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The Trap: Chapter 19


No, I don’t pull the trigger. I draw the gun and point it at Lenzen with trembling hands, but I don’t pull the trigger. I’d sworn to myself that I’d only use the gun as leverage. I am a woman of words, not weapons; I had a long, hard struggle making up my mind to get hold of a firearm, although I did, in the end, decide it was necessary.

And now I have been vindicated.

I don’t pull the trigger, but the mere sight of the gun has the same effect on Lenzen as if I’d already fired it. He’s as rigid as a corpse, looking at me with vacant eyes. I grip the gun more tightly; it’s heavy. I stare at Lenzen. He stares at me, and blinks. He’s understood: the table we’re sitting at has rotated a hundred and eighty degrees.

‘My God,’ says Lenzen. His voice is trembling. ‘Is’—he swallows—‘is it real?’

I don’t reply. I’m not answering any more questions. Things have reached a state of emergency. The times of neat and elegant solutions involving DNA samples or a voluntary confession are over. I do not use the word ‘emergency’ lightly. I am prepared to get my hands dirty. No more skirmishing. No games.

Lenzen is sitting before me with raised hands.

‘For heaven’s sake!’ he says. His voice sounds hoarse. ‘I don’t understand what’s…’ He falters and breaks off, struggling to retain his composure.

His forehead is beaded with sweat and I can see from his heaving chest how rapidly he’s breathing. He looks as if he’s in deep shock. Did it really not to occur to him that I might be armed? Surely he was aware of the possibility when he agreed to visit the woman whose sister he’d killed! The look of horror on Lenzen’s face disconcerts me. What if…?

I brush aside all doubt. Lenzen is going to leave this house a self-confessed murderer. There is no alternative.

I recall what I learnt from Dr Christensen: the Reid interrogation technique. Create stress. Wear down the suspect with endless questions. Punish any inconsistencies. Intersperse banal and undemanding questions with provoking and stress-inducing ones. Resort to false evidence, blackmail, force—anything goes.

Put the suspect under stress. Wear him down. Put him under stress. Wear him down. Eventually offer him confession as a way out. Put him under stress. Wear him down. And, finally, break him.

But first of all, I must find out whether he is armed.

‘Get up!’ I say. ‘At once!’

He obeys.

‘Take off your jacket and lay it on the table. Slowly.’

He does so. I pick up his jacket, without taking my eyes off him, and frisk it for weapons. But there’s nothing and I drop the jacket on the floor.

‘Empty your trouser pockets.’

He puts his lighter on the table and looks at me hesitantly.

‘Turn round!’

I can’t bring myself to frisk him, but I can see that neither in his trousers nor in his belt does he have a gun.

‘Push your bag across to me,’ I say. ‘Slowly.’

I pick the bag up and rifle through it. Nothing—just harmless stuff. Lenzen is unarmed. But that doesn’t make a difference. For all I know, he might kill me with his bare hands. I grip the gun.

‘Sit down.’

He sits down.

‘I have some questions and I expect you to answer honestly,’ I say.

Lenzen says nothing.

‘Do you understand?’

He nods.

‘Answer me!’ I yell.

He swallows. ‘Yes,’ he says huskily.

I study him—the size of his pupils, the skin on his face, the throbbing of his pulse in his carotid artery. He’s had a scare, but he’s not actually in shock. That’s good.

‘How old are you?’ I ask.

‘Fifty-three.’

‘Where did you grow up?’

‘In Munich.’

‘How old is your father?’

Lenzen looks at me in utter consternation.

‘We can skip all this,’ I say. ‘Do you know why you’re here?’

‘Er…for the interview,’ says Lenzen, his voice trembling.

He really is pretending not to know what I’m talking about.

‘So you’ve no idea why I’ve asked you here?’ I say. ‘You, rather than anyone else?’

Lenzen looks bewildered.

‘Answer me!’ I snap.

Lenzen hesitates, as if he were scared I might fire the gun if he said anything wrong.

‘A little while ago you said you’d chosen me because you admire my work,’ he replies with studied calm. ‘But it’s beginning to dawn on me that that’s not the real reason.’

I can’t believe he’s still playing the innocent. It makes me so furious that I have to make an effort to collect myself. Very well, I think. It’s up to him.

‘All right then,’ I say, ‘back to the beginning. How old are you?’

He doesn’t immediately reply; I raise the gun a little.

‘Fifty-three,’ he says.

‘Where did you grow up?’

‘In Munich.’

He tries to look at me rather than into the muzzle of my gun.

‘Do you have brothers and sisters?’

He fails.

‘I have an elder brother.’

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

‘Yes.’

‘Do you have children?’

His hand strays to his temple.

‘Listen, you’ve already asked me all this!’ he says, forcing himself to sound calm. ‘What is this? A joke?’

‘It’s not a joke.’

Lenzen’s eyes open a little wider.

‘Do you have children?’ I ask.

‘A daughter.’

‘What’s your daughter called?’

He hesitates—only momentarily, but I sense his reluctance.

‘Sara,’ he says.

‘What’s your favourite football team?’

I note his mental sigh of relief as I move off the subject of his daughter. Good.

‘1860 Munich.’

Time to hit below the belt.

‘Do you like inflicting pain on others?’

He makes a sound of contempt.

‘No.’

‘Have you ever tortured an animal?’

‘No.’

‘What’s your mother’s maiden name?’

‘Nitsche.’

‘How old is your father?’

‘Seventy-eight.’

‘Do you think of yourself as a good person?’

‘I do my best.’

‘Do you prefer dogs or cats?’

‘Cats.’

I can almost see the cogs whirring in his brain as he tries to work out where I’m going with all this and, more importantly, how he can disarm me. I’m holding the gun in my right hand, leaning on the table for support. I hold it correctly; I don’t allow myself to become careless. I’ve been practising. The table is wide. Lenzen doesn’t have a chance of getting at me or the gun. To do that, he’d have to come round the table. Not a chance. We both know that.

I ratchet up the pace.

‘What’s your favourite film?’

Casablanca.’

‘How old is your daughter?’

‘Twelve.’

‘What colour is your daughter’s hair?’

His jaw is grinding.

‘Blonde.’

The questions about his daughter are bothering him.

‘What colour are your daughter’s eyes?’

‘Brown.’

‘How old is your father?’

‘Seventy-seven.’

‘A moment ago you said seventy-eight.’

Punish every mistake.

‘Seventy-eight. He’s seventy-eight.’

‘Do you think this is a game?’

He doesn’t reply. His eyes flash.

‘Do you think this is a game?’ I repeat.

‘No. It was a slip of the tongue.’

‘You should get a grip on yourself,’ I warn him.

Put him under stress, wear him down.

‘What’s your mother’s maiden name?’

‘Nitsche.’

‘How old is your father?’

Lenzen conceals a sigh.

‘Seventy-eight.’

‘What’s your favourite band?’

‘U2. No, the Beatles.’

Interesting.

‘What’s your favourite Beatles song?’

‘All You Need is Love.’

Touché. I try not to let anything show, but I fail. Lenzen looks at me; his gaze is shifty, inscrutable.

Time to tighten the screws.

‘You lied to me, Herr Lenzen,’ I say. ‘But it doesn’t matter. I know your daughter’s name isn’t Sara; it’s Marie.’

I let this sink in.

‘You know,’ I say, ‘I know a great deal about you. More than you think. I’ve had you watched for a long time. Your every move.’

That’s a lie, but what the hell.

‘You’re crazy,’ says Lenzen.

I ignore this.

‘In fact I know the answer to every single question I’ve asked you and to all the questions I’m going to ask you.’

He snorts. ‘Then why ask?’

Now that’s predictable.

‘Because I’d like to hear the answers from you.’

‘The answers to what? Why? I don’t understand any of this!’

At least part of his desperation sounds genuine. I mustn’t go easy on him now.

‘Have you ever been involved in a fight?’

‘No.’

‘Have you ever hit anyone in the face?’

‘No!’

‘Have you ever hit a woman?’

‘I thought “anyone” included women.’

He seems back in control, damn him. Talk of violence leaves him untroubled. Cold bastard.

‘Have you ever raped a woman?’

His face no longer betrays any emotion.

‘No.’

The only sore point I’ve been able to make out so far is his daughter. I decide to embed all potentially delicate and provoking questions in questions concerning her.

‘How old is your daughter?’

‘Twelve.’

His jaw muscles clench.

‘What year is your daughter in at school?’

‘Year seven.’

‘What’s your daughter’s favourite subject?’

I spot a vein I hadn’t noticed before on Lenzen’s temple. It’s throbbing.

‘Maths.’

‘What’s the name of your daughter’s horse?’

And throbbing.

‘Lucy.’

‘Do you think you’re a good father?’

His jaws are grinding.

‘Yes.’

‘Have you ever raped a woman?’

‘No.’

‘What’s the name of your daughter’s best friend?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Annika,’ I say. ‘Annika Mehler.’

Lenzen swallows. I feel nothing at all.

‘What’s your daughter’s favourite colour?’

‘Orange.’

His hand strays towards his temple; he’s sick of all these questions about his daughter. Good.

‘What’s your daughter’s favourite film?’

The Little Mermaid.’

‘Have you ever killed anyone?’

‘No.’

The answer comes swiftly, like the others. But he knows we’re getting to the heart of the matter. What is he hoping for? How’s he going to get out of this one?

‘Are you afraid of death?’

‘No.’

‘What’s the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened to you?’

He clears his throat. ‘This.’

‘Is there anything you’d kill for?’

‘No.’

‘Would you kill for your daughter?’

‘Yes.’

‘But you said…’

He loses his cool.

‘I know what I said!’ he shouts. ‘Dear God! Of course I’d do anything to protect my child.’

He tries to calm down, but fails.

‘Can you tell me what the hell’s going on here?’

He’s yelling.

‘What the fuck is this? Is it a game? Are you thinking out a new crime novel? Am I your guinea pig? Is that it? Fuck!’

He slams his clenched fist down on the table. His fury is elemental. It scares me, despite the gun in my hand, but I contain my emotions. Outside, the sun is shining again; I can feel the warmth of its rays on my cheek.

‘Calm down, Herr Lenzen,’ I say and raise the gun. ‘This is not a toy.’

‘I can see that!’ Lenzen snarls. ‘Do you think I’m a choirboy? I know what a bloody gun looks like. I was almost kidnapped twice in Algeria; I’ve reported on goddamn warlords in Afghanistan: I am perfectly capable of telling a real gun from a water pistol, believe me.’

His face is bright red. He’s losing control. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

‘You don’t like the situation,’ I say matter-of-factly.

‘You’re damn right I don’t! Can’t you at least tell me…’ he begins.

‘But you can put an end to the situation at any time,’ I say, interrupting him.

I try to sound calm. I hadn’t yet been as conscious of the microphones in the house as I am at this moment.

‘And how can I go about doing that?’ Lenzen demands.

‘By giving me what I want.’

‘What do you want, for heaven’s sake?’

‘The truth,’ I say. ‘I want you to confess.’

Lenzen stares at me. My gun and I stare back. Then he blinks.

‘You want me to confess,’ he echoes in disbelief.

Everything in me is quivering.

‘That’s exactly what I want.’

Lenzen makes a deep, rumbling noise. It takes me a moment to realise that it’s laughter—mirthless and hysterical.

‘Then maybe you’d like to tell me what the hell I’m supposed to confess to! What have I done to you? I didn’t ask for this interview!’

‘You don’t know what I’m talking about?’

‘I haven’t the faintest idea,’ says Lenzen.

‘I find that hard to…’

I get no further. With a swooping movement, Lenzen lunges at me across the table; he’s over it in a split second, sweeping me off my chair. My head strikes the floor hard and Lenzen’s on me. A shot goes off, my brain explodes, I see only mottled red, hear a whistling sound in my ears. I kick and thrash and try to heave Lenzen off me, but he’s too heavy. I want to get away from him—get away—and, instinctively rather than deliberately, I bring the gun down on his skull. He screams and goes limp. I roll him off me, get to my feet, take a few steps backwards, and stumble, almost falling over my chair. I manage to stay on my feet and stand there, gasping for air. I point the gun at Lenzen. I’m perfectly calm now; there’s no anger left in me—only cold hatred. I feel like pulling the trigger. Lenzen’s crouching before me, motionless, staring into the muzzle of the gun. I see his wide-open eyes, the sweat glistening on his face, the rise and fall of his chest—I see everything as if in slow motion. My right hand, holding the gun, trembles. The moment passes. I regain self-control and lower the gun a little. I realise I’ve been holding my breath. Lenzen’s gasping for air; we’re both gasping for air. He’s bleeding from a wound on his head. He gets onto his knees, looking out at me from behind metallic eyes—a wounded animal.

‘Get up,’ I say.

Lenzen gets up. He puts his hand to his head and looks aghast when he feels the blood. I fight back my nausea.

‘Turn round and walk towards the front door.’

He looks at me uncomprehendingly.

‘Go on,’ I say.

I follow him with raised gun, steering him on wobbly legs towards the guest bathroom which, as luck will have it, is right next to the dining room. I get him to take a towel, wet it, press it to the bleeding. It’s soon clear that the wound is tiny; I didn’t hit him properly at all. Neither of us says a word; only our heavy breathing is audible.

Then I steer Lenzen back to the dining-room table. Thick clouds cover the sun and dusk is falling; we’re on the narrow ridge between daytime and evening. Far off, there’s a rumble. The storm that Charlotte had prophesied is coming. It may be some time coming, but the air in the room is already electrically charged.

‘Please,’ said Lenzen, ‘let me go.’

I stare at him. What is he thinking?

‘I don’t know what you want from me,’ he says. ‘And I don’t know what kind of a game you’re playing. But you’ve won.’

Tears are gleaming in his eyes. Not bad. The blow on his head really was good for something.

‘You don’t know what’s going on here?’ I ask.

‘No!’

He almost screams the word.

‘Why did you say earlier on that you had the impression the sister in my book was the murderer?’ I ask. ‘Were you trying to provoke me?’

‘Why should that provoke you? I don’t understand you!’ Lenzen shouts. ‘You were the one who wanted to talk about the book!’

Not bad.

‘And the carry-on with Charlotte?’

He looks at me as if I were speaking a foreign language.

‘Charlotte?’

‘Charlotte, my assistant. What was all that about?’

Lenzen gives a tortured sigh and forces himself to reply calmly.

‘Listen. Your assistant was flirting openly with me; I’m not to blame for that. I was just trying to be friendly; you can’t hold that against me, I…’

‘What was the idea behind the questions about my dog?’

‘I wasn’t hoping to achieve anything with those questions, Frau Conrads,’ he says. ‘Please try to remember that I’m here at your behest. You invited me. I’m being paid to talk to you. I’ve treated you politely throughout. I’ve done nothing that would justify your behaviour towards me.’

‘What was the idea behind the questions about my dog?’

‘We’re here for an interview, right?’ says Lenzen.

He looks at me as if I were a dangerous animal that might pounce on him at any moment. I can sense how much strength it’s costing him to keep calm.

I don’t reply.

‘You’d mentioned that you had a dog,’ says Lenzen, ‘so it’s only natural that I should ask about it.’

By now he probably thinks I’m completely nuts—totally unpredictable. That’s good. With a bit of luck, I’ll soon have him where I want him.

‘Why did you ask me if I was afraid of death?’

‘What?’

‘Why did you ask me if I was afraid of death?’ I repeat.

Again I hear thunder, far, far away—a menacing rumble, like the scolding of a morose giant.

‘I didn’t,’ he says.

He looks bewildered. Not for the first time, I am on the point of getting up and applauding him.

‘Please let me go,’ he begs. ‘I’ll forget this has happened. Only…’

I interrupt him. ‘I can’t let you go.’

His hypocritical posturing, his crocodile tears, his yammering—it all makes me feel sick. I find it hard not to puke at his feet. Seven stabs—and he goes to pieces over a little cut.

I take a deep breath.

‘Do you have children?’ I ask.

Lenzen groans and buries his head in his hands.

‘Please,’ he says.

‘Do you have children?’ I ask again.

‘Please leave my daughter out of this,’ Lenzen moans.

I notice that he’s crying.

‘What’s your daughter called?’ I ask.

‘What do you want from my daughter?’

He says it almost pleadingly. And I twig. Is it possible that he thinks I mean to harm his daughter in some way? That it’s why I keep asking about her? That it’s a kind of threat? I’d never have come up with that, but all right. I decide to ignore his whining. Maybe he’s ready to give me what I want now.

‘You know what I want,’ I say.

Give me what I want and I’ll leave your daughter alone, I’m saying between the lines. Lenzen knows that and I know it. I don’t have the time to feel bad about it.

‘A confession,’ says Lenzen.

The surge of adrenalin, which had flooded my body when Lenzen attacked me, is suddenly back with a vengeance. I feel its heat.

‘A confession,’ I confirm.

‘But I don’t know…’

Here we go again. How long is he going to keep this up?

‘Then I’ll help you,’ I say. ‘Where were you living twelve years ago?’

He considers for a moment.

‘In Munich,’ he says. ‘That was my last year in Munich.’

‘Do you know an Anna Michaelis?’

There’s nothing in his eyes—nothing.

‘No. Who’s she?’

Liar. I almost have to admire him. Considering there’s a gun involved, he’s holding out pretty damn long. Maybe he really isn’t afraid of death.

‘Why are you lying to me?’

‘Okay, okay, okay,’ he says. ‘Let me think. The name does ring a bell.’

What kind of a game are you playing, Victor Lenzen?

‘I found out during my research that your real surname is Michaelis. Conrads is a nom de plume. After Joseph Conrad, one of your favourite authors, right?’

I’m having trouble keeping my temper. He’s still acting.

‘Is Anna Michaelis a relation of yours?’ Lenzen asks.

‘Where were you on 23 August 2002?’ I retaliate.

He looks confused. You could clean pity the man, the way he’s sitting there, bleeding and snivelling.

‘Where were you on 23 August 2002?’ I repeat.

Put him under stress, wear him down, break him.

‘Bloody hell, how am I supposed to remember that?’ he asks.

‘Think about it.’

‘I don’t know.’ Again he buries his head in his hands.

‘Why did you kill Anna Michaelis?’

‘What?’

Lenzen leaps up, knocking his chair to the floor. The sudden movement and the clatter make me start. For a moment, I think Lenzen’s going to make a second attempt to attack me, and I too leap up, and back away a few steps. But he only looks at me aghast.

‘I want to know why you murdered my sister,’ I say.

He looks at me. I look at him. I feel nothing. Everything about me is cold and numb; only the gun in my hand is red hot.

‘What?’ says Lenzen. ‘Have you finally…’

‘Why did you do it? Why Anna?’

‘Oh God,’ Lenzen says wearily.

He’s reeling.

‘You think I murdered your sister,’ he murmurs.

He seems dazed. He’s not looking at me any more; he’s looking at the floor, staring into space.

‘I know you did,’ I correct him.

Victor Lenzen looks up and stares at me with wide-open eyes. Then, grasping the edge of the table, he turns away from me and breaks into spasms of vomiting. I look at him in horror: he’s bleeding, he’s crying, he’s throwing up.

Lenzen rallies himself. He coughs, gasping for breath, and looks at me, his upper lip beaded with sweat, that curious expression on his face like a child that’s been given a hiding. For a moment, I see a human being instead of the monster and my stomach tightens with pity. I feel his fear—the fear he feels for himself, but more than anything else the fear he feels for his daughter. It’s written all over his face.

That face. I notice again that he has a sprinkling of freckles. I can imagine what he must have looked like as a little boy—before life, before the wrinkles. Interesting wrinkles. I catch myself thinking that I’d like to touch his face, just to know what it feels like. I remember my beautiful grandma and her lovely lined face. Lenzen’s face would feel different beneath my fingers—firmer.

I brush the thought aside. What am I doing? I’m like a child at the zoo who wants to stroke the tiger even though she’s quite old enough to know that it would tear her limb from limb.

Get a grip on yourself, Linda.

I mustn’t let myself get carried away by my pity.

Lenzen is retching again.

‘You’re a murderer,’ I say.

Lenzen shakes his head.

I’m perplexed. Either Victor Lenzen has no breaking point, or else… I hardly dare think it through. What if I’d long since reached the point at which Victor Lenzen would break down under pressure? If the only reason he hasn’t yet confessed is that he doesn’t have anything to confess?

No!

I realise how dangerous this train of thought is. I must pull myself together, remember what I learnt from Dr Christensen: that thinking this way might lead to a breakdown. The situation is not only a strain on Victor Lenzen’s nerves but on mine too. I mustn’t budge an inch, mustn’t show any pity and I certainly mustn’t start doubting now. Victor Lenzen is guilty. Everyone has a breaking point; Lenzen just hasn’t yet reached his. He’s used to extreme situations; he said as much himself. Maybe now is the time to offer him the famous way out: a tangible incentive to confess.

‘Herr Lenzen,’ I say. ‘If you give me what I want, I promise I’ll let you go.’

He coughs, gasping for breath, then looks at me.

‘Give me what I want—and this nightmare will be over,’ I say.

I hear him swallow.

‘But you want a confession!’ he says, turning from me, his hand clutching at his stomach.

‘That’s right.’

I know what he’s going to say next: But if I were to confess, you’d shoot me straight away! Why should I believe you? Of course my only answer to that could be: Right now, you have no alternative, Herr Lenzen.

He says nothing. Then he gives me a steady look.

‘I have nothing to confess,’ he says.

‘Herr Lenzen, you’re not thinking straight. You have two options.

Option one: you tell me the truth. That’s all I want. I want to know what happened to my younger sister that night twelve years ago. You tell me—and I’ll let you go. That’s number one. Option two is this gun here.’

Lenzen stares into the muzzle of the gun.

‘And,’ I add, ‘my patience won’t hold out forever.’

‘Please,’ Lenzen says, ‘you’ve got the wrong man!’

I stifle a groan. How long can he continue to deny it? I decide to change tactics.

‘Would you like a tissue?’ I ask, taking care to make my voice sound brighter, softer.

He shakes his head.

‘A glass of water?’

He shakes his head.

‘Herr Lenzen, I understand why you’re denying it,’ I say. ‘It must be hard for you to believe that I really will let you go if you tell me what I want to know. That’s perfectly understandable for someone in your position. But it’s the truth. If you tell me what I want to know, I’ll let you go.’

It is quite still again; only Lenzen’s shallow breath can be heard. Standing there, hunched over, he seems a lot smaller.

‘I’m not going to lie to you,’ I say. ‘I will, of course, inform the police. But you will leave this house unscathed.’

Now I have his attention. He looks at me.

‘I’m not a murderer,’ he says. Tears glisten in his eyes. I don’t know whether it’s because of the retching or because he really is on the point of crying again. At this moment, I feel sorry for him, in spite of everything.

Lenzen straightens up, taking his hand off his stomach. He turns to face me once more. His eyes are red; he looks older. His laughter lines have vanished. I can see him fight the impulse to wipe his mouth on the sleeve of his smart shirt. I can smell the pool of vomit at his feet.

I squash my pity and tell myself it’s a good thing. The more ill at ease he feels, the better. His situation is humiliating and that rankles—good! I hold the gun so tight that my knuckles stick out white. Lenzen stares at me in silence. A trial of strength. I’m not going to be the first to speak. I want to see how he turns the situation now. The way out is clear; the cards are on the table. He has to confess.

It is silent. Outside, the sky flickers. I hear my breathing and I hear Lenzen’s, gasping and fitful. Thunder follows. Apart from that, it is quite still.

Lenzen closes his eyes, as if by so doing he could release himself from this nightmare. When he opens his eyes, he begins to speak. At last.

‘Please listen to me, Frau Conrads,’ he says. ‘There’s been some mistake! My name is Victor Lenzen. I’m a journalist. And a family man. Not a particularly good one, but…’

He’s losing focus.

‘I abhor violence. I’m a pacifist. I’m a human-rights activist. I’ve never harmed anyone in my life.’

His gaze is penetrating. I waver.

‘You have to believe me!’ he says.

But I must not doubt.

‘If you lie to me once more, I’ll pull the trigger.’

My voice sounds strange. I don’t know whether I really mean it.

‘If you lie to me once more, I’ll pull the trigger,’ I repeat.

Lenzen says nothing—he simply stares at me.

I wait, as the storm grows closer and the wind gets up. I wait a long time and I realise that he’s decided not to talk to me anymore.

It’s over to me.

23

JONAS

A feeling for whether a case would be solved quickly or not at all always took hold fast. Jonas’s gut instinct told him that the case concerning the elfin woman who had been found stabbed to death in her flat was not going to be solved as rapidly as his colleagues assumed. They expected either the jealous lover or the piqued ex to be charged, especially as there had been an eyewitness.

But a sense of unease was creeping over Jonas, so black and heavy that it left no room for optimism. True, everything smacked of a crime passionnel, and there was an identikit picture of the culprit. But no one from the victim’s circle of friends and relations had recognised the picture. How was that possible, if it was a crime of passion? Of course, a secret affair was a possibility. But that wouldn’t have been like Britta Peters.

Jonas took a deep breath and entered the conference room. It smelt of a peculiar mixture of PVC flooring and coffee. The entire team had already assembled: Michael Dzierzewski, Volker Zimmer, Antonia Bug and Nilgün Arslan, a much-loved colleague recently returned from maternity leave. The room was filled with murmurs as they discussed yesterday’s football match, trip to the cinema or evening in the pub. The inevitable fluorescent lighting was on, even though it was broad daylight.

Jonas switched it off and stepped in front of the group.

‘Good morning all,’ he said. ‘Let’s hear what you’ve got to say. Volker!’ He pointed to the man in jeans and a black polo shirt.

‘I had a word with the victim’s landlord,’ Zimmer said. ‘We’d heard from a neighbour that Britta Peters had complained about the man gaining access to her flat without her agreement.’

‘We remember all that,’ said Jonas impatiently.

‘Well, the only crime this landlord—a certain Hans Feldmann—has committed is boring his son and daughter-in-law to death with three hours of photos from his recent trip to Sweden.’

‘He has an alibi?’ Jonas asked.

‘Yes, his son and daughter-in-law stayed the night with him.’

‘Couldn’t he have slipped out briefly?’

‘It’s possible,’ Zimmer replied. ‘But if the eyewitness’s statement is to be believed, it wasn’t Hans Feldmann she saw: he’s over seventy.’

‘Okay,’ said Jonas. ‘Michael?’

‘The ex-boyfriend can be ruled out too,’ said Dzierzewski.

‘Britta’s teenage sweetheart?’ asked Bug.

‘That’s the one. The two of them had been together for a long time and it seems it wasn’t a pretty break-up. But he split up with her, not the other way round.’

‘Okay, that makes him less suspicious,’ said Jonas. ‘Doesn’t mean he’s off the hook.’

‘I’m afraid he is. He was away, you see—with his new flame, a certain Vanessa Schneider. A romantic holiday to the Maldives.’

‘Okay, keep going—what else?’ asked Jonas.

‘A quick question about the ex-boyfriend first,’ said Nilgün. ‘Does anyone know why he dumped her?’

‘He thought she was cheating on him,’ Dzierzewski replied. ‘But her sister and all her girlfriends swear that that’s nonsense and that he was only looking for an excuse because—I quote—“he’s a cowardly bastard”.’

‘All right,’ Jonas replied. ‘Cowardly bastard or not—he’s out. Anything else?’

‘Not much,’ said Antonia. ‘No other partners, no ex-boyfriends, no trouble at work, no debts, no enemies, no rows. You could pretty much say that Britta Peters was an incredibly dull person.’

‘Or an incredibly good one,’ said Jonas.

The team was silent.

‘Okay then,’ he said. ‘The only thing we can do now is carry on looking for the mystery man observed by the eyewitness at the scene of the crime.’

Allegedly observed,’ said Antonia Bug. ‘I think the sister’s lying. I mean, please, even the identikit artist says she sounded as if she was making the face up as she went along.’

Jonas sighed.

‘Some people aren’t good at faces,’ he said. ‘Especially not in stressful situations. And why should Sophie Peters have killed her sister? She alerted the police as soon as she found her. There was no blood on her clothes. Even the stab wounds inflicted on the victim suggest the culprit was much bigger than Sophie Peters—and, in all probability, a man. Besides…’

‘I know all that,’ said Antonia Bug, interrupting him, ‘and I didn’t say I thought Sophie Peters killed her sister. But what if she’s covering for the murderer? You’re not telling me you believe this story of the mystery man.’

‘Who do you have in mind?’

‘I don’t know—maybe her fiancé. Do you remember how Sophie Peters reacted when I asked her the reason for the row she’d had with him?’

Jonas thought of the removal boxes in Sophie’s flat. Her fiancé was moving out. What were the implications of their break-up?

‘Sophie Peters and her fiancé have split up since,’ said Jonas.

A murmur went round the room. Antonia Bug slapped her thigh.

‘There you are,’ she cried. ‘There you are!’

Jonas held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture.

‘Do we have any reason to believe that Sophie Peters’ fiancé was having an affair with the murder victim?’ he asked.

Volker Zimmer was about to say something, but Bug was faster.

‘A good friend of Britta Peters told me that said fiancé, Paul Albrecht, was madly in love with Britta, and that Sophie Peters knew it. Britta Peters apparently told her herself.’

‘Sorry, folks,’ said Zimmer, finally making himself heard, ‘but I’m afraid I have to take the wind out of your sails. I checked on the fiancé yesterday. He did indeed have a row with Sophie Peters on the night of the crime. But after she’d gone off in a huff to be consoled by her sister, he took himself to the pub and went on such a bender with two colleagues from his solicitors’ office that the landlord had to kick all three of them out and call them a taxi. It can’t have been him. He’s definitively out.’

‘Damn,’ said Bug.

Helpless silence filled the room.

‘All right,’ said Jonas. ‘Antonia and Michael, please talk to the victim’s colleagues again. Find out if she was really planning to move away—had she perhaps already handed in her notice? You might hear something. Volker and Nilgün, please have another word with the victim’s ex-boyfriend. Maybe we can find out from him whether there had been a new man in Britta Peters’ life after all. Ask him if he really thinks Britta Peters was cheating on him. Meanwhile, I’ll get in touch with forensics again.’

As the team scattered, Jonas fought the urge to go out and light up. It was getting more and more obvious: if they really didn’t find the murderer anywhere in the victim’s circle of friends and relations, it was going to be very, very hard. He wouldn’t be able to keep the promise he had made to Sophie.


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