The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Nightmare on the Neckar – Briefing
From: Andre Swahn, Briefing/99
To Operatives: Iain Blayne, James Bowater, Nora McShane, Uriah Sutherland, Ellen Wallace, Senator Gregory Wentworth
Subject: Heidelberg identity puzzle
Rendezvous: Heathrow Airport Terminal 2, 0600 hrs GMT, Thursday 30 October 1997 for the British operatives. Operative Wentworth should be at New York's La Guardia airport at 1900 hrs EST, Wednesday 29 October 1997, to meet the rest of the group at Heathrow.
Destination: Frankfurt, Germany. Then transfer by taxi to Heidelberg (approx 50 miles). Heidelberg is the second city of northern Baden state, not far from Mannheim: it is a medieval university town on the River Neckar, with a certain amount of nineteenth-century light industry and more recent service sector development associated with the university.
Travel Arrangements: All travel during the investigation's progress to be by taxi when possible: please keep receipts. You may hire a car if you deem it necessary, but bear in mind the lack of speed limits on German autobahnen (motorways) - as well as the Continental habit of driving on the wrong side of the road! Your return tickets have been left open.
Accommodation has been arranged at the Unter den Linden guesthouse in Heidelberg from the night of 30 October.
Cover: On this investigation you will be posing as a team from the Department of Molecular Biology, University of Central London. The cover has this Department based at 16-18 Boundary Row, London SE1 8HN, tel / fax 0171 865 0088.
Note: this cover is rated Code 3: in fact the University of Central London has no Department of Molecular Biology. Calls to the above number will authenticate your story, as this is a SITU address.
Background information: See note from Professor Anna Keizinger, copy attached. Professor Keizinger is a well-respected molecular biologist who has been a member of SITU for almost a year, and we treat this communication from her with great seriousness.
Priority A: to ascertain whether there has been a cover-up of Professor Keizinger's results; and, if so, who was responsible.
Priority B: to find out what happened to Helmut Schreik (and, possibly, the other three men mentioned).
Priority C: to establish the nature of the mysterious substance found in Schreik's blood.
Expenses: SITU will reimburse Operatives for all reasonable expenses incurred during the investigation. Receipts will be required.
Extra-legal activity: All Operatives should be aware that, while they may choose to operate outside the Law, they are not above it. SITU does not condone or sanction unlawful activity of any nature. Note that SITU will not act on the behalf of an Operative who is cautioned, arrested, charged, etc, in the course of an investigation. Indeed, if an Operative were to attempt to contact SITU in such a situation, s/he would find all telephone numbers unobtainable and all addresses unoccupied.
AttachmentProf. Anna Keizinger
Institute of Molecular Medicine
University of Heidelberg
Dear British SITU colleagues,
I draw your attention to the recent case of Helmut Schreik, deceased, of Heidelberg, whose battered body was pulled from the Neckar by police on 4 September of this year. As is customary I was called in to act as forensic pathologist. No identification was found on the body, so I carried out a series of biological tests to establish its identity. I was surprised to find that while fingerprints from the left hand identified the body as that of Schreik, prints from the right hand identified it as that of Philip Kaufmann, and dental tests indicated a third identity, that of Gunther Blauer. All three men had minor criminal records and were reported as missing persons within the last two years. Follow-up DNA tests confirmed the three identities and also suggested a fourth, that of Helmut Konig.
The cause of death was a succession of heavy blows to the head, caused by some blunt instrument, wielded by a very strong man. A number of other scars suggested extensive surgery in the victim's past. The lungs were full of water and mucous membranes suffused with blood, suggesting Schreik was alive at the point that he entered the water. There were traces of a substance I was unable to identify in his blood: samples were sent by the police to the Department of Inorganic Chemistry here for analysis, but I have not been informed of the results of their tests.
I presented my report to the Heidelberg police in the usual way, and also prepared a paper for European Molecular Letters journal on this interesting case. To my surprise the paper was rejected at once, and I have been unable to publish it elsewhere. Inquiries I have made of the police have met with the news that the case has been closed. I am writing now to request your help, and to see whether you can shed any light on this matter.
"We are now commencing descent towards Frankfurt," comes the pilot's voice over the speakers. "Thank you for flying with British Airways - I hope you have a pleasant stay in Germany."
"Not much chance of that!" mutters Nora McShane, who is peering mistrustfully out of her window at the city below. "This isn't a holiday, y'know!" She is a slim, blonde woman, in her mid-twenties probably, dressed smartly in a formal suit. Something about her manner suggests that she is used to getting her own way.
Her neighbour, James Bowater, leans across to look out too. "Oh, I don't know - no harm in mixing business with pleasure, eh?" He has been chatting animatedly to Nora for the duration of the flight, his cultivated Home Counties drawl mixing pleasantly with her Australian accent. He is around 40, tall, slim, impeccably turned out, and in every way the epitome of the English gentleman.
Iain Blayne, who is seated behind James, snorts and says nothing. Dressed in well-worn jeans and a climbing fleece, his hair is closely cropped and his physique slim but well-toned. He appears in his early thirties, and has said little during the flight, although his keen blue eyes have been roaming, continuously taking in information.
Uriah Sutherland is even scruffier than Iain, and the two stand out markedly from their formally-dressed SITU colleagues. He is an American, although resident in London, and he has said little apart from general chit-chat: although well over six feet tall, with long, bushy hair bleached by the sun in places, he does not make an overwhelming impression. "You'll have to fasten your safety belt now, sir," says the stewardess to him, and he grins as he obeys, as if to say that such safety precautions are for those who need them.
The other American member of the party is Gregory Wentworth - Senator Gregory Wentworth. He was at pains to assure his new colleagues that he had served in the Californian State Senate, not the US Senate - and that he was no longer a member of that august body, now working as an attorney. He is also tall, as tall as Uriah but far more impressive with it, with handsome, craggy features, dark hair and an excellent build considering he must be over 40. He is grave, polite and charming, and it is easy to see why he was successful as a politician.
Greg has been deep in conversation with his own neighbour, Ellen ("call me Ella, not Ellie!") Wallace, a Scotswoman in her late twenties. She was quiet at first, but has opened up gradually. She is extravagantly clad, in a fake-fur leopard-print coat and platform boots, her fingernails painted a variety of lurid colours. She is of average height, with long, loose red hair, hazel eyes and a generous scattering of freckles.
"Here we are then! Do any of you know anything about molecular biology?"
Having passed through customs it is Iain who takes charge of finding a taxi, barking out a series of phrases in German. "Most of the people here speak English, of course, but I've found - working in Europe - it always helps make a good impression if you can talk in their own language."
The party pile into a shiny new Mercedes T-series estate, with three rows of seats and plenty of room for the luggage, Uriah's rucksack and Iain's khaki kitbag nestling uncomfortably next to the smart leather suitcases of the others.
The afternoon progresses as the car drives down along the mighty Rhine, the sky flat and leaden, promising rain. Before Mannheim the road splits: the fork leading to Heidelberg is much less heavily used.
As the car approaches the city, which is perched on either side of the Neckar valley - the river flows dark and deep towards the Rhine - the heavens open, so the party's first sight of Heidelberg is through torrential rain. Lightning plays about the high towers which mark the medieval city wall, which still contains most of the population. The driver swears in German as he negotiates the big Mercedes through the tight, granite-walled streets towards the guesthouse, which is in the University district.
There are few people out, and those who the party do glimpse are scurrying for shelter, heads covered. The car climbs steeply up the north bank of the river, from which the University glowers across at the mayoral buildings on the southern face. A large part of the district is pedestrianized, and the alleys and courts probably date back to the Middle Ages.
The driver draw up outside a drab, unremarkable-looking dwelling, with only a tatty hand-painted sign to identify it as the Gästhaus Unter den Linden. Across the street is a beer cellar called the Freikeller: this is brightly lit, and music and voices are spilling out from it. It looks far more inviting than the guesthouse. He makes no effort to help as the SITU operatives lug their bags up the six steep steps, instead counting his (extremely large) fare avidly.
Inside the guesthouse lobby there is warmth, at least. A middle-aged couple, both dressed shabbily and with greying hair, are perched on high stools behind the desk, poring anxiously over a ledger. As the party enters, the woman rise to greet them. Her English is strongly accented but reasonably fluent. "How do you do, ladies and gentlemen? You must be the distinguished academics. I am Helga Braun, and this is my husband Gil."
Gil waves shyly, smiling.
"Let me show you to your rooms. We've been able to give you all single rooms - is that suitable? Bur only three with bathrooms, which I was thinking the two ladies... and the Senator... the others can use the bathroom on the landing..." She trails off rather aimlessly, and the party are left with the impression that they are to fight for the bathrooms.
"Now, let me see, dinner will be served in an hour, at seven-thirty - none of you are special eaters? Any special foods, I mean? And we serve breakfast between eight-thirty and nine, unless you wish it earlier. I... we will clean your rooms in the morning, so please to vacate by ten."
"There is the message, Helga," calls Gil nervously as the party start to mount the stairs.
"Oh! I had forgotten. Professor Keizinger is coming to visit you this evening, at nine. Here is a telephone number to speak with her on if this is not convenient." She hands over a slip of paper to Greg.