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The Trap: Chapter 17


The tune is still ringing in my ears when I return to the dining room.

I sit down, determined to keep my cool from now on.

Lenzen still has on his friendliest face.

‘You look pale,’ he says. ‘If you need a little break, it’s no trouble at all. I have plenty of time—I can fit in around you.’

If I didn’t know he was a wolf, I would have no trouble believing his concern to be genuine.

‘No need,’ I say coldly. ‘Feel free to continue.’

Inside, however, I am in turmoil. I try to remember all the things Dr Christensen taught me. But the shock is deep; it’s as if my head has been swept clean.

‘All right then,’ says Lenzen. ‘What about writing? Do you enjoy writing?’

I look him in the eye. ‘Very much,’ I reply mechanically.

My sister was called Anna.

‘So you’re not one of those authors who wrestle with every sentence?’

When I was little, I envied Anna her name that you could read backwards as well as forwards. She was very proud of that.

‘Not at all. Writing for me is like having a shower or cleaning my teeth. In fact, you could almost say it’s part of my daily hygiene. If I don’t write, I feel as if all my pores are blocked.’

Blood gave Anna the creeps.

‘When do you write?’

When I grazed my knee as a child, I would ignore it, and when I cut my finger, I would pop it in my mouth and marvel at the taste of iron, and that I knew what iron tasted like. When Anna grazed her knee as a child, or cut her finger, she would scream and cry and I would say, ‘Don’t be such a girl!’

‘I prefer to start early in the morning, when my thoughts are still fresh and I’m not yet saturated with phone calls and news and everything that I see and read and hear in the course of the day.’

‘Tell me about your working methods.’

My sister Anna was stabbed seven times.

‘I’m disciplined. I sit down at my desk, spread out my notes, open my laptop and write.’

‘You make it sound so easy.’

‘Sometimes it is.’

‘And when isn’t it?’

The human body contains four-and-a-half to six litres of blood.

I shrug my shoulders.

‘Do you write every day?’

The body of a woman my sister’s size contains roughly five litres of blood. After thirty per cent blood loss, the body enters a state of shock. This serves to slow down the rate at which the blood is pumped out of the wound and to reduce the energy and oxygen requirement of the body.

‘Nearly every day, yes. Of course, when I’ve finished a book, there’s a phase when I’m looking for new ideas and researching—when I’m still preparing for the next project.’

‘On what basis do you decide what your next project will be?’

The last thing Anna saw was her murderer.

‘Gut instinct.’

‘Your publisher gives you a free hand?’

Before I got my driving licence, I did a first-aid course.

‘He does now, yes.’

‘How much of yourself do you put in your characters?’

Most of the time, however, I spent flirting with the instructor.

‘That’s never really a conscious decision. I don’t sit down and decide: this character should have thirty per cent of my feelings and that one should have the same childhood memories. But, of course, there’s a bit of Linda in all my characters.’

‘How long did you take to write your last novel?’

The paramedics and the police all told me that Anna was already dead when I entered the flat.

‘Six months.’

‘That’s not long.’

‘No, it’s not.’

But I’m not so sure.

‘What made you write this book?’

Perhaps the last thing Anna saw was her useless sister.

I don’t reply. I reach for a new bottle of water and open it. My hands tremble. I take a sip. Lenzen’s eyes track my every move.

‘What illness do you have again?’ he asks casually, pouring himself a glass too.

Clever wolf. He says it as if it were common knowledge. But we both know that I have never talked publicly about my illness.

‘I’d prefer not to talk about it,’ I say.

‘When did you last leave the house?’ Lenzen continues.

‘About eleven years ago.’

Lenzen nods.

‘What happened eleven years ago?’

I have no answer.

‘I’d prefer not to speak about it,’ I say.

Lenzen accepts that, only raising his eyebrows slightly.

‘How do you cope with being housebound?’ he asks.

I sigh. ‘What can I say to that?’ I reply. ‘I don’t know how to describe it to somebody who has never experienced it. The world is suddenly very small. And, at some point, you have the feeling that your own head is the world and that beyond your head there is nothing. Everything you see through the windows, everything you hear—pelting rain, deer at the edge of the woods, electric storms over the lake—it all seems so far away.’

‘Is that painful?’

‘At first it was very painful, yes,’ I say. ‘But it’s amazing how quickly something that begins as unbearable becomes normal. We can resign ourselves to anything, I suppose. Maybe not get to like anything, but resign ourselves. Pain, despair, servitude…’

I make an effort to provide detailed answers, to keep the conversation flowing. A standard interview. Let him stay on his guard. So what if he’s left guessing, kept on tenterhooks?

‘What do you miss most?’

I consider for a moment. There are so many things that don’t exist in my world: other people’s brightly lit living rooms for peeking into during the evenings, tourists asking the way, clothes wet from the rain, stolen bikes.

Dropped ice-cream cones melting on hot asphalt, maypoles.

Disputes over parking spaces, meadows of flowers, children’s chalk drawings on the pavement, church bells.

‘Everything,’ I say at length. ‘Not necessarily the big things—safaris in Kenya or parachuting over New Zealand or lavish weddings, although of course all that would be nice too. More the little, everyday things.

‘Such as?’

‘Walking along a street, seeing someone you like the look of, smiling at him and watching him smile back. The moment when you find out that a new, promising-looking restaurant has opened on the premises that have been empty for so long.’

Lenzen smiles.

‘The way little children sometimes stare at you.’

He nods.

‘Or the smell in a florist’s… Things like that. Having the same human experiences as everyone else and feeling…how can I put it?… connected to everyone else as a result, in life and death and work and pleasure and youth and old age and laughter and anger and everything.’

I pause and realise that, although this isn’t really about the interview, I’m making an effort to answer the questions honestly. I don’t know why. It feels good to talk. Maybe because I so seldom have anyone I can talk to, or anyone asking me questions.

Bloody hell, Linda.

‘And I miss nature,’ I say. ‘A lot.’

I suppress a sigh because I can feel desire rising in my throat like heartburn.

Maybe all this would be easier if Lenzen were repulsive.

Lenzen is silent, as if to let my words resonate. He seems to be reflecting on them for a moment longer.

But he is not repulsive.

‘Are you lonely?’ he asks.

‘I wouldn’t really describe myself as lonely. I have a great many friends and acquaintances, and even if they can’t visit me all the time, there are plenty of ways and means to keep in touch nowadays without constant personal contact.’

It is hard to be immune to Lenzen’s presence. He is an excellent listener. He looks at me and, without meaning to, I wonder what he sees. His gaze rests on my eyes, strays to my lips, my neck. My heart beats faster with fear and I-don’t-know-what.

But when he asks, ‘Who are the most important people in your life?’ alarm bells are set off in my head.

I’m damned if I’m going to reveal my vulnerabilities to a murderer. I could lie, but decide it would be better to play the cagey celebrity.

‘Listen,’ I say, ‘this is starting to get a bit too personal. I’d prefer to concentrate on questions about my book, as we agreed beforehand.’

Everything is churning away inside me. Somehow I have to get Lenzen to answer my questions.

‘Sorry,’ says Lenzen, ‘I didn’t want to intrude.’

‘Good,’ I reply.

‘Are you in a relationship?’ Lenzen asks, and I can’t help frowning.

He immediately backs off and follows up with another question.

‘Why exactly are you giving an interview again after such a long time?’

As if he’s not quite sure why he’s here.

‘I’m doing it at the request of my publishers,’ I lie, without batting an eyelid.

A smile plays on Lenzen’s lips.

‘Back to my last question,’ he says, parrying my move. ‘Are you in a relationship?’

‘Didn’t you say you didn’t want to intrude?’ I ask.

‘Oh, sorry. I didn’t know that asking about a partner was too private,’ Lenzen says. He’s put on a remorseful expression, but his eyes are smiling. ‘All right then, back to the book. Your main character, Sophie, goes to pieces when her sister dies. I very much like the passages where we are plunged into Sophie’s thoughts. How did you manage to work your way into the mind of such a broken and ultimately self-destructive character?’

The hit below the belt is unexpected. After all, Sophie—the broken woman—is me. I swallow hard; my throat is dry. I tell myself that this is the beginning of a conversation that I have to put myself through. I am here as prosecutor, jury and judge. Trial, presentation of evidence, verdict.

Here goes then.

‘I would consider it one of my personal strengths that I am extremely good at empathising with all my characters,’ I say. ‘But, as I see it, Sophie is by no means broken. She almost breaks down at the death of her sister—that’s true, I suppose. But in the end she musters all her strength to prove her sister’s murderer guilty and eventually succeeds.’

Just as I will succeed. That is the subtext of what I’ve just said, and Victor Lenzen knows it. He seems to swallow it.

‘Another interesting character for me is the police officer. Is he based on a real person?’

‘No,’ I lie. ‘I have to disappoint you there.’

‘Didn’t you consult real policemen when you were working on the book?’

‘No,’ I say. ‘I do admire fellow authors who go to such lengths and carry out meticulous research. But I was more interested in the dynamics between the characters. Psychology is more important to me than technical niceties.’

‘As I was reading, I had the feeling that the main character and the married police officer had got quite close to one another—that there were the beginnings of a romance there,’ says Lenzen.

‘Really?’

‘Yes! Reading between the lines, I felt that something could have happened.’

‘In that case, you know more than the author,’ I say. ‘The two characters like each other; that was important to the story. But that’s as far as it goes—a few moments of complicity, nothing more.’

‘Did you specifically avoid incorporating a love story?’ Lenzen asks.

I don’t know what he’s driving at.

‘To be honest with you, it didn’t occur to me for a second.’

‘Do you think you’d write different books if you led a normal life?’

‘I believe that everything we do and experience has an influence on the art we produce, yes,’ I say.

‘If you were in a relationship, then maybe boy would have got girl at the end of the novel?’

I try not to snort. How stupid does he think I am? But it’s a good thing he’s getting personal again, because I’ve had an idea.

‘I don’t quite follow your line of reasoning,’ I say. ‘And I’ve already told you that I don’t want to talk about personal matters.’

I hope he won’t leave it at that, and my prospects are good, because he’s bound to be under orders to wheedle as much personal information out of me as possible. My new book may be of some interest, but there is no doubt that a glimpse into the psyche of the famous and mysterious Linda Conrads is worth so much more.

‘It’s hard to separate the artist from her work,’ says Lenzen.

I nod. ‘But you must also understand that I feel uncomfortable talking about personal matters to a stranger,’ I reply.

‘Okay,’ he says, hesitantly. He seems to be wondering how to continue.

‘Do you know what,’ I say, then pause, pretending I’ve only recently hit upon the idea, ‘I’ll answer your questions if, for every question you ask, I can ask one of my own.’

He looks at me in bewilderment, but recovers, conjuring an amused expression.

‘You’d like to ask me something too?’

I nod. Lenzen’s eyes blaze. He senses that the preliminary skirmish is now over. He imagines I’m going to open the game at last.

‘That sounds fair,’ he says.

‘Then ask away,’ I say.

‘Who are the most important people in your life?’ asks Lenzen without a moment’s hesitation.

My thoughts stray to Charlotte, who’s still wandering around somewhere in the house, unaware that she met a murderer a moment ago, and maybe a psychopath. To Norbert, who is goodness knows where, but probably fuming. To my parents. To my sister, who has been dead a long time now, but who has also become the most important person in my life since her death. Like a tune you can’t get out of your head.

Love, love, love, la-da-da-da-da.

‘Nowadays, it’s mainly people connected with work,’ I say. ‘My publisher, my agent, the other people in the company, a handful of friends.’

That is vague and it’s best that way. Now it’s my turn. I’ll begin with innocuous questions to find out how Lenzen replies and reacts when he’s relaxed, and then proceed to more provocative questions. Like a lie-detector test.

‘How old are you?’ I ask.

‘What would you guess?’

‘I’m asking the questions here.’

Lenzen grins. ‘I’m fifty-three,’ he replies.

His eyes narrow.

‘Are you in a relationship?’ he asks again.

‘No.’

‘Wow,’ he says.

That puzzles me.

‘Wow?’

‘You know what I mean,’ says Lenzen. ‘You’re young, beautiful, incredibly successful. And yet so alone. How on earth do you manage to write about relationships when you’re not in one yourself?’

I do my best to forget everything he’s said and not to wonder if it’s true—that he thinks I’m beautiful, for example.

‘It’s my turn,’ is all I say.

Lenzen shrugs.

‘Where did you grow up?’ I ask.

‘In Munich.’

He’s leaning back in his chair and seems on the defensive. Maybe my question-and-answer game is more upsetting to him than he’s prepared to admit, even though we’ve only just begun. But it’s his move.

‘How do you manage to write about relationships when you’re not in one yourself?’

‘I’m a writer,’ I say. ‘I can. Besides, I haven’t always lived the way I live now.’

My move.

‘Do you have brothers and sisters?’ I ask.

A strike below the belt—hard not to think of my own, dead sister. Lenzen must realise that I’m homing in on the real issue. But he doesn’t bat an eyelid.

‘Yes, an older brother. Do you have brothers and sisters?’ he asks, returning the question.

Cold-blooded. I control my emotions and simply say, ‘Yes.’

‘Brother or sister?’

‘It’s not your turn, Herr Lenzen,’ I say.

‘You’re very strict, Frau Conrads,’ he counters, grinning.

‘A sister,’ I reply, looking at him steadily.

He withstands my gaze.

‘Do you have a good relationship with your parents?’ I ask.

‘Yes,’ says Lenzen. ‘That is to say—my mother is no longer alive. But with my father, yes. And with my mother, too, when she was still around.’

Lenzen’s hand goes to his temple; I’m watching him closely. It’s not what is called a ‘tell’ in poker—a minute gesture that would reveal that he was lying—because he hasn’t lied yet. I know a great deal about Victor Lenzen. I hope he doesn’t return my last question; I’d prefer not to think about my parents right now.

‘Do you miss being in a relationship?’ he asks.

‘Sometimes,’ I say, and go straight to my next question. ‘Do you have children?’

‘A daughter.’

Lenzen takes a sip of water.

‘Would you have liked a family?’ he asks. ‘A husband, children?’

‘No,’ I say.

‘No?’ he asks.

‘No,’ I say. ‘Are you married?’

‘Divorced.’

‘Why did your marriage fail?’

‘My turn,’ Lenzen says. ‘Do you miss sex?’

He leans forward again.

‘Excuse me?’

‘Do you miss sex?’ he repeats.

I am scared, but I don’t show it.

‘Not much,’ I say. Keep going. ‘Why did your marriage fail?’

‘Because I work too much, I suppose, but you’d have to ask my ex-wife.’

Once again, his hand strays to his temple. The question upsets him—all mention of his family upsets him; I must remember that. But I need a lie from him. I want to know what he looks like when he tells a lie. It is, however, his move.

‘Do you have a good relationship with your parents?’

‘Yes.’

That’s the third lie I’ve told.

‘Have you ever had an affair?’

‘No,’ he replies and ploughs straight on. ‘What were you like as a child?’

‘Wild,’ I say. ‘More the way you’d imagine a little boy.’

He nods, as if he has no trouble picturing me.

‘Have you ever been to a prostitute?’ I ask.

‘No.’

Impossible to tell whether or not he’s lying.

‘Do you have a good relationship with your sister?’ he asks.

Alarm bells.

‘Why do you ask that?’

‘Because I’m fascinated by the dynamics between the sisters in your book. You told me earlier that you had a sister, and I wonder whether that’s the reason you describe the love between the sisters with such sensitivity. Well?’

‘Yes,’ I say, ‘a very good relationship.’

I swallow. No emotion now—no pain. Keep going.

‘Do you consider yourself to be a good father?’ I ask.

His hand goes to his temple; it’s definitely a pattern.

‘Um…yes,’ says Lenzen.

A weak point. Good. I hope he’s wondering what I’m driving at with all these questions. I hope it’s making him nervous. Nervousness is good. He needn’t know that I’m not driving at anything; that my only aim is to disconcert him.

‘Do you draw inspiration from real-life events?’ he asks.

‘Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.’

‘And in your latest book?’

As if he didn’t know.

‘Yes.’

Time to hit below the belt.

‘Have you ever raped a woman?’ I ask.

Lenzen frowns and gives me a shocked look.

‘What’s all this about?’ he asks. ‘I don’t know if I like your mind games, Frau Conrads.’

He looks genuinely aghast. I feel tempted to applaud.

‘Just say no,’ I say.

‘No,’ he says.

The angry furrow between his eyebrows is still there. Silence.

‘What’s your dog called again?’ Lenzen asks at last.

‘That’s your question?’ I ask in surprise.

‘No, it slipped my mind, that’s all,’ he says.

Is it supposed to be a threat? Has he started talking about my dog because he can imagine how much I love the creature and how unbearable it would be to me if anything were to happen to it?

‘Bukowski,’ I say and am about to start on my next question when Charlotte appears in the door.

I jump because I had quite forgotten she was still here.

‘Sorry to bother you again,’ she says, ‘but if there’s nothing else I can do for you, I think I will be getting on my way now.’

‘That’s fine, Charlotte,’ I say. ‘You go home.’

‘By the way, there’s supposed to be a storm this evening. Remember to close all the windows before you go to bed.’

‘All right,’ I say. ‘Thanks.’

The thought that I am about to be left alone in the house with Lenzen is not an agreeable one. But even less agreeable is the way his dangerous eyes are turned on Charlotte. She goes up to Lenzen, her hand held out. He rises politely.

‘It was a real pleasure to meet you,’ says Charlotte, brushing a non-existent strand of hair behind her ear. She blushes.

Lenzen smiles noncommittally, sits down and turns to me again. Once more I see him through Charlotte’s eyes: his composure, his charisma. People like that have a talent for getting away with almost anything.

‘Maybe see you around,’ Charlotte says.

Lenzen only smiles. I realise that he’s not flirting with her—she’s the only one flirting. He’s barely taking any notice of her; all his attention is on me. Charlotte hangs around a moment longer in the dining room, like a woman who’s been stood up, while Lenzen’s eyes are on me again. She gives me a quick nod, then she’s gone.

I draw a deep breath.

‘Your assistant and I had a little chat earlier on, and found out by chance that we live only a few streets away from one another,’ Lenzen explains casually. ‘Funny that we’ve never met in Munich before. But you know how it is—once you know someone, you’re always bumping into them.’ He grins at me, gets up, grabs a wrap from the caterers’ serving trolley, bites into it, chews. Advantage.

His threat is clear to me. He has realised that I am fond of Charlotte. And he has told me that it is not remotely in my power to keep him away from her.

19

JONAS

He could feel himself losing control, growing irrational, but couldn’t do anything about it. He had no business being here. What was he doing, calling in on the witness?

During the night, something had shifted in the atmosphere over the city. The light was different. The leaves on the trees had not yet started to change colour, but he had sensed, as he walked through the streets, that summer was coming to an end, autumn on its way.

Jonas parked the car, got out, rang the bell. The buzzer sounded. He stepped into the hall and began to walk up to the fourth floor. Sophie was waiting for him at the door.

‘It’s you!’ was all she said when she recognised him. ‘Please tell me they’ve caught him!’

Jonas swallowed. It hadn’t occurred to him that Sophie would assume there had been developments in the investigations.

‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry, but that’s not why I’m here.’

‘Then why? More questions?’

‘Not really,’ Jonas replied. ‘May I come in?’

Sophie ran her hand through her hair, hesitating for a moment.

‘Of course,’ she said. ‘Please. I’ve made coffee.’

Jonas followed her along a hallway cluttered with cardboard boxes.

‘Are you moving?’

‘No,’ Sophie said tersely, ‘my fiancé’s moving out.’

Then she snorted and corrected herself.

‘My ex-fiancé.’

Jonas didn’t know what to say, so said nothing.

‘Would you like to sit down?’ Sophie indicated one of her kitchen chairs.

‘I’d rather stand,’ Jonas said. ‘Thanks.’

He looked about him at the big, light, high-ceilinged room: whitewashed walls, a few framed reproductions—Egon Schiele, he thought but wasn’t sure. A solitary orchid stood on the windowsill, an empty coffee cup beside it. The dishwasher was on; there was something comforting about its gentle drone.

‘Milk and sugar?’ Sophie asked.

‘Just milk, please,’

Sophie opened a carton of milk and pulled a face.

‘Shit,’ she said. ‘It’s off.’

Furious, she emptied it into the sink.

‘Damn!’ She turned away from Jonas, put her hands on her hips as if to steady herself, and grimaced, struggling to hold back the tears.

‘I don’t mind it black,’ said Jonas. ‘The caffeine’s what counts.’

Sophie forced a smile, poured Jonas a cup of coffee and handed it to him.

‘Thanks.’

Jonas took a sip and went over to the big window where a radiant blue sky was flaunting itself.

‘Wonderful view you have here,’ he said.

‘Yes.’

Sophie went to stand beside him. They were silent for a while.

‘Sometimes I think I’ll stay in here forever,’ Sophie said. ‘Not go out any more. Stockpile a few years’ worth of groceries and never set foot outside again.’

‘Sounds tempting,’ Jonas replied with a smile.

‘Doesn’t it?’ Sophie said. She gave a wry chuckle, then grew serious again. She turned back to look at the sky.

‘Do you know what kind they are?’ she asked, as two darting birds shot past the windows, making breakneck manoeuvres to dodge the roof of the house opposite.

‘They’re swifts,’ said Jonas. ‘They spend all their life in the air. They live and mate and even sleep on the wing.’

‘Hm.’

Jonas watched Sophie as she looked out at the swifts, a smile on her face. She had split up with her fiancé. What did that mean? He took a sip of coffee.

‘Are you going to tell me why you’ve come?’ Sophie eventually asked, turning to him.

‘Yes,’ said Jonas, ‘of course.’ He cleared his throat. ‘There’s one thing I’d like to say first. I completely understand what you’re going through at the moment. Really I do. But you’ve got to stop carrying out investigations off your own bat.’

Sophie looked at him as if he’d slapped her in the face. Belligerence flashed in her eyes.

‘What makes you think I’m carrying out my own investigations?’ she asked.

Jonas fought down a sigh.

‘People have complained,’ he said.

Sophie frowned, put her hands on her hips.

‘Oh yes?’ she said. ‘Who?’

‘Sophie, I’m telling you this for your own sake. You’ve got to stop. You’re not only hindering the investigation, you might even be putting yourself at risk.’

For a moment only the soft noise of the dishwasher could be heard in the kitchen.

‘I can’t sit around doing nothing,’ Sophie said at length. ‘And I haven’t done anything wrong. You can’t ban me from talking to people.’

She turned away from him and glared out of the window.

‘There are charges against you,’ Jonas said.

‘What?’

Sophie spun round and looked at him with big eyes.

‘I don’t handle those kind of offences. I found out about it by chance,’ Jonas said. ‘But my colleagues are bound to be in touch with you before long. There’s a man claiming you pursued him and physically attacked him. Is that true?’

‘Physically attacked… Sounds a bit extreme,’ said Sophie. ‘I held onto his arm, that was all. The bloke was a good head and a half taller than me—how could I have seriously attacked him?’

‘Why did you hold onto him?’ Jonas asked, although he already knew the answer.

Sophie said nothing. She stared out of the window in silence.

‘You thought you’d recognised the man you saw that night,’ Jonas said.

Sophie nodded.

Jonas thought of what Antonia Bug had said. ‘That woman’s not quite right in the head. Who knows if she saw anyone at all?’

He tried to drive the thought away.

‘I saw him,’ Sophie blurted out, as if she could read his mind. ‘As clearly as I see you now.’

Jonas swallowed.

‘You do believe me?’

She turned round with a jerk, knocking the empty coffee cup off the windowsill with her elbow. The china smashed on the floor.

‘Shit!’ said Sophie.

Jonas and Sophie crouched down to pick up the pieces at the same time and banged heads. Embarrassed, they rubbed their foreheads and had to laugh. After they’d gathered it all up, they stood facing one another.

It seemed to Jonas that it was considerably warmer in the room than before. Sophie was one of those rare people who could stand there, looking at you in silence, without making you feel awkward. How on earth did she do it?

The doorbell rang and the moment ended.

Sophie ran her hand through her hair.

‘That’ll be my friend Karen—we were going jogging.’

‘I must be getting on, anyway.’

Sophie nodded. Jonas turned to leave, but stopped in the doorway.

‘I do believe you,’ he said.

Then he left the flat, his heart pounding.


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