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The Trap: Chapter 20


Victor Lenzen looks at me with bowed head and says nothing. I stare back. I’m going to stand my ground, no matter what happens.

We’re sitting down again. I had asked him—with raised gun—to return to his seat.

‘Where were you living twelve years ago?’ I ask.

Lenzen lets out a tormented noise, but says nothing.

‘Where were you living twelve years ago?’

I don’t raise my voice, I don’t shout; I simply ask, the way I’ve learnt.

‘Do you know Anna Michaelis?’

It is disconcerting looking somebody in the eyes for a long time. Lenzen’s eyes are very pale—grey, almost white. But the grey contains some tiny speckles of green and brown, and is edged with a black circle. Lenzen’s eyes look like an eclipse of the sun.

‘Do you know Anna Michaelis?’

Silence.

‘Where were you on 23 August 2002?’

Silence.

‘Where were you on 23 August 2002?’

Nothing—just a frown. As if the date reminds him of something that is only now coming back to him.

‘I don’t know,’ he says faintly.

He’s talking. Good.

‘Why are you lying to me, Herr Lenzen?’

In a film, I would release the safety catch at this point to drive my words home.

‘Where were you living twelve years ago?’ I repeat. ‘Talk, damn it!’

‘In Munich,’ says Lenzen.

‘Do you know Anna Michaelis?’

‘No.’

‘Why are you lying, Herr Lenzen? There’s no point.’

‘I’m not lying.’

‘Why did you kill Anna Michaelis?’

‘I’ve never killed anyone.’

‘Have you killed other women?’

‘I’ve never killed anyone.’

‘What are you?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘What are you? Are you a rapist? A robber and murderer? Did you know Anna?’

‘Anna,’ Lenzen says, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. ‘No.’

It does something to me, hearing him speak Anna’s name out loud like that—the name she was so proud of being able to read backwards as well as forwards. I tremble. I see Anna lying in a pool of blood, although blood gave her the creeps, and I know that I’m not going to let Lenzen go: Victor Lenzen will confess or die.

‘Do you know an Anna Michaelis?’

‘No, I don’t know any Anna Michaelis.’

‘Where were you on 23 August 2002?’

Silence again.

‘Where were you on 23 August 2002?’

‘I…’ He hesitates. ‘I’m not sure.’

That annoys me. He knows perfectly well where he was on 23 August 2002. He knows perfectly well what I’m driving at. The cat’s been out of the bag for ages. So what’s all this about?

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I ask, unable to conceal my impatience.

‘Frau Conrads, please listen to me. Please. Do me a favour.’

I’m sick of him. I’m supposed to be breaking him and instead I’m the one who’s being worn down. I can’t bear his look anymore, his voice, his lies. I no longer believe he’s going to confess.

‘All right then,’ I say.

‘I didn’t know you’d lost your sister,’ says Lenzen, and his hypocrisy makes my gun hand tremble.

Lost. The way he says that—as if no one were to blame. I feel like hitting him again, but harder and more than once.

He sees it in my eyes and holds up his hands beseechingly. Look at him, cowering there, cringing like a beaten child, trying to appeal to my pity. It’s pathetic.

‘I didn’t know,’ Lenzen repeats, ‘and I’m very sorry.’

I’d like to shoot him, to see what it feels like.

‘You really think I did it.’

‘I know you did,’ I correct him, ‘yes.’

Lenzen is silent for a moment. ‘How?’ he asks at last.

I can’t help frowning.

‘How can you know?’

What kind of a game is this, Victor Lenzen? You know that I know.

‘How can you know?’ he asks again.

Something inside me rips. I can’t take any more.

‘Because I fucking well saw you!’ I yell. ‘Because I looked you in the eye the same way I’m looking at you now. So save your lies and your posturing because I can see you. I can see you.’

My heart’s pounding and I’m gasping as if I’d run a sprint. Lenzen stares at me in disbelief. Once again he holds up his hands.

I’m trembling. I force myself to remember that I’ll never find out why Anna had to die if I shoot him now.

‘That’s not possible, Frau Conrads,’ says Lenzen.

‘And yet it’s the case.’

‘I didn’t know your sister.’

‘Then why did you kill her?’

‘I didn’t kill her! You’ve made a mistake!’

‘I have not made a mistake!’

Lenzen looks at me as if I were a stubborn child refusing to listen to sense.

‘What happened back then?’ he asks.

I close my eyes briefly. Specks of red dance on my retina.

‘What were the circumstances of your sister’s death? Where did she die?’ Lenzen asks. ‘If I knew a bit more about it, maybe I could convince you…’

Dear God, give me the strength not to shoot him.

‘I recognised you straight away, when I saw you on television.’

I spit the words at him.

‘Maybe you really did see somebody…’

‘You’re damn right, I did! Of course I saw somebody!’

‘But not me!’

How can he say that? How can he? We were both there, in that room, on that hot summer’s night, with the smell of iron in the air. How can he say that and seriously hope to get away with it?

I give a start when Lenzen swoops to his feet. Instinctively, I get up and point my gun straight at his chest. No matter what he does, I want to be able to stop him in time.

He puts up his hands.

‘Think about it, Linda,’ he says. ‘If I had anything to confess, I’d have confessed long ago.’

The gun is heavy.

‘A human life is at stake here, Linda. You’re the jury; I’ve grasped that now. You think I’m a murderer and you’re the jury. Is that right?’

I nod.

‘Then at least grant me the right to defend myself,’ says Lenzen.

I nod again, reluctantly.

‘Do you have any other evidence against me, apart from the fact that you think you saw me?’

I don’t reply. The answer is galling: no.

‘Think about it, Linda. It’s twelve years ago, isn’t it. Isn’t it?’

I nod.

‘Twelve years. And, quite by chance, you see your sister’s murderer on TV? What are the odds?’

I’d like to ignore the question. I’ve put it to myself often enough, in the long nights since the earthquake struck. I feel sick. My head is bursting. Everything’s spinning.

‘What are the odds?’

I don’t reply.

‘Are you sure I’m guilty, Linda? Not fairly sure, not ninety-nine per cent sure, but absolutely sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt? If you are, then shoot me right here on the spot.’

Everything’s spinning.

‘Be careful. Two human lives are at stake here—yours and mine. Are you sure?’

I don’t reply.

‘Are you absolutely sure, Linda?’

I feel sick, my head is bursting. The room rotates in languid ellipses and I remember that the Earth is moving at an incredible speed through a cold and empty universe.

‘Is 23 August 2002 the day your sister was killed?’ asks Lenzen.

‘Yes,’ is all I can say.

Lenzen seems to be thinking. There’s more silence. He seems to come to a decision.

‘I think I know where I was that day,’ he says.

I stare at him. He stands before me with raised hands—a good-looking, intelligent man, whom I would probably like if I didn’t know what was hidden behind the charming exterior. I mustn’t let him fool me.

‘Where was your sister killed?’ Lenzen asks.

‘You know very well where,’ I say.

I can’t help it: my self-control is beginning to crack.

‘I don’t know,’ says Lenzen. ‘My research didn’t turn up anything about a sister who was murdered.’

‘Do you want to know where my sister was murdered?’ I ask. ‘In her flat. In Munich.’

Lenzen gives a sigh of relief.

‘I wasn’t in Munich at that time,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t in Munich at the time and I can prove it.’

He gives a short laugh of relief, a humourless sound, and then says again, almost incredulously, ‘And I can prove it.’

He sits down.

I forbid myself to let him take me in with this cheap bluff. Lenzen laughs again, hysterically. He’s like a man who’s been through hell, like a man who’d already given his life up for lost, and suddenly sees a glimmer of hope.

What’s going on here?

‘If you weren’t in Munich at that time then where were you?’

Lenzen’s eyes are bloodshot. He looks exhausted.

‘Afghanistan,’ he says. ‘I was in Afghanistan.’

24

SOPHIE

The events of the past night seemed like a dream to Sophie. The shadow crouching in her car, the footsteps hard on her heels, her pure, primeval fear. It must have been the same fear Britta had felt in the last minutes of her life.

Sophie wondered whether she should tell the police that she was being followed. But what could she say to them? Even to her, it all seemed so unreal. How could she explain it all to that arrogant young policewoman she was always put through to, even when she asked to speak to Superintendent Jonas Weber? (A fact that wounded Sophie more than she cared to admit.) It was true that the charges against her had been dropped, but she wouldn’t have the best reputation at the police station right now. She could, of course, hope that the man who had pursued her in the underground car park had been caught on a surveillance camera. That, at least, would finally prove his existence.

The only problem was that now, in broad daylight, in the safety of her flat, it seemed like a dream. What if the police were to go through the surveillance tapes and find no one? Wouldn’t that completely undermine Sophie’s credibility?

She’d sort things out somehow, even without any help.

She sat down at her desk. It was covered in notes and newspaper cuttings on the case—a welter of contradictory information and false trails. An impenetrable jungle.

Sophie buried her face in her hands. She could feel her life falling apart. She hadn’t noticed at first; she’d had too much to do and had been running and running to avoid having to stop and think. But now there was nothing left to be done, and she had been forced to come to rest.

Sophie had talked to everyone in Britta’s life. She had painstakingly reconstructed Britta’s last days and looked into the two new employees from Britta’s company, but neither of them remotely resembled the man she had surprised in her sister’s flat. She had even checked up on every single guest at the party Britta had thrown for a friend shortly before her death. All without success.

She had sifted through Britta’s social media profiles for new friends—nothing. Whenever she had the feeling she was getting somewhere, her hopes were always dashed. And the police were becoming obsessed with their stupid theory of a row with a violent lover. They’d even questioned Paul, but that had soon been proved idiotic, just like that business with Britta’s landlord, who was perhaps a little senile but nothing more. It was hopeless. The police would never find the murderer.

Sophie’s mobile was ringing and she recognised her parents’ number. She didn’t have the slightest inclination to take the call. The last time her mother had rung, she’d accused her of being unnatural for not crying over her sister and told her she ought to be with them rather than running all over town playing James Bond.

The ringing stopped. Sophie stared at the improvised pin board with all the information and evidence she had gathered in connection with the murder; it took up nearly her entire study. There was so much that she didn’t understand. How was it possible that nobody else had seen the murderer? Why hadn’t he attacked her, the eyewitness? What would he have done if she hadn’t turned up? Why hadn’t he run away as soon as he heard somebody in the flat? Was he a burglar? If so, why hadn’t he stolen anything? And what the hell was the detail that had struck such a false note but that she couldn’t now lay her finger on, no matter how hard she racked her brains?

Of the countless agonising questions, the worst was: why? Why did her sister have to die? Who had hated Britta that much? Britta, who was always ready to listen to everyone; Britta, who took such good care of others—perfect Britta! Sophie clung to her conviction that it must have been a stranger. But how was she supposed to find a stranger?

The flat seemed unbearably airless to Sophie. She slipped on her trainers, left the house, stepped onto the street and set off. It was a Saturday, and there must have been some football match on that afternoon because it was crowded when Sophie reached the underground station. Without knowing where she was actually going, she allowed herself to be carried down the escalator by the crowd and eventually came to a stop on the platform where the trains left for the town centre. It reeked of sweat and trouble; the football fans were everywhere, with their beery breath and aggressive singing.

Sophie was borne onto a train by the stream of people. She stood there, squashed between three giants, and the train set off with a jolt. The rucksack of the man in front of her was in her face; the zip scratched her cheek as the train took a bend. The windows were steamed up and there were no longer people in the carriage, only a heaving, homogenous mass, breathing the humid, unwholesome air.

Sophie tried to elbow herself a bit of space, but the crowd around her didn’t budge a millimetre. The air was no longer air; it was hot and doughy and solid. Someone switched on a ghetto blaster; ‘Seven Nation Army’ blared out and the mass broke into a delighted roar.

Sophie clenched her teeth. She felt like a nail bomb.

At the next station, she was thrown out of the damp heat of the train onto the platform; the crowd carried her towards the exit. Sophie fought her way through the swarms of people, broke free and began to run.

Only when she had entered the museum did she breathe freely again. This was what she needed if she was to stay sane: a few hours with her favourite artists, with Raphael and Rubens and van Gogh. A little beauty, a little time to forget.

Sophie bought herself a ticket and wandered about, eventually coming to stop in front of one of van Gogh’s Sunflowers. She marvelled at the radiant colours and at the vitality that always seemed to emanate from the painting, and for a moment she forgot her fears and worries. Then it came back to her—that detail in Britta’s flat that had struck such a frighteningly false note.


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