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The Trap: Chapter 14


I am having trouble getting used to the idea that Charlotte’s in the kitchen making coffee, when I wanted to avoid having her here at any price. Nothing I can do about it now.

Victor Lenzen looks at me with raised eyebrows when I enter the dining room.

‘Everything all right?’ he asks, and I have to admire his cold-bloodedness, because of course he knows I’m not remotely all right.

He’s still sitting in the same place, digital recorder in front of him, while the photographer has spread out his equipment on the floor and is eating cake.

‘Everything’s great,’ I reply, taking care not to let my body language say the opposite. I look at the glass of water at my place at the table, and make a mental note not to drink another drop from it now it’s been unsupervised for a few minutes.

I wonder whether Lenzen has had the same thought and thinks that I might try to poison him. Is that the reason he’s not eating anything?

I’m about to sit down when the photographer stops me.

‘Frau Conrads, could we get the photos out of the way first? Then I won’t have to interrupt the interview later.’

I hate having my photograph taken, but of course I don’t say so. Fear of cameras is a weakness. A minor one, perhaps, but a weakness nevertheless.

‘Of course. Where would you like me?’

He considers for a moment.

‘Which is your favourite room?’

The library, no doubt about it, but it’s upstairs and I’m damned if I’m going to let these men traipse all through the house to my inner sanctum.

‘The kitchen,’ I reply.

‘The kitchen it is, then,’ says the photographer. ‘Great!’

‘See you in a second,’ says Lenzen.

I register the look that the photographer gives him. It’s only a brief glance, but I realise that the two men don’t like each other. This makes the photographer immediately sympathetic to me.

I lead the way. Lenzen is left alone in the dining room. I can see him out of the corner of my eye, playing with his phone. I hadn’t intended to let him out of my sight for an instant, but I have no choice. This has all got off to a bad start.

We enter the kitchen, where Charlotte has put the coffee on. The gurgle of the machine, the smell—it’s familiar and comforting.

‘We’re just going to take a few photos,’ I say.

‘I’m on my way out,’ Charlotte replies.

‘You’re welcome to stay and watch if you like,’ I say, to prevent her from going into the dining room. Even as I say it, I realise it might sound strange. Why would I want her to watch me having my photo taken?

‘I’ll go and see what Bukowski’s up to,’ Charlotte says. ‘Where is he?’

‘In my bedroom. Make sure he doesn’t get out—we need peace and quiet down here,’ I say, and ignore her disapproving look.

She slips out. The photographer positions me at the kitchen table, arranges the newspaper and coffee cups in front of me, takes aim and shoots.

I’m having trouble focusing. My thoughts are on Lenzen in the dining room. I wonder what he’s doing, what he’s thinking, what his plan of action is.

I ask myself what he knows about me. He’s read the book: that much is clear. He will have recognised the murder he committed. I can only speculate on what he felt as he read it. And what about his feelings in the hours, days and weeks that followed? Anger? Fear of discovery? Uncertainty? He had two possibilities: to turn the interview down and keep out of my way, or to come here and face me. He’s gone for the second option. He’s taken the bait. Now he’ll want to find out my plans, and what I have that can be used against him. Over the years, he’s bound to have given a fair amount of thought to the witness to his crime—to that moment when, for an awful instant, we looked each other in the eye in an apartment laid waste by death. Has his crime haunted him? Was he afraid of being discovered? Did he make any attempt to find out who the witness was? Did he find out? Did he think of getting rid of her? Her—me?

‘You’re completely different from what I’d imagined,’ the photographer says, startling me out of my thoughts.

Concentrate, Linda.

‘Really? In what way?’

‘I don’t know. I thought you’d be older, crazier. Not as pretty.’

That is blunt, but it’s clear that he means it, and I give him a smile.

‘You thought I was an old lady?’ I say, feigning the amazement that befits a reclusive but by no means crazy author. Then I add coyly, ‘Didn’t you say you were a fan?’

‘Oh, yes, I think your books are terrific,’ he says, as he focuses the camera. ‘But I somehow imagined the author to be old.’

‘I see.’

I really do. Norbert once told me I have the mind of an eighty-five-year-old man, and I know what he meant. I’m stuck in my head. I have nothing in common with other women my age. The reality of my life is far removed from that of a normal thirty-eight-year-old. I lead the life of an old lady, with children grown up and gone, husband dead a long time, most friends likewise dead. A frail, housebound old lady. Bodiless. Asexual. Stuck in her head, as I said. That’s the way I live, the way I am, the way I feel—and presumably also the way I sound when I write.

‘Apart from anything else,’ the photographer continues, ‘when you hear about a woman who never leaves the house, the first thing you think of is some dotty old thing who lives with twenty cats. Or else a wacko eccentric—Michael Jackson style.’

‘I’m sorry I don’t live up to your expectations.’

I say that more brusquely than I’d intended and he falls silent. He goes back to fiddling around with his camera, takes aim once more and shoots. I look at him. He is the picture of health. He is tanned and athletic. He’s wearing a T-shirt, even though it’s winter. He has a small graze on his left hand—I bet he goes skateboarding or something.

The photographer pours a cup of steaming coffee and hands it to me.

‘This will look great—with the steam from the coffee in front of your face. I’ll see if I can capture it.’

I take the cup, drink. He shoots.

I look at him and try to guess his age. He seems so young. He’s probably in his late twenties. We’re only separated by a decade, but I feel a hundred years older than him.

My stomach seizes up as if I had a cramp. Charlotte is sitting opposite Lenzen. There’s something the matter with her face; it looks… different. Wrong. There’s something not quite right about her eyes, her mouth, her hands, her whole body; her entire manner is somehow wrong. She looks up when I enter the room and leaps to her feet. I’ve interrupted a conversation—damn it, they’ve been talking to each other for goodness knows how long; the photo shoot has taken a while. Think of all the things that could have happened in that time! I recall my nightmare—Lenzen’s bloody hands, Charlotte with her throat slit, her little boy, the ‘cheeky devil’, sitting in a pool of blood, and Lenzen looking at his hands and grinning.

I run through all the things Charlotte knows about me and wonder whether she could have said anything that might get me into trouble. But she knows nothing. She knows nothing, thank God, about the microphones in the house, or the cameras, or any of that. But here she is, face-to-face with my sister’s murderer; she exchanges another glance with him, brushes a strand of hair behind her ear, touches her throat with the tips of her fingers, and Lenzen notices—his laughter lines deepen (he has laughter lines and I hate him for his laughter lines; he doesn’t deserve them) and, for a second, I see him through Charlotte’s eyes—an attractive middle-aged man, educated and sophisticated—and at last I know why she looks so wrong to me. She’s flirting. I realise that I have a very one-sided idea of Charlotte. I’ve never seen her with other people, and I realise how out of touch I am with real life, and how little I know about people and relationships. Everything I do know is informed by distant memories and books. Charlotte is flirting quite openly with Lenzen!

When Lenzen notices me, he turns and gives me a friendly smile.

‘Should I go back out?’ I ask. I try to sound lighthearted, but I can hear that I’ve failed.

‘I’m sorry,’ Charlotte says guiltily. ‘I didn’t mean to disturb you.’

‘Don’t worry, it’s all right,’ I reply. ‘But I don’t think I’ll be needing you anymore today, Charlotte. How about taking the rest of the day off?’

If Charlotte is aware that I’m trying to get rid of her, she ignores it.

‘Shouldn’t I go and check on Bukowski first?’ she asks.

‘Who’s Bukowski?’ Lenzen intervenes.

My heart seizes up.

‘He’s Frau Conrads’ dog,’ Charlotte blurts out before I can reply. ‘Such a cutie, you wouldn’t believe it.’

Lenzen purses his lips with interest. I could cry. Lenzen shouldn’t be in the same room as Charlotte and he shouldn’t know anything about Bukowski. In this appalling moment, I know I was wrong to think I had nothing to lose. There are still things that I am fond of. I have a great deal to protect, and therefore to lose. The monster knows that.

Lenzen smiles. The menace in his smile is meant only for me.

I suddenly feel dizzy. I focus on getting back to my chair without tripping or falling. Luckily, Lenzen isn’t paying attention to me at this moment.

‘Are you done?’ he asks the photographer, who appears in the doorway just as Charlotte is leaving. She manoeuvres her way past him, laughing.

‘Nearly. I’d like to shoot another couple of photos during the interview itself, if that’s all right with you, Frau Conrads.’

‘No problem.’

I grip the edge of the table. I must calm down. Maybe I should eat something. I let go, satisfy myself that my legs will bear my weight again, and stagger over to the serving trolley. I help myself to a wrap and bite into it.

‘Please, have something to eat too,’ I say, turning to Lenzen and the photographer. ‘Otherwise I’ll be left with all this.’

‘I won’t wait to be asked twice,’ the photographer replies, taking a jar filled with lentil salad.

To my immense relief, Lenzen also gets up and heads to the serving trolley. I hold my breath as he takes a chicken wrap and begins to eat. I do my best not to stare at him, but I can see a smidgen of coronation sauce clinging to his upper lip. I see him lick it off; I see him finish the wrap. I watch in suspense while Lenzen wipes his fingers on a napkin and then finally, as he’s sauntering coolly back to the table, passes the napkin over his mouth.

I can’t believe it. Is it really that easy? I sit down. Lenzen looks at me. We’re sitting face-to-face like finalists at a chess tournament. Lenzen’s smile has vanished.

14

JONAS

Sophie was calm and collected; a less astute observer would hardly have noticed the strain she was under. But Jonas saw her jaw clench whenever Antonia Bug asked her a question.

He looked away. He felt sorry for her. He always tried to see the events through the eyes of the witnesses and the images were often harder to shake off than he would have liked. Without shedding a tear, Sophie had once again given a precise and detailed account of how she had found her sister murdered in her flat. Only the way her knuckles had stood out white under the skin of her clenched fists had betrayed how tense she really was. Jonas was struggling to see her as merely another witness called back for questioning—as a murder witness, not the woman who’d sat on his front steps and, with a few phrases, a few glances, a smile and half a cigarette, dispelled the feeling of alienation that had been plaguing him for so long. A witness, he told himself. Nothing more.

Antonia Bug had been about to ask another question, but Sophie got in first.

‘There’s one more thing,’ she said. ‘Of course, I don’t know whether it’s important.’

‘Everything is important,’ said Jonas.

‘I went to see Friederike Kamps yesterday—my sister’s best friend. She told me that Britta had been planning to leave Munich.’

‘So?’ asked Bug.

‘I don’t know,’ Sophie said. ‘It seems odd to me. Britta loved Munich. She didn’t want to leave. When she graduated a year ago, she was offered a great job in Paris, but turned it down because she didn’t want to move to another city.’

Sophie hesitated.

‘As I said, I don’t know whether it’s important. But maybe there’s a connection. Maybe Britta wanted to leave Munich because she felt threatened.’

‘Did your sister ever mention feeling threatened?’ Jonas asked.

‘No! Never! I’ve told you that a thousand times,’ Sophie snapped.

‘And yet you believe…’ Bug said. Sophie interrupted her.

‘Listen! I’m clutching at straws here. As far as I know, everything was fine with Britta.’

‘And you were very close to each other, you said?’ Bug asked.

Sophie suppressed a sigh. Jonas sensed that her patience was wearing thin.

‘Yes,’ was all she said.

‘What were you doing at your sister’s at that time of night?’ Bug asked.

‘Nothing in particular. I’d had a stupid row with my fiancé and wanted to talk to Britta.’

‘What was the row about?’ Bug asked.

Jonas saw Sophie shift on her chair—a preliminary to that uneasy wriggling which he had so often observed when the awkward questions went on too long. He cast a glance at his colleague. Bug was like a pit bull when it came to interrogations.

‘I don’t see what that has to do with my sister’s murder,’ Sophie replied.

‘Please answer my question,’ Antonia Bug said calmly.

‘Listen, I’ve given you a description of the man who ran out of my sister’s flat. Shouldn’t that be of more interest to you than the ups and downs of my relationship?’

‘Of course,’ said Bug, noncommittal. ‘Just a few more questions. What time did you arrive at your sister’s?’

‘I’ve already been through all this,’ Sophie said and got up. ‘I’m going to my parents’ now. There’s a lot to do—clear out Britta’s flat and…’

She left the sentence hanging.

‘We’re not finished yet,’ Bug protested, but Sophie ignored her and picked up the bunch of keys from the chair beside her.

‘Please let me know if you hear anything,’ she said to Jonas. ‘Please.’

She looked him in the eye one last time, then she was gone.

Antonia Bug stared at Jonas.

‘If you hear anything?’ she echoed. ‘What’s that supposed to mean? Since when have we been service providers for witnesses?’

Jonas shrugged. His young colleague didn’t know that the witness had only recently been standing at his front door—or rather, sitting on his front steps. Thank goodness she didn’t. If anyone suspected that he’d been talking to a witness about the investigation, he’d be in serious trouble.

‘You don’t believe her, do you?’ Bug asked.

‘Of course I believe her,’ Jonas replied. ‘And so do you, even if you don’t like her.’

Bug snorted. ‘You’re right, Herr Weber,’ she said. ‘I don’t like her.’

Jonas looked at her and smiled. Sometimes she really got on his nerves, but he liked her bluntness. Bug had only been on the team for a few months, but her drive and gutsiness had almost immediately made her irreplaceable.

‘Isn’t it time we were on first-name terms?’ he asked.

Antonia Bug’s face lit up.

‘Toni,’ she said.

‘Jonas.’

She made a big deal of shaking hands with him, as if to clinch the matter.

‘Well,’ she said, looking at the clock, ‘we need to be going next door. Team meeting.’

‘All right,’ said Jonas. ‘You go on ahead; I’ll join you in a second. I’m just going out to have a smoke.’

‘Okay.’

Jonas watched Bug disappear in the direction of the conference room, her ponytail bouncing behind her. His thoughts strayed to Sophie Peters. All through the questioning she’d held up bloody well—no outbursts, no tears. Jonas put a cigarette between his lips as he headed outside; he felt for his lighter and was about to snap it open when he saw her, sitting on the low wall that edged the patch of lawn in front of the building.

She was slumped over, her face buried in her hands. Her heaving shoulders told him how hard she was crying. Jonas froze. Sophie hadn’t seen him. He wondered whether he should go to her, then thought better of it.

Back in the conference room, he couldn’t get Sophie out of his head. He watched the last of his colleagues trickle in for the meeting and felt a loathing for this room, with its strip lighting and its smell of PVC and coffee, where he had already spent so many hours.

Silence fell. Jonas realised that everyone was looking at him expectantly, and forced himself to concentrate.

‘Well,’ he said, addressing no one in particular. ‘Who would like to begin?’

Antonia Bug plunged in.

‘First of all,’ she began in her staccato-like way, ‘there’s the ex-boyfriend, who probably wasn’t even in the country at the time of the murder. That’s something we’re looking into.’

Jonas had a very clear image of what Bug must have been like as a child—precocious, overeager, a swot. But popular all the same—blonde ponytail, glasses, her cutesy exercise books filled with neat, joined-up handwriting.

He let his thoughts wander. He’d long since read all the information that the team had put together about the victim and her social milieu: Britta Peters, twenty-four years old, graphic designer for an internet start-up, single, in good health. Killed with seven knife wounds. No sexual assault. The murder weapon, probably a kitchen knife, missing. It all pointed to a row with someone she knew—an outburst of rage, an act of panic, a sudden fit of anger. The partner. Whenever anything like that happened, it was always the victim’s partner; the mystery murderer only exists in films. Yet the victim’s sister claimed to have seen the murderer, and not only she but all the victim’s acquaintances swore that Britta Peters had been single, that she had lost interest in dating after a painful separation, nothing in her head but work, work, work.

The voice of Volker Zimmer, a colleague known for his pedantry, brought Jonas back to earth. Bug had come to the end of her monologue.

‘I’ve been asking around in the block of flats where the victim lived and in the neighbourhood,’ Zimmer said. ‘It didn’t yield much to begin with. But then I talked to a woman who lives in the flat above the victim and is about the same age.’

Jonas waited for Zimmer to get to the point. He was familiar with Zimmer’s wordiness, but he also knew that he only ever spoke if he really had something to say.

‘She claims that Britta Peters was furious because her landlord had several times taken the liberty of going into her flat while she was out. It seems that she was more than a little upset by this; she’d even thought of moving out.’

‘Understandable,’ Bug threw in.

‘Does the landlord live in the same block?’ Jonas asked.

‘Yes,’ Zimmer replied, ‘he has the big penthouse flat at the top.’

‘Have you spoken to him?’

‘He wasn’t in. But I’ll drive round again later.’

Jonas nodded pensively and his thoughts began to drift again, as Michael Dzierzewski, a dependably cheerful elderly colleague with whom Jonas went to the occasional football match, began to report on details concerning the victim’s place of work.

When the meeting came to a close, the team dispersed to check up on ex-boyfriends, landlords and male colleagues. Jonas watched his own colleagues go about their work with professional zeal. He thought of Sophie and the promise he had made her, and wondered whether he would be able to keep it.

Back in his office, he sat down at his desk. He glanced at the framed photograph of him and Mia in happier times. He contemplated it for a moment, then decided that now was not the time to be dwelling on his marriage, and set to work.


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