Things that don’t exist in my world: conkers dropping from trees, children shuffling through autumn leaves, people in fancy dress on the tram, serendipitous meetings, short women being pulled along by enormous dogs as if they were on water skis. Shooting stars, ducklings learning to swim, sand castles, rear-end collisions, surprises, lolly-pop ladies, roller-coasters, sunburn.
My world makes do with a meagre palette.
Films are my way of passing the time; books are my passion, my true love. But music is my refuge. Whenever I’m in high spirits, which isn’t often, I put on a record—Ella Fitzgerald, maybe, or Sarah Vaughan—and it almost makes me feel as if someone else were happy with me. If, on the other hand, I’m feeling sad or low, then Billie Holiday or Nina Simone suffer alongside me, and sometimes even console me.
I’m standing in the kitchen, listening to Nina as I pour a handful of coffee beans into my old-fashioned grinder. I love the smell of coffee, that dark, powerful, comforting aroma. I turn the handle, taking pleasure in the crunch and crack of the beans as I grind them. Afterwards I pull out the wooden drawer where the ground coffee collects and put it in a filter. When I’m alone in the house and only making coffee for myself, which is to say most of the time, I always make it by hand. Filling the grinder, grinding the beans, boiling the kettle, watching the brewing coffee drip into my cup—it’s a ritual. When you lead as quiet a life as I do, it’s a good idea to take pleasure in small things.
I empty the filter and contemplate the coffee in my cup. I sit down at the kitchen table with it. The smell that pervades the room calms me.
From the kitchen window, I can see the drive that leads to my house. It lies there, quiet and peaceful, but it’s not long now until the monster from my dreams will make his way up it. He’ll ring at my door and I’ll let him in. The thought frightens me.
I take a sip of coffee and pull a face. I usually like it black, but today I’ve made it too strong. I open the fridge, take out the cream that I keep for Charlotte and other visitors, and pour a good swig in. Then I watch in fascination as the little clouds of cream swirl around in my cup, contracting and expanding, their movements as unpredictable as those of children at play, and it dawns on me that I am putting myself in a situation that is as incalculable and uncontrollable as these swirling clouds. I can lure the man to my house, yes.
But what next?
The clouds stop their dance and settle. I stir the coffee and drink it in small sips. My gaze rests on the drive again. It is lined with old chestnut trees and will soon be covered in yellow, red and brown leaves. For the first time ever, it seems threatening to me; I suddenly find it hard to breathe.
I can’t do this.
I tear my eyes from the drive and pick up my smartphone. I tap around on it for a minute or two until I find the setting that enables me to withhold my number. I get up and turn the music down. Then I enter the number of the police station that investigated Anna’s murder. I know it off by heart, even now.
My heart begins to beat faster when I hear the ringing tone. I try to breathe steadily. I tell myself I’m doing the right thing, putting my trust in the police in spite of everything—leaving murder to the experts. I tell myself I’m going to stash the half-written manuscript in the bottom drawer of my desk, or, better still, throw it away and never give it another thought.
The ringing sounds a second time—agonisingly drawn out.
I’m as nervous as if I were about to sit an exam. It occurs to me that the police aren’t going to believe me, just as they didn’t believe me back then, and I begin to waver. I’m toying with the idea of hanging up, when someone picks up the phone and a woman’s voice answers. I recognise it at once.
Andrea Brandt was on the murder squad all those years ago. I didn’t like her and she didn’t like me. My determination immediately falters.
‘Hello?’ Brandt drawls when I don’t speak—impatient even before we’ve begun.
I pull myself together.
‘Hello, could I speak to Superintendent Julian Schumer?’ I ask.
‘It’s his day off today. Who’s speaking, please?’
I swallow and don’t know whether to confide in her (it had to be her, didn’t it?) or whether I’m better off hanging up.
‘I’m calling about an old case,’ I say eventually, as if I hadn’t heard her question. I can’t bring myself to reveal my identity—not yet. ‘About a murder that took place more than ten years ago,’ I add.
I can sense the policewoman pricking up her antennae and I could slap myself for not preparing for this conversation. My old impulsiveness is flaring up again when I least need it.
‘What would you say,’ I ask, ‘if new evidence came to light so long after the event? From a witness who thought he knew the murderer?’
Andrea Brandt hesitates only briefly. ‘Are you this witness?’ she asks.
Damn it! Should I put my cards on the table? I struggle with my conscience.
‘If you want to make a statement, you can call in at any time,’ Brandt says.
‘How often are these old cases solved?’ I ask, ignoring her last remark.
I can almost hear her suppress a sigh, and I wonder how many of these calls she gets, yielding nothing tangible.
‘I can’t give you an exact number, I’m afraid, Frau…’
Nice try. I say nothing. The policewoman endures the awkward silence for a moment and then gives up trying to find out my name.
‘What quite often happens is that cases known as “cold cases” are solved with the help of DNA data—the so-called “genetic fingerprint”,’ she says. ‘This data is still totally reliable, even decades after a crime has been committed.’
Unlike witness statements, I think to myself.
‘But, as I said, if you’d like to make a statement, we’re always at your service,’ says Brandt. ‘Which case are we talking about?’
‘I’ll think about it,’ I reply.
‘Your voice sounds familiar. Have we met?’
I panic and break off the connection. Only now do I realise that at some point in the brief conversation I must have got up and started pacing around the room. An unpleasant feeling has settled in the pit of my stomach. I sit back down at the kitchen table, wait for my pulse to slow, and drink the remains of my coffee. It is cold.
I remember the head of investigations with warmth, but I would have preferred to forget the stand-offish young policewoman who was on the murder squad with him. Even as I made my witness statement, I had the feeling that Andrea Brandt didn’t believe me. For a while, I even had the impression that she thought I was the murderer, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
Now I have to explain to Andrea Brandt that I have recognised Anna’s murderer in a respected reporter I’ve seen on a news broadcast twelve years after the event. And that I can’t possibly go to the police station to make the statement because the very thought of setting foot outside makes me feel sick…
No. If I want the man to be called to account, I’ll have to do it myself.