 9pm?' Tretjak resumed. ‘And don't worry. We'll sort everything out.' He turned to the receptionist behind the counter: ‘Room Number Five, please.' Tretjak took his key, smiled at Schwarz – who was still standing there, dumbfounded – and walked past him towards the staircase.

That went alright, he thought. Schwarz was irritated enough, and in his room he would notice that his wife had not called him and he would call her. Or rather, he would try to call her. This attempt would only increase his irritation, because dialling his wife's mobile number he would only get the answer, ‘this number is not operational'. And nobody would answer the landline.

 

Tretjak went to his room, put down his briefcase, moved the chair to the window, sat down and closed his eyes. The windows of this hotel had no glass in them, only wooden shutters. One could hear the noises from outside, of the chirping insects, of screaming kids. The New Oriental in Galle was an insider's tip, an old hotel in the English colonial style. The big, dark, wooden four-poster bed was at least two hundred years old. It was covered by a light mosquito net, which came down from the high ceiling all the way to the floor. Tretjak was not going to use the bed. He got up, went to the bathroom and took a long, cool shower.

Looking into the mirror, he decided he should become fitter. Now, with summer around the corner, he could go for a run again in the mornings, directly from his flat to the Isar, along the river and over Montgelas Bridge, then enter the English Garden and pass by the Haus der Kunst on his way back. Tretjak took pride in keeping his weight in check. He was 44 years old and for the past 25 years he had always worn size 50 suits. There was no trace of grey in his black hair and it would probably stay that way. He had inherited his hair from his mother, and in her whole family there was not a grey strand in sight. Tretjak's hair was thick and he wore it a bit long. Now it was wet and he combed it back, out of his face.

BOOK: Tretjak
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