The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Nightmare on the Neckar – Chapter 3
11.20 pm, Thursday 30 October 1997
"So where'd Nora get to?" Iain asks Ella.
She looks exasperatedly back at him. "Where the hell... She is very headstrong that woman, I hope it doesn't lead to trouble. Maybe you should check the guest house, on the offchance she went back there; I'll find out if anyone here saw her leave."
"Yes, you're much more likely to get some answers from these guys than me. You may even get a couple of drinks as well!" He grins at her.
Ella wanders over to the knot of drunken students which last included Nora. "Excuse me, have any of you seen my friend - she was talking to you earlier?"
"The blonde girl?" One of them makes a vague sketching shape in the air with both hands, approximating Nora's figure. "She went out of here I think ten minutes ago." Ella notices that he has a small scar on his cheek, as though from a knife cut.
"Did she say where she was going?"
"No, she said nothing. Or I would have gone with her... perhaps." He leers, though whether at the memory of Nora or at Ella herself is difficult to say.
Greg, shaking his head ruefully, speaks into the silence following Professor Keizinger's announcement.
"Bologna. No, it's not practical for any of us to go there unless it becomes more clear that the journal is a strong lead to any possible cover-up. Barring evidence to the contrary, we need to proceed on the assumption that Helmut Schreik and the others died as a result of the actions of people here in Heidelberg." He glances across the faces of James and Uriah before resting his gaze on the professor. His tone is respectful, but his eyes never leave hers as he speaks.
"Fräulein Professor Keizinger," (he has noticed her ringless finger), "have you considered the possibility that you may have been called in to examine the remains in question because there was someone who had an interest in discrediting you, or possibly Detective Fuchs? Is there anyone who would stand to gain by setting you up for a fall such as this?"
Her jaw sets and she draws deeply at her whisky again. "I can think of no reason why anyone should wish to make a fool of me in this way. It seems most unlikely. I have no enemies, or so I believe. As for Otto Fuchs, perhaps he could be the target: he is a good policeman, and I would suppose that such will always make enemies. I do not know." She turns the glass rapidly in her hands, tapping the rim with her fingernails.
James takes advantage of the brief silence to break in. He has been studying the academic paper the Professor gave him, and has found that it is indeed written in English, as he had expected for an international journal: at least, English of a sort. Even the abstract is so technical that he can make no real sense of it. "Can you summarize the findings in a way we might understand?"
"Well, it is just as I have said already, really. Here -" she points to some blotchy diagrams "- are the DNA sequences we analysed, and here are those from the files - the same, you see. This section is to do with preparation of the specimens, and the equipment used, which is all standard. This technique is well understood. It is only our conclusions which are 'unorthodox', as the journal said."
"Some of my colleagues seem to think we might be up against some modern day, ahh, Frankenstein." James smiles indulgently. "I think they might be interested in an expert opinion, and perhaps if you have heard rumours of anyone working in this area...?"
Professor Keizinger emits a mirthless bark of laughter. "I hope that this is the twentieth century we are living in! I am a member of SITU, I know that there are things in this world which we do not yet understand, but I do not believe that Baron Victor or his successors are stalking the streets of Heidelberg patching bodies together to look like Boris Karloff, or Robert de Niro. Let us eliminate all other possibilities before we start to believe the incredible, to paraphrase your great Mr Sherlock Holmes. If any scientist were working in this field I should no doubt have heard about it: there are not that many universities so advanced in this field as Heidelberg is."
Iain has ventured out into the rain again, and scuttles over to the guesthouse to see if Nora has returned there. He is soon joined by Ella, who has given up on the students.
They knock and enter Nora's room, where Professor Keizinger is by now looking rather tired. Iain says "Hi guys! Any of you seen Nora in the last few minutes?"
There are blank looks all round. "No? Damn! Looks like she's taken off on her own for something then. I wish she'd bloody said something rather than just leaving us hanging!"
Greg exclaims "Nora! Isn't she the one who was saying that this wasn't a holiday?" His eye gives an angry twitch of annoyance. "We could be dealing with some very sinister and ruthless people, secret societies on the order of the Bavarian Illuminati, or for all I know the Devil Himself who's bought a fresh soul from some latter-day Faustus. We wouldn't be here if this wasn't serious!" He takes a swig of Ella's whisky, which she notes (with a small sigh) is nearly dead. This seemingly uncharacteristic outburst from the Senator draws looks of surprise, particularly from James and Professor Keizinger.
Ella perches on the edge of the bed, there being nowhere else to sit, and, pushing her wet hair off her face, asks the Professor if she knows of any research into immunosuppressants that might be connected to this incident.
"Tissue rejection, you mean?" The Professor nods in approval. "That is certainly worth studying, yes. Not exactly my field, but I know that great steps are being made all the time. Here in Heidelberg we have no such research, though. I will investigate with a literature search if you wish it."
"The other thing," says James, "is that we may need to speak to Inspector Fuchs. Could you possibly arrange an introduction for us? Perhaps we could all have lunch together tomorrow."
She looks a little doubtful. "Perhaps, but I have an appointment at lunchtime. Here is his number, I will speak to him in the morning and tell him to expect you."
Greg, who has calmed down considerably, says "Fräulein Professor, how should we should try to cope with the fact that none of us have any knowledge of molecular biology, but that we have to operate on the basis of SITU's cover?"
"Yes, it seems to me that this is a rather foolish cover for you that SITU has arranged. It will not be possible for you to pose as academics, you would be easily exposed." She sniffs rather disdainfully.
"Can you at least suggest any obvious pitfalls that might make it clear that we are not what we claim to be, and ways to get around them - or perhaps any distracting miscues which might suggest to a specialist that we know what we are talking about?"
"We do not have the time for an introductory course in molecular biology, even if any of you had the scientific ability to understand it, which is unlikely. No, best is for you to keep quiet when in the presence of those who know the subject. Your cover will fool the police and other lay people, I imagine, and that will have to do."
"Now, Professor, about this hacking work," says Uriah, who is lounged across his chair. "Can you give me the information I need about system security?"
"And we need to know something of the law in this area," says Greg. "Would causing a crash be considered no more serious than a student prank, or would it be the sort of thing that might attract serious attention from the German government?"
"If you can arrive at my department tomorrow in the morning, I will show you the system. I can also then give you any floorplans you require, and so on. As for these legal matters, I believe it would be best to be very careful. A crash would certainly cause the University authorities to investigate, although I doubt if it would become a police matter unless damage or theft was involved."
With that, the clock nudging midnight, Professor Keizinger prepares to leave. James leaps to his feet and, gently taking her arm, escorts her down to the street, on the way extracting the telephone number of European Molecular Letters from her. She explains that she lives just ten minutes away, and he offers to walk her back.
Uriah watches from the window as they trudge off into the darkness, James chatting animatedly about nothing in particular. He is surprised to see two policemen emerge from the shadows of the street corner opposite and head off after the two, at a discreet distance. They do not wear the same uniform as the traffic police he saw earlier.
He is even more surprised to see Nora emerge from another patch of shadow, slightly further down. She goes into the Unter den Linden.
Greg has just suggested that Iain and Ella should head for the nightclub Iain found earlier, in case Nora is there, and is handing over his portable phone, when the errant Australian enters the room. He breathes a sigh of relief, and mutters, "Thank you, Lord" under his breath.
Ella looks distinctly unimpressed, and crisply points out that, if the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, the party could all end up in serious trouble.
Nora is unrepentant and explains that she has made a potentially useful contact in the police force: one of the two officers who, it is now apparent, are following Professor Keizinger.
James drops Professor Keizinger at her flat, in a converted townhouse near the University buildings. He cheerfully bids her goodnight and heads back towards the Unter den Linden. On the way, he looks at the other buildings of the neighbourhood: several of them also have bricked-up windows, although in this darkness it is difficult to tell how recent the brickwork is. Not very recent, though.
Before reaching the street on which the guesthouse lies, he turns aside on an impulse and wanders over to the deserted theatre Iain described. This is a rather spooky building in the middle of the night, with the battered and torn remnants of the last playbills still visible inside their broken frames. There are no windows at all on the ground floor, just a large set of doors and a stage door and fire exit at the rear. As he comes back round to the front, the main doors open and a couple of drunks stagger out, locked in a wrestling match. Both are shouting incoherently. James glances over them as they collapse to the ground, oblivious to his presence, and sees that within the building, the insides of which appear to have been completely gutted, there are quite a number of down-and-outs, some sat round a small bonfire, others just dossing. One is playing a penny whistle (rather badly).
He shudders, perhaps thinking "There, but for the grace of God...", and hurries back to the guesthouse.
Greg, whose body clock is still trying to think of this as daytime, uses his portable phone to call his neighbour George Stern. After a brief exchange of pleasantries he asks George if he would be so kind as to walk over to the UCLA campus and check on the academic reputation of European Molecular Letters and the Heidelberg Institute of Molecular Medicine. He then calls Martin Greenland, an old college contact now working for a biotechnology firm in San Diego, to see how great a rival German firms seem to be to the biotech giants of Sorrento Mesa, and if there are one or two names of especially eminent researchers in the field who are based in Heidelberg. He finds that Germany is a long way behind the US in this field: there is a group in Heidelberg, headed by a Professor Ingo Klein, which works on genetically engineering bacteria to produce important human biochemicals, but that's pretty much it round here.
The next morning the sky is grey and dull again, and conversation in the breakfast room is muted.
Nora announces that she is going to visit the offices of the local newspaper, and Ella suggests that she try and find the journalist who was working on the case, and look for any stories about the disappeared men - especially Konig. Ella herself plans to contact Inspector Fuchs, although she thinks it should be done rather more discreetly than the luncheon appointment James (who has not yet emerged from his room) suggested.
Greg appears, looking rather tired and drawn: the hours his long eastward flight gifted him are now catching up. He suggests that someone should head over to the University and try and find a picture of Professor Keizinger, in case the one they met last night is a ringer. He thinks a look in the campus library at the archives of the student newspaper might also be useful, checking to see if any members of the Institute of Molecular Medicine are mentioned in any index, and also any obituaries from the past year or so which are connected to the campus, especially of people connected with the Institute (even family members). It might be worth scanning the last few months worth of personal ads at random for anything that suggests a mystery cult or secret society who might be recruiting members, and the last two weeks for anything strange that might be planned for Hallowe'en. Iain, getting the feeling that this is probably a job for a German-speaker, agreeably volunteers.
Uriah plans to head for the university too, to make a start on hacking the Department of Inorganic Chemistry's computer system.
"It seems a shame that European Molecular Letters in is Bologna," says Ella, "but if we run out of leads I am more than willing to travel to Italy, I can manage the language okay because of my Latin, besides the food will be better!"
There are heartfelt nods all round the table at this. Breakfast has been no more than a handful of hard rolls and some plastic pots of jam, with very milky coffee.
"The other thing is," says Greg, "we should all obtain costumes for the Hallowe'en celebrations."
James, showing his face at last, takes a turn by the reception desk and smiles cheerily at Gil, who is manning it. He inquires about the bricked-up windows, and Gil explains that they are the result of a nineteenth-century window tax, as James had surmised: "In that time only poor people here were living, so the windows closed - yes? To come out of the tax."
Gil also tells James that there is an English-language newspaper in Mannheim, for the benefit of the British servicemen based there, which comes out weekly: it also covers Heidelberg news. It is called the Mannheim Herald.
Iain and Uriah head off to the University, Uriah to meet with Professor Keizinger, Iain to search for a photo board. He is rapidly able to establish that Professor Keizinger is indeed genuine. He then asks after the location of the student newspaper, which is called simply Neckar, and eventually finds it: a small suite of rooms full of excitable student journalists, computers, pages in various stages of layout, paste pots and coffee mugs.
After introducing himself, he settles down with the back files and starts to plough through them.
Meanwhile Uriah has been led to a terminal in the Institute of Molecular Medicine and shown the basics of the system. He is rapidly able to log into the Inorganic Chemistry computers, and starts working on getting root access.
After a little while one of the students in the terminal room, who has been watching him since his entry, shyly calls out "Have I not seen you in Climbing Monthly?"
Uriah admits that the figure depicted chimneying on Whistle Peak in the September edition was indeed him. He and the student, who introduces himself as Harald Blind, fall into an animated conversation about climbing.
Nora has made for the offices of the Neuer Heidelberger Zeitung. She presents her press credentials at the desk, with a 'Hi! Is this the office of the local paper? I'm Nora McShane, from the Australian Star. Could I see your editor please?'
The international brotherhood of the press being what it is, Nora is soon in the news editor's office explaining that she is researching a story on missing people across Europe, and wants a look at the cuttings file. She also confides that she thinks her interlocutor too good looking to be a newspaper editor.
Soon she too is poring over the files - or, rather, the balding, middle-aged news editor is doing so at her behest, translating the most interesting stories. Nora makes many encouraging noises but few notes: she is only interested in four particular names.
Ella phones the Heidelberg police headquarters and asks to speak with Inspector Otto Fuchs. When he is put onto the phone, she arranges with him to meet in his office. He sounds a slow, methodical type, who chooses his words carefully.
Greg phones another contact, in Britain this time, and asks some questions about Freemasonry. It seems there is a lodge in Heidelberg, of very ancient standing. The German Grand Lodge was founded in Nuremberg, not far away, and Heidelberg's was one of the first branches. It is also reputed that modern-day organized Rosicrucianism had its birth here, in the Hotel Ritter (which Greg establishes still exists), but there is no information readily available on the current doings or even existence of this shadowy group.
Iain has spent a rather unprofitable morning leafing through Neckar, which is full of the usual student concerns; rents, bands, plays, sport, gossip, politics. There is nothing that seems of any particular relevance to the case in hand. A number of staff of the Institute of Molecular Medicine are mentioned, in the same sort of terms as those o other departments: there are various obituaries but nothing that grabs him by the eyeballs. There is nothing that points to any secret society, apart from a number of references to gentlemen's duelling clubs: from the context, it sounds as though these are the most socially ,lite student institutions. Various societies have trailed their Hallowe'en floats, and it sounds as though it should be a jolly exciting affair for all concerned.
Uriah eventually manages to get rid of Harald and back to work. He is unimpressed by the level of security in this system: clearly the computer science students here are much better behaved than those on the course he attended. Before very long he is searching through the inorganic chemists' data files, looking for mentions of the names of the four missing men. None of these are present, but there is a file which is keyworded with Inspector Fuchs's name. He copies it across and presents a printout to Professor Keizinger. He meets with Iain and together they return to the guesthouse.
Nora has been able to establish, among a great deal of chaff, that the four men were reported missing at various times during the last three years. All were down-and-outs, with no known family to express concern about them. Deaths among the city's large homeless community seem extremely common: Nora is surprised that the Heidelberg police and social services allow what Australians would consider an extremely severe problem to rage unchecked. There seems nothing about Konig's case to mark him out from the other three.
Greg leaves the guesthouse to buy a bottle of whisky, to replace Nora's. He finds a well-equipped off-license nearby, full of students buying crates of beer for the evening's celebrations. Bunting and balloons are being stuck up all over the city centre, and the police are making preparations to close the route of the parade to traffic.
Ella is kept waiting only a few minutes outside Inspector Fuchs's office. He looks a typical detective: his face heavily lined, his greying hair swept across a bald patch, his stomach hanging over his belt. He smells of pipe tobacco, and his handshake is warm and firm. On the back of his door hangs a fawn raincoat.
With him is Detective Constable Heidi Probst, his assistant. She is a bright and pretty woman in her mid twenties, smartly dressed in a business suit, with long pearl-coloured fingernails. She smokes mentholated cigarettes.
There are a few minutes of silence as the two detectives and Ella regard each other warily over their coffee cups. She is slightly conscious that her appearance does not exactly mark her out as a respectable citizen.
"What was it you wished to speak about, Miss Wallace? Professor Keizinger told me to expect your call."
"I was - we were hoping you might be able to tell us a little more about the Helmut Schreik case. I understand that you have access to the blood samples and so on..."
He interrupts firmly. "I am no longer working on that case, Miss Wallace. I thought the Professor would have told you that."
"Does that mean that you're not able to help our investigation at all?" Ella is disappointed.
He leans forward. "Miss Wallace, you must appreciate that my position here is a delicate one. I sympathize with Professor Keizinger's difficulties, but I have my own reputation and career to consider."
The phone on his desk rings, and as he answers it and someone is put through he sits up straighter and gains an attentive look. The conversation is brief and Fuchs's end of it consists mostly of saying "Ja, mein Herr." Ella can catch little of the voice on the other end, just that it is terse and peremptory in tone.
Fuchs hangs up with some relief and briefly rubs his temples before saying "I am sorry, Miss Wallace, I will have to ask you to leave now. I have urgent business to attend to on another case." He stands and offers Ella his hand.
Greg lays out his George Washington costume on the bed. Authentic in every detail, it is an impressive kit: right down to the genuine antique short-barrelled musket of the type used in the War of Independence. He starts to polish the high black riding boots, musing over the Father of his Country's Masonic membership.
Nora leaves the Zeitung and heads to a costume shop. She tried on various outfits before selecting the one most flattering to her figure, a rather revealing Marie Antoinette as shepherdess. She then returns to the guesthouse.
Constable Probst escorts Ella back down through the maze-like police station. She seems angry about something - not with Ella - and says little. As they descend the main stairs, coming up the other way is a curiously repellent man dressed in a white lab coat. His head is completely hairless and his skin very pale. His eyes are hidden behind thick dark glasses, which cover the entire socket. As he sees the two above him he spreads his arms wide and calls in a high-pitched, thin voice "Heidi! Meine liebchen!"
Heidi visibly represses a shudder of disgust and stops, two steps above the man: his arms are spread wide enough that they cannot pass. Ella notices that he is wearing a badge identifying him as Hans Reuter. On the other lapel he wears a cheery yellow skull and crossbones.
There is a brief exchange in which Heidi points to Ella and she catches the word "Englische" (she decides not to correct this just yet). Eventually Reuter, grinning widely, allows them to pass, but as they do so he attempts to grope Heidi: she casually slaps his hand away without even looking.
"Who on earth was that?" asks Ella as they head towards the main doors.
"Isn't he dreadful? His name is Reuter, he's the chief mortician here. He's more like a beast than a person!"
"How can he get away with behaving like that? Can't you complain?"
"Oh, Miss Wallace, you have not been very long in Heidelberg, have you?" Heidi sounds tired. "Reuter is a great favourite of the Chief - the Commissioner of Police. If you are a favourite of the Chief you can do as you please in this city." Her face briefly distorts with anger again, and her shoulders hunch.
Pausing only to call by a costume shop and pick up a plastic mask of Chancellor Kohl, Ella returns to the Unter den Linden, to rejoin the rest of the SITU team for lunch.
12.30 pm, Friday 31 October 1997
All are at the Unter den Linden.
Nora: After giving the young policeman her number, Nora makes to head down the street but then slips into another patch of shadow. The next half hour is rather dull: although the two policemen do occasionally talk quietly to each other, they do so in German. Eventually Professor Keizinger and James emerge from the guesthouse, and the policemen set off after them with a sort of resigned trudge: they do not seem to be taking particular care to be unnoticed, not that Nora is really any judge of such things.
Ella: Before leaving the Freikeller, Ella extracts the phone numbers of the two least drunk students, Hans and Willi - not a difficult task, they are eager to oblige. Hans is the one with the scar.
Greg: In the morning Greg calls Professor Keizinger, not having had the opportunity to take her aside the previous night. He asks her some very precise questions about the condition of the corpse. She tells him that there were no significant injuries apart from that to the head: she rules out the possibility of the dead man having been tied up. If he had been blindfolded, it would have had to be very lightly. In answer to her query he describes the Morgan case. At the mention of Freemasonry the Professor goes a little quiet. "Those people are indeed powerful here, it is true. This area has much history concerning Masons. It is a valid hypothesis."