|Primary Characters:||Rex, Brandtner, Böck, Höllerer, Kunz|
|Warning:||violence, adult themes|
|Description:||Brandtner is chasing a serial killer, but nothing goes according to plan. Rex has been injured. The chase for the killer is successful yet a disaster. Maybe it’s time to quit?|
Brandtner felt sweat drip into his eyes, and he wanted to wipe his brow, but he knew he couldn’t let himself be distracted, even for a second, so he focused on climbing another few inches upward, towards the roof of the building. Somewhere up there, Rex was covering a desperate man, a man who was holding his own child hostage. Down below, on the ground, a crowd of passersby had stopped and were staring at the drama unfolding, right in the middle of rush hour traffic.
Böck was standing apart from the civilians, surrounded by uniformed colleagues, who were doing their best to keep the bystanders back. A piercing scream penetrated into Böck’s ears, and alarmed, he strained to make out the silhouette of his colleague and friend, outlined against the sharp sunlight. But the scream came from behind him, and nothing appeared to have changed on the side of the building, which was undergoing repairs. Scaffolding provided easy access to the upper floors from the outside.The newcomer was a woman. A young woman, who appeared to be beside herself with worry. The mother of the little hostage. Böck swallowed nervously. Women, especially ones who were going into hysterics, weren’t really his department.
Brandtner, and even Kunz, were much better at calming women down, or as the case might be, charming them. But somehow, he’d have to manage. This never got any easier, so he braced himself for the upcoming ordeal, while wishing he could do something more direct to help Brandtner.
Rex was inching forward, staying close to the floor. The bad man still didn’t appear to be aware of his presence, and in just a moment, Rex would be able to separate him from the small human.
The man must have heard some noise. He turned around and noticed the dog. He wasn’t armed, and at the moment, there wasn’t much dog or man could do. Rex settled in to wait. His daddy would get here, and then he’d change the stalemate, somehow.
Brandtner’s head appeared above the side of the building about two minutes after the suspect had spotted the dog. It took the man a while longer to notice the human adversary. In the meantime, Brandtner was trying to think of some way to gain access to the roof without being heard or seen until the last possible moment.
To begin with, his stealthy approach was successful. He noiselessly slid across the railing, hid from view by a pile of cement sacks. So far so good, but he still needed to get much closer, and the rest of the way to where the suspect held his child hostage, was completely without cover. With a sinking feeling, Brandtner realized he’d made a mistake. He ought to have waited for backup. With a few more officers to assist him, he would have been able to distract the man enough to be able to pry the small hostage out of his arms. Failing that, they could have surrounded hostage and suspect, to prevent him from reaching the edge of the roof. The objective was to put a stop to him, but more than anything to save the life of the child. Now, all that was left was trying to negotiate, unless he wanted to climb all the way down and wait.
“What’s it to you, cop?”
“Please let little Christoph go. You don’t want to hurt your own child. After you let him go, we can talk.”
“Don’t come any closer. Back off or I’ll -”
“I’m not going to come any closer. Just let me get over the edge. If you retreat a little further -”
“You’re not in a position to give me orders. My son is mine. He’s not going to call some other guy dad. If Gisela hadn’t -”
“We can talk about it. Please, let me come up. I won’t try to get any closer.”
The man did back off a little, so Brandtner decided to take that as permission to climb over the edge of the roof and sit down some distance away. Little Christoph was sobbing quietly. He didn’t understand why his father had taken him to this strange place and he wanted his mother.
“I want my mommy.”
“Your mom doesn’t want you to see me, Chris. She’s marrying another man. But you want to be with me, don’t you?”
“I want my mommy.”
“Shh. Mommy’s stupid. She’s done a bad thing.”
The little boy continued weeping silently.
“Herr Oswald. Your wife has to let you see your son. She can’t take him away from you. If you speak with the judge -”
“Now? You think I’m stupid, cop?”
“If you explain to them your reservations about your wife’s new husband -”
“Husband? The idiot isn’t getting married. She’s just living with that dumb pharmacist.”
“Even so -”
Rex had tired of waiting. His daddy wasn’t doing anything that made sense. It was time they got the bad guy. Silently, he began to crawl towards the stranger. So intent was he, talking to the police officer, it took him a while to notice the dog crawling towards him. Finally, when Rex had begun to position himself for an attack, the man spotted him.
“Hey, you. Call back your dog. Now.”
Brandtner made a hand signal to Rex, but for once, the dog ignored him. Rex’ teeth almost made contact with the man’s arm, when the hostage taker exploded into action. He kicked the dog viciously, so hard that he rolled towards the edge. To Brandtner’s horror, the dog’s body vanished over the edge. He couldn’t hold back a scream. Now that the game was up, he launched himself through the air, grabbing the child and somehow managing to twist him out of his father’s arms. The child cried out, but it was too late. Brandtner managed to stay on his feet and backed away from the child’s father.
The snipers on the roof of the house next door took aim. Awaiting their order, they kept the perpetrator in sight, while he moved about. With the child in the hands of the cop, Oswald put his hand in his right pocket and brought out a gun. He raised it in the air, pointing it at the cop’s head. All along, he’d been prepared to kill his son, rather than letting his slut of a wife get him. Under her care, who knew what he’d grow up to be?
This made the chief of the task force make his decision. He gave his order. Ten seconds later, the perpetrator twitched oddly, and began to sway back and forth. Another shot rang out, and he folded over, a large red stain spreading across his forehead.
The child’s screams reached even higher levels. It was over. No need to keep the child in the presence of his dead father any longer. Brandtner found his way to the door leading off the roof and was met at the top of the stairs by Kunz and three uniforms. One of them, a woman, took the little boy from him.
“Fritz? Did you see what happened to Rex?”
“Yes. Alex, he’s on the scaffolding. He’s still moving.”
Brandtner turned around and ran back onto the roof, stepping over the body of the kidnapper without really seeing it. Anxiously, he peered across the edge. Yes. He could see the dog lying precariously close to the edge, but Fritz had been right. Rex was still moving. From this distance, it was impossible to see how bad his injuries were, and anyway, the way he was lying, it was only a matter of time before he fell further. All the way down to the street level.
Brandtner didn’t hesitate for a moment. He climbed over the edge and began to inch his way down. The dog was lying only about a meter or so from the top of the roof, so the impact in itself might not have caused any life threatening injuries in themselves. But now, Brandtner could see the dog clearly. He gasped as he realized that the left hind leg was twisted at an unnatural angle. The leg had to be broken. A hind leg. Even if he survived, he’d never work as a police dog again. But what did it matter? He was primarily a pet dog anyway.
“Rex? Don’t move. I’ll get you out of there.”
To Brandtner’s relief, the dog appeared to be calm and not inclined to move about. Finally, he was on the same level as the dog and could pull him gently back from the edge. So far so good. A quick visual inspection didn’t reveal any other injuries, but a broken hind leg was bad enough.
“Now, let’s see about getting you out of here.”
Brandtner took a moment to plan his next move. It would be tricky, getting Rex down or up to the roof. Either way, there was a very real risk of him falling. And to make things worse, without taking him to a vet, there was no way of knowing how badly injured he was. Experimentally, Brandtner let his fingers gently touch Rex’ neck and sides. He carefully avoided the broken hind leg. What little he learned was encouraging, but he still didn’t know how to get his dog out of his precarious situation. By focusing on what needed to be done, instead of the guilt he felt over having placed Rex’ life in danger, he postponed the shock and pain he knew he’d experience later.
“Alex? How is he?”
“I don’t know. I need to get him out of here.”
“I’ve radioed for the helicopter. It’s still nearby so it will be back in a few minutes. Could you transfer him to that, or would you rather we lowered something to lift him up with?”
“I’m not sure. Can we get a vet here?”
“I tried calling for one a couple of minutes ago, but the only one I could get hold of was busy.”
“Right. If they’re willing to send the helicopter over, I’ll try that first. The less we move him the better.”
Kunz spoke into his cell phone and a few minutes later, Brandtner could hear the helicopter whirring closer. ??The rotors whipped up a strong wind, but he held on to Rex, and once the helicopter was in position, it merely hovered in place. It seemed close enough to hand Rex over to the guy who was standing there waiting, but would Rex accept being handled by a stranger, now that he was in pain?
“Good boy. Let the nice man take you. I’ll be right there.”
Slowly, and cautiously, Brandtner handed the injured dog over to the other man. There was a moment when all Rex’ weight rested on the broken leg and he whined softly. That was all. It was as if the dog instinctively knew he was getting help, or maybe, he merely trusted humans that much. With Rex safely stretched out over by the wall, Brandtner himself jumped across. He waved at Kunz on the roof, then sat down to comfort Rex. Not until now did he realize that there were two men in the cramped space, apart from the pilot.
“How is he?”
“I thought you might like the company. Fritz can handle things on his end.”
“Sure he can. It’s almost like having old Höllerer here again.”
“So what do you think?”
“Yes. Not about Peter.”
“I don’t think he’s too badly injured, but it’s bad enough as it is. A hind leg – it will never heal properly.”
“You mean -”
“No. I couldn’t. But he’ll never work again.”
“Oh. Well, that will be a shame, but isn’t it more important to still have him around?”
“Yes. Absolutely. I just hope he won’t be too disappointed.”
“He’ll be just fine as long as he has you.”
Böck spoke with conviction. He was thinking about the dog, but he couldn’t help dwelling sadly on the fact that Brandtner had never returned his feelings, any more than Moser had. Not that he wasn’t happy with Joe.
Brandtner was bent over his dog and wasn’t paying attention to his friend’s and colleague’s wistful tone.
The vet who received them wasn’t Rex’ normal vet. This was the one on call in central Vienna that night. He began examining the dog, and promptly delivered his verdict.
“He’s torn a ligament in the thigh.”
“It’s not broken?”
“Yes, there’s also a large, but rather uncomplicated fracture. It could have been far worse, especially judging by the fall he took.”
“Will he be alright?”
“This is a police dog?”
“Well – he’s trained as one, but he’s really my own dog.”
“I see. Well, in that case, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t make a complete recovery. As long as you’re aware that he’ll never work again as a police dog or in any other professional capacity. He will limp.”
“But he won’t suffer? I mean, he won’t be completely disabled?”
“Not at all. The surgery should be successful, and after some convalescence, he should be able to enjoy his walks as usual, but no serious obedience training. No jumping over hurdles.”
Brandtner was too happy that his friend would make it, to worry about the limitations of his recovery. Rex wouldn’t mind limpling a little. He could still have as much fun as before. At least at home. Now there would be no more bringing him to work.
“Shall I get started?”
“Yes, please. How long do you estimate it will take?”
“An hour or so, I imagine, if there are no complications. I will need to take his vital signs and so on. Is he fit in general?”
“Yes. In perfect shape.”
“When was his last checkup?”
“About two months ago. Nothing was wrong then.”
“Excellent. I’ll just call my assistant. You may return home if you wish. I will call you when he comes out of the anaesthesia.”
“No. I’ll just wait here. Thanks.”
Outside, Böck was waiting anxiously.
“How is he?”
“He’ll be fine, but he’s going into surgery now. The fracture needs to be fixed.”
“Oh. Fritz called a few minutes ago.”
“If you need to go, that’s fine. I’ll wait for Rex.”
“Well, maybe I’d better. I’ll tell Fritz Rex will be ok.”
“Yes. Do that. See you later.”
Brandtner was actually pleased to be left alone. He needed to think. This changed everything. Without Rex, he wouldn’t enjoy his work half as much, he realized. And what was worse, until now, he’d never wanted to dwell on the fact that just as a human police officer might face death at any time on the job, so could a police dog. He’d been risking Rex’ life for years. Maybe it was time to move on. Being a police officer wasn’t the only possible profession for him. He’d chosen his career mainly so he could work with dogs. That didn’t mean police work was the only job that would allow him to spend time with dogs. He went on outlining and discarding plans, while he waited for Rex to come out of surgery.
“A professional dog trainer?”
Böck sounded incredulous. Personally, he wasn’t too crazy about dogs. Rex was the exception. His boyfriend’s dog, Magnus, was a little terror, but even the terrible dachshund was becoming familiar to him by now. That didn’t mean he’d enjoy spending his days surrounded by the sharp-fanged beasts.
“Don’t sound so appalled, Christian. It’s what I love to do. The main reason why I became a police officer in the first place. Dogs are my life.”
“If that’s what Alex wants, he should go ahead and do it. I hope you’ll be very happy.”
“Yes, me too, but – dog training? Is there really any money in that?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to look into it. Maybe it won’t work, but I’ve made up my mind. I’m leaving the force in any case.”
“But what about Renate?”
“Renate and I – have decided to take a break. We don’t seem to have time for each other anymore.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. But you’re not leaving right away, are you?”
“No. I’ll probably be here until the end of the summer.”
“That’s only a couple of months.”
“Yes. Time enough to move house and get started in a new profession. In the meantime, we should get back to work. Another man was found last night.”
“Another? With the same injuries?”
“I’m afraid so. Same M O, same type of injuries. More or less. They’re not identical, but very similar. Face. Genitalia. This one has intact finger nails, unlike the two last ones.”
“That makes five. A serial killer. No doubt about it.”
“We knew that after the third one. All young, handsome men. All of them socially accepted. No prostitutes, drug dealers, homeless, or drug addicts. Professionals. Successful, well dressed, wealthy. Living the easy life. That should provide us with enough clues to find the killer.”
“But they don’t have anything else in common. They haven’t been found in the same places. Their last known movements weren’t in the same neighborhoods.”
“All in central Vienna though.”
“Not exactly. Nr 2. Herr Schumann. He was found near one of the inns outside the city.”
“I know, but it still points to the same general environment. Ok. Let’s go. Does Leo have anything for us yet?”
“We’ll ask him when we get there. First the crime scene. Both of you.”
Kunz raised his eyebrows a little. Usually, he remained in the office, and it was getting close to lunch time. Who was going out for the sausage sandwiches today? As if reading his colleague’s mind, Brandtner cast him an amused glance.
“You can stop for some sandwiches on the way back, ok?”
The uniform on the scene pointed to the spot where the victim’s body was lying, on his back, his empty eye sockets staring at the sky. Kunz was beginning to feel relieved he hadn’t had any sandwich yet. His stomach gave a lurch, but under Christian’s critical gaze, he didn’t dare to show any reaction. Brandtner, as usual, showed very little reaction. He kneeled by the body and took a good long look at the injuries.
“Leo? Were these inflicted before or after death?”
“After. He was stabbed repeatedly, then mutilated.” ??”What else can you tell me?”
“Not much, beyond what you can see for yourself.”
“What about the perpetrator? Male or female?”
“How should I know? It certainly looks as if it took a considerable amount of strength to inflict these stab wounds, but a woman might be able to do it.”
“Do you think it was a woman?”
“The position of the wounds suggest someone a bit shorter than the victim.”
“I see. Time of death?”
“You keep asking me that. Do I look like a wizard? Or a psychic? I’ll get back to you on that. Now let me do my work. I assume you have yours to do?”
Brandtner looked at his old friend with some surprise. Grumpy was he? Had his lady friend left him?
“What’s wrong? Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?”
“No, but the dog shredded some important research papers.”
“Never mind. I shouldn’t have bit your head off for that. Speaking of dogs, how is Rex?”
“Convalescing at home. My neighbour is kind enough to look in on him from time to time.”
“As a matter of fact yes. But don’t look like that. Frau Haller is, as they say, of a certain age. Very nice lady. You’d like her.”
“Oh. We haven’t seen much of Renate lately -”
“No. Me neither. She’s keeping herself busy, and so am I. Excuse me.”
Brandtner did not wish to discuss Renate right now, not even with his closest friends. The uniform waved at Brandtner.
“When would you like to interview the witness?”
“Yes. We have a guy who saw the whole thing from a distance. Well, not the actual stabbing, but the victim and someone who might well be the perpetrator going this way. He also found the body.”
“Where is he?”
“I think he’s inside the club. In the bathroom most likely.”
The uniformed policeman smiled evilly. Apparently, the poor man was being sick, after having seen the body. Or was he simply hung over from last night? Clearly, some parts of the Viennese population thought nothing of going out on a Wednesday night and carousing until all hours. A witness. That was a lucky break. Hopefully, the man would have seen something useful. Another uniform directed them to the men’s washroom. There were no sounds of anyone being sick, but the pervading smell in there told them that someone had been, very recently. A short, fat young man was standing over the wash basin splashing water onto his face.
“Yes? Are you the police?”
Brandtner showed the man his ID.
“Can we go somewhere else?”
“Oh. Of course. I was just -”
“Yes, that’s what I thought. This way, please.”
The owner of the club was hovering nearby, anxiously staring from one policeman to another. It was easy to tell that he feared repercussions of this unspeakable crime committed only a few steps from his establishment. Apparently, he underestimated the ghoulishness of the public. Brandtner gestured for his witness to sit down, then followed his example.
“I understand you saw the victim.”
“It was horrible. His eyes -”
“Yes, quite. But I meant before the – uh – crime was committed?”
“Oh. Yes. I know him by sight. Udo Schwartz. Chemical company. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”
“Herr Fleischer – please tell me what you saw.”
“He met a woman in there. Tall, good looking girl. Lots of blonde hair, long legs, tight dress.”
“They had a few drinks. Amazing how having a couple of million on the stock market attracts women like flies.”
It was obvious that the witness was feeling unfairly treated. Brandtner wasn’t usually a good judge of other men’s looks, but this time, he imagined the man was right. Women most likely wouldn’t look twice at him.
“They had a few drinks together. Then what?”
“They left together. His hands were all over her. Those boobs were really something. Silicone of course, but even so.”
“Yes, quite. You followed them?”
“No. But I left at the same time. Bloody waste of time. The women won’t even look at you unless you drive a Ferrari and -”
“Yes. I see. And you saw where they were going?”
“Yes. Around the corner. I – got curious, so I watched for while, wondering when they’d come back. It’s a dead end street. They can’t get anywhere. Then I got a call on the mobile. I talked for maybe ten minutes. They still hadn’t come back. Then I saw her. She was walking away.”
“Did she pass by you?”
“On the other side of the parking lot, then she turned left onto Salzburger Strasse.”
“What made you suspect something was wrong?”
The man looked uneasy. His eyes darted back and forth.
“I thought she looked odd. The hair was different. Not so huge. And her dress – well, it looked as if it was stained. Dark stains, big ones. And he didn’t show up. So I went to take a look. And there he was. Excuse me.”
For a while, it looked as if the witness was going to rush back into the men’s washroom again, but after a while, he seemed to recover.
“Do you think the victim was dead when you got there?”
“He had to be. Jesus, Mary and all the saints, you’ve seen him, haven’t you?”
“Yes. Didn’t you hear anything?”
“No. I wouldn’t. My car doors were closed and the windows were up. It’s quite a distance to that alley. I suppose I might have heard something if he’d screamed extremely loud, but -”
So he hadn’t screamed that loudly. The killer must have known what she as doing, or else been really lucky. She or he. She had been wearing a whig. She had been quite tall. At this point, there was no telling what gender their killer belonged to. After he’d determined the witness didn’t have any more useful information, Brandtner told him he could leave provided he gave his phone number and address to one of the uniforms.
Thoughtfully, he returned to the crime scene. The body had already been taken away. Brandtner looked at the parking space where Fleischer was still parked, then walked round the corner into the alley. No windows facing it. No people living in this neighborhood anyway. Just clubs, bars and restaurants, interspersed with other recreational facilities. He tried to imagine the crime taking place. The two people embracing, kissing. The man’s hands travelling across the woman’s body, and maybe her hands touching him. Then a knife flashing. He’d have to ask Leo what sort of murder weapon they were dealing with. Something very sharp was his guess. It would have to be, to kill so quickly. There was much to consider. He might as well continue somewhere else.
“Fritz, Christian, let’s go. We won’t learn anything else here.”
On the way back, they stopped so Kunz could buy his favorite lunch. Once at the office, Kunz handed out their sandwiches. When he came to the last one, he looked up in surprise. He’d bought one too many. It had slipped his mind that the dog wasn’t there, and wouldn’t be coming back, at least not as he used to. There was a sudden glint of pain in Brandtner’s eyes, but he quickly covered his reaction.
“I’ll take that one too, if you don’t mind. Rex likes it even when it’s a bit dry.”
“Any new leads?”
Böck came into the office at 10 to 8, only to find Brandtner already at work at his desk. Brandtner looked tired, and Böck suspected he hadn’t had much sleep in the past couple of days. Since they’d found their fifth victim, they’d all been working round the clock to stop a sixth victim from surfacing before they caught their killer. So far, they hadn’t had much luck.
“Not really. The psychologist will be in later with a profile.”
“Oh. Let’s hope that sheds some light on this. How does she do it?”
“He? Oh. Exactly. How does our killer get away with it? New whigs and outfits. But still, usually, she or he picks up the victims in roughly the same type of place. You’d think sooner or later, one of those people would recognize someone.”
“I don’t think so. They wouldn’t exactly be on the lookout for a killer. Apparently, she’s quite good looking.”
“Hm. Alright. I hear you. What about the sketch artist?”
“Nothing so far. I thought I’d let you take it round to see some potential witnesses today. It’s a long shot, since she keeps changing appearance, but right now, that’s all we’ve got to go on. Except for the profile. But even if we get a profile, I’m wondering if we’ll catch her before the next victim is found. I have a bad feeling about this.”??”You look so tired. Are you getting any sleep at all?”
“What? No, I guess not much. At home, there’s Rex to consider too.
“How is he? Did he get the sausage sandwich I sent for him?”
“Yes, thanks. That was very kind. Whose idea was it to sign it ‘Magnus’?
“Uh – it was me and Joe together who thought of it. Fritz’ kids wanted to send him a whole box full of sandwiches, but Fritz had to tell them that he can’t eat that much, especially now.”
“Oh. It was very kind of you to think of him. All of you. I’ll have to remember to thank Fritz and Paola, and the kids. Would you tell Joe – and Magnus – that I appreciate the gesture. So does Rex, of course. A good thing they didn’t ask Rex about that box of sandwiches. He would have said thanks and eaten the lot, if I know him at all.”
“Yes. But Alex – shouldn’t you go home early tonight and get some rest? I’ll stay at the office. It’s no problem.”
“What about Joe?”
“He’s got the night shift this week anyway. So you see, it’s no trouble.”
“Oh, he’s fine. Our neighbor – Louise – is crazy about dogs.”
“A school kid. She walks Magnus whenever we let her. I can’t believe a little girl wouldn’t be afraid of the monster, but there you are.”
Despite his worry, Brandtner couldn’t help smiling.
“Christian, a dachshund isn’t a monster. He’s sweet little pet. Does Joe know how much you fear his baby?”
“I’m not afraid. He just makes me nervous.”
Böck was feeling slightly miffed at the implication. Sure he was a little – afraid – but that was none of Brandtner’s business.
“Right. Just a bit nervous. Oh, there you are Fritz.”
He looked up to find Fritz standing by the coffee machine.
They continued discussing the case, until lunchtime, when a messenger brought the psychologist’s report.
“It’s the profile. Would you like to hear it now, or are you too hungry, Fritz?”
Kunz looked slightly offended at the suggestion he let himself be ruled by his stomach. It simply wasn’t true. Just because he was partial to a few choice tidbits didn’t mean he didn’t take his job seriously.
“I’ll be fine. Just read the report to us.”
“Yes, go ahead. Let’s hear who we’re dealing with.”
“At least according to one psychologist.”
Brandtner didn’t feel that profiling was any replacement for good solid old-fashioned police work, but maybe these things had its value. He would never turn down any chance at finding the killer before the next victim lost his life.
“Just a sec. I’ll need to read it myself.”
He hurriedly scanned the pages, hoping to find something tangible that might be useful in his hunt.
“Alright. Here it is. We’re dealing with a woman – or man – but most likely woman, who hates men. No big surprise there. The mutilations hint at a very violent personality, so the psychologist assumes there’s some real reason for hatred, perhaps an abusive father and/or spouse earlier in life. Age 25-45. Probably successful and socially accepted. Not someone the neighbors or co-workers would suspect. Most likely highly educated.”
“Does that help any?”
“Maybe. But I would have found it hard to believe it if the killer, who frequents these clubs, dressed like that, would have been much over 50 or even in her 60’s.
“What about younger? These days a number of teenage girls display violent behaviors rather like boys.”
“Apparently not. And anyone younger than 21 wouldn’t be allowed on the premises of the clubs and bars. So even if she is a little younger than 25, I’m guessing it’s not by much. I’m no psychologist, but I’m guessing older than that, unless the hatred stems from childhood experiences. It takes time to accumulate enough hatred to start a murder frenzy. Well, give me your thoughts on this. Anyone?”
Kunz cleared his throat.
“Wouldn’t it take some sort of specific significant incident to trigger this killing spree? This woman must have hated men for years, but it’s only in the past couple of months she’s started to kill.”
Böck looked impressed. This didn’t sound like the old Kunz. Well, it did. He still sounded nervous and hesitant, but there was no reason why he should feel that way. Determined not to be outdone by his colleague, Böck hurriedly offered his own view.
“Maybe she’s been somewhere else? Have we checked Germany, Switzerland, Hungary -”
“Yes. I called Interpol and requested information on any similar cases. Nothing springs to mind. No. This is a domestic killer.”
Böck was about to say something, but this time Kunz beat him to it.
“She’s been in jail or hospital?”
“You mean until recently? Right. We’ll have to check that out.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Excellent. Personally, I’m thinking this is a bit more complicated than the profile indicates. We’re missing at least one piece of the puzzle. I’m surprised Leo can’t provide us with more about the killer.”
“Call him and ask.”
“I will. In the meantime, I’m hoping our profiler won’t be offended if I look for a second opinion. It can’t hurt.”
“Good idea. Where’s that sketch? If there’s nothing else you’d like me to do, I’ll get going.”
“Think about what I said. Fritz, don’t you agree that Alex ought to take the evening off and get some rest?”
“Absolutely. Paola is going home to visit her sister and taking the kids. I can stay as late as it takes.”
“Guys, you’re the best, but I really need to crack this case now, before some other poor sod ends up like herr Schwartz.”
“We can handle things. Go on. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t leave early tonight. Get some rest. You might have a fresh perspective when you get back.”
“Ok. I know when I’m outnumbered. Don’t make a habit of it, ok?”
“Of ganging up on the boss.”
“Don’t look at me. I’m out of here.”
“I need to make that phone call.”
“Right. I’ll get on the phone to that other psychologist. We’ll say no more about this.”
In the late afternoon, Brandtner considered the suggestion his colleagues had made to him. Perhaps they were right. He did need to relax. For some reason, though, he couldn’t sleep, once he’d fed Rex his supper and taken him for a stroll around the garden. It was painful watching his poor dog limping around on three legs. When Rex had gone to sleep again – apparently his medication made him sleepy – Brandtner had the urge to go out and have a couple of beers. That might take his mind off things.
He decided to go to one of his favorite bars downtown, one very few other police officers frequented. It was pleasant, old-fashioned and quite peaceful compared to many newer establishments. Brandtner would sometimes meet Höllerer there and for a while, he and Renate had taken to spending time there. That was something he didn’t wish to be reminded of right now, but he still wanted to go. There was something very relaxing about the old place.
By the time he’d paid for his beer and retreated to a table in the shadows close to the wall, Brandtner was beginning to feel slightly better. The pressures of working the serial killer case temporarily left him and he began to toy with ideas about his new career. He would also have to find a new house. Perhaps in the countryside outside of Vienna, or at the very least in a smaller town nearby. There was no reason to continue working in the city, if he wasn’t going to remain on the force.
But before long, his thoughts returned to Rex’ predicament, solely caused by his own selfishness in bringing the dog along to work, even though he was, ever since Moser’s days, little more than a pet. It was a slight consolation that Rex had enjoyed every moment of his life as a police dog, helping to solve cases and participating in every waking moment of his master’s day. Now – the poor dog could only look forward to the life of any other pet, daily walks, some play sessions outdoors. No more freedom, no more pride in his accomplishments.
So deep in thoughts was Brandtner, that he at first failed to pay attention to the young woman who was standing before him. At last the voice filtered through to him, and startled he looked up to see a lovely, blonde woman fixing him with a gaze filled with compassion, or so it seemed to him.
“Excuse me, frau – I didn’t catch -”
“I said, do you want company?”
He took another, closer look. This girl looked nothing like the sort of women who would solicit the favors of lonely men in bars. In fact, she looked shy and hesitant, as if she too was surprised at her impulse.
“Well, yes -”
As if reading his mind, she hurriedly explained herself. He fancied that he could see a touch of color come to her face.
“I don’t usually – I was just wondering if perhaps you needed someone to talk to.”
“Yes, you’re right. I could use a sympathetic ear. If you’re sure -”
Now she smiled, as if relieved that he didn’t misunderstand her motives. But Brandtner didn’t think that anyone would suspect this shy young woman of any ulterior motives. The only question in his mind was what she was doing in a bar at this time of night. Again, it seemed as if she sensed his question and felt impelled to offer an explanation.
“This was my father’s favorite place. Once, in the daytime, he took me here when my mother was away. He bought me ice cream or something like that. It was a very pleasant memory. Usually, he was too busy with work to bring me places. And he was a very strict man -”
He didn’t quite see why this memory had suddenly brought her back here, several years later.
“My father – passed away about six months ago.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“He was old and in ill health, but I suppose you never quite expect the end when it comes.”
“But let us not discuss me. Now tell me what is on your mind.”
“Can I buy you a drink, frau -”
“My name is Dorothea Richter. And please – a glass of orange juice or a mineral water.”
Brandtner was grateful for the interruption. He was considering telling the young woman his sad story, but right now, the memory of Rex lying so helpless with his leg twisted at an impossible angle was simply too painful. He needed time to collect himself. Still, he was beginning to look forward to discussing his dilemma with someone who wasn’t directly involved in the situation. He returned with the glass of mineral water and set it down on the table in front of Dorothea. She smiled politely and raised the glass to her lips, taking one small sip. Her eyes never left his face, and it seemed to Brandtner that she was trying to come to a decision on whether or not to trust him. He got the impression that she was not someone who trusted easily.
“Oh. Forgive me. I just realized that I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Alex Brandtner.”
“Frau Richter -”
Brandtner raised his own glass and drained what remained in it.
“Now – you wanted to tell me something that was bothering you.”
“It’s that plain?”
“You look sad.”
It seemed to Brandtner that the young woman who was regarding him so solemnly was no stranger to sadness herself. The look in her eyes was veiled, but he thought he detected such pervading sorrow there, it made him want to reach out and comfort her.
“My dog had an accident. He will never recover fully. I feel responsible. If I hadn’t been so selfish -”
“But he must love you as much as you love him. I’m sure he isn’t blaming you.”
“I know. But I can’t help feeling responsible all the same.”
“Naturally. But I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.” ??”Thank you.”
“Tell me about your dog.”
Brandtner was more than willing to do so. His years with Rex had been the happiest of his life. They had had so much fun together and the memories of the cases they’d worked together filled him with bittersweet joy. His features became animated, as he recounted one anecdote after another about his beloved friend. But little by little, the images of the accident began to intrude on the happier memories.
“He fell. It was my fault. He was only trying to help me. But he fell and he could have been killed and now he’ll never be the same again.”
Dorothea seemed moved by his pain. Her hands reached for his, and she squeezed them reassuringly. The touch seemed to do something to them both. Though it wasn’t anything Brandtner had done for years he suddenly found himself leaving with a woman he’d barely known for two hours. She took him to an apartment in an old part of Vienna, where the buildings were all from the early part of the 19 century and even late 18 century. It was a quiet, out of the way back street, and Dorothea’s place was on the top floor with a breathtaking view of the city, though the view was the last thing on Brandtner’s mind. Still holding his hand, Dorothea led him towards what turned out to be her bedroom. She pulled him along all the way to her bed, where she lay down. Her encouraging smile made all thoughts of his everyday life vanish. With a fervor otherwise unknown to him, Brandtner began to kiss her glossy lips. Her body felt soft and yielding yet full underneath his hands.
“You’re looking refreshed.”
Böck’s remark sounded incredulous. Was this the same man who only last night had seemed exhausted to the point of unconsciousness? Now there was a glint in his eyes that almost hinted at – He walked with a new springiness in his steps almost as if he’d been away of vacation and come back filled with resolve.
Brandtner smiled. Yes. It was amazing how just one night off could restore your spirits. And – he hadn’t expected this – Dorothea had given him her number. She’d asked him to call her tonight.
“Yes. I took your advice.”
“Did you and Renate hook up again?”
“What? No. Listen, if you’re all done examining my private life, let’s get back to work. I’ve wasted enough time as it is. Let’s get this killer.”
“Right. Fritz? Are you done with your coffee?”
Guiltily, Kunz put down his cup and focused all his attention on the boss. Would Brandtner have a new lead for them?
“Fritz? Did you learn anything about newly released mental patients?”
“Yes, but nothing conclusive. I’ll need to narrow down the list a bit. Only in the past three years, several hundred women have been released from mental institutions. Apparently, it’s quite the trend these days, open clinics. Voluntary treatments.”
This was an old argument. Many police officers resented the new liberal policy of releasing mental patients early, even criminals. Kunz too, felt that it was a bit premature to send violent criminals home without finishing their course of treatment.
“Yes, we know that. What about newly released prisoners?”
“Not that many. None that fit the profile. Most of them are older women. Certainly none this attractive.”
“I don’t think our perp has been processed by the system. This is a first time offender. Something’s set her off. Something quite recent, even if the trauma causing her behavior is most likely further back in time. Hm.”
“You sound like quite the psychologist yourself, Alex.”
“What? Hardly. Christian? Did your interviews of potential witnesses turn up anything?”
“I’m afraid not. It’s as if this woman is a ghost. If you see her, you’re dead.” ??”Very nicely put, my friend.”
Kunz’ face betrayed some nervousness at the thought of an angel of death walking through the streets of Vienna.
“Alex? Did you get a second opinion from the other psychologist?”
“Not yet. I’m still waiting for her report. Well, I suppose it’s time to contact the victim’s family and friends. I don’t think that will produce any result either, but you never know. What do we know about him, Christian?”
“Rich. Old money. But he made a bunch on his own too. No wife or fiancee. Parents dead. A married sister in Munich. I have a list of his closest friends. Mainly other wealthy men. Business associates. It seems he had very few close friends. Just one or two.”
“Then we’d better speak to them. Anything else?”
“He seems to have been sleeping with his secretary. Frau Trudi Adler.”
“We’ll talk to her as well. Right. Fritz, Christian you speak to his friends. I’ll go and see frau Adler. If there’s anything fishy at his business, I’ll see if I can discover anything about that. But I doubt if it’s anything money-related.”
Despite their efforts, another victim was found in the early hours of the following morning. The man fit the other victims’ description. Quite young, handsome, wealthy. Attempts were made to read something into this preference for the wealthy. Could it mean that the killer had something against the upper classes? Or quite the opposite, was the killer a member of their circle? As any man knew, and none better than police officers, ‘a woman scorned’ might easily turn into a man’s worst nightmare.
In the meantime, Brandtner spent every evening with Dorothea. He was obsessed. Something about her made him come back, every single night, even though he realized he knew next to nothing about her background. What little information she’d volunteered about herself that first night was all he ever learned about her.
That might have been part of the attraction. He didn’t tell her anything about his daytime life. It was a relief to be able to throw himself into a relationship free of connections to his work and the reasons Rex was an invalid. This type of relationship was entirely new to Brandtner and as such, it was all the more exciting. There was something intoxicating about the lack of attachment, but despite that, he found himself forming a closer and closer bond to the enigmatic woman.
“Right. We’re making no progress and I have had a suggestion from upstairs. As we’re running out of time, it’s been decided that a new approach might be productive.”
“An officer will go out, under cover and see if he might attract the killer’s attention.”
“Use live bait, you mean?”
“Really, Fritz, I didn’t realize you were a fisherman.”
“Oh, well, you know -”
“Who’s it going to be? One of us?”
“That was the idea, Christian. Any volunteer?”
“Are you kidding, Alex?”
“You’re not going to make me or Fritz do it?”
“I don’t see -”
“Because if you are, this will be a waste of time. Look in the mirror. Then look at me and Fritz.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that you are the type of guy she’d go for. Not me. Not Fritz. Right, Fritz?”
“Hm. Uh – well, actually, I think Christian’s right. We’ll need a good looking guy like you.”
Brandtner blinked. He’d never really wondered about the looks of his colleagues and he’d certainly never considered himself very handsome, though he’d had his share of girlfriends who had told him so.
“Oh. Well, in that case, let’s hope she doesn’t know my face already. Have you forgotten what that hostage taker told me: Homicide’s poster boy.”
“You said it yourself. This woman isn’t a convicted criminal. Where would she have seen your face?”
“Right. I’ll do it. No argument. In fact, it might be amusing. I’ll be given the use of a fancy car and a really luxurious apartment in the city. Quite a change.”
“Don’t forget your wardrobe.”
Brandtner looked hurt. What was wrong with his clothes? But he realized that Böck would most likely know more about how to dress than he did. He decided to swallow his pride and let the expert give him advice about style.
“Right. What do you suggest?”
“Well, I don’t know anything about it. Fritz?”
“Don’t look at me.”
“Oh. I get it. It’s because – You really think I’d dress like this if I had the fashion sense of a typical -”
“Well, what do we do then?”
“Bring in a stylist from some company specializing in that sort of thing.”
“You think there are places that cater to men?”
“If you don’t mind a suggestion -”
“You think you can help Alex, Fritz?”
“No. Not me, but Paola is really great at this type of thing. She’s always telling me that tie doesn’t go with that shirt and things like that.”
Brandtner looked amused.
“Then I’ll be happy to accept Paola’s advice. Well, I never guessed police work would be about fashion. I suppose she’s good at hair too? Do I need a haircut?”
“I’ll call her. If she can get some time off -”
“Right. If she can’t, I’ll just go over to your house in the evening. That might save us some time.”
“When do they need you to start?”
“As soon as possible. The other victims showed up relatively regularly. Sometimes only a few days in between and once as much as three weeks. So we don’t have much time.”
Kunz and Böck looked unhappy. If their friend didn’t risk his life out there, some other man might be found dead any time. But what if the killer liked Brandtner too much? What if he would be the next victim?
Brandtner himself never thought about that possibility for a moment. He was eager to finally meet their elusive killer face to face. It was maddening not to be able to make any progress in all the months of working the case. Still no closer to finding the killer. If masquerading as a potential victim would bring this case to a close, then he was all for it.
Brandtner felt a bit of a fool wearing all this fancy stuff. The watch alone was apparently worth a ridiculous amount of money. And the thought of paying several times the real value for a shirt or a pair of socks was absolutely ludicrous. Who would know? Well, maybe people could tell and that might be why they spent so much on unnecessary details like that. But driving the sleek, fast car was a joy. He decided to enjoy the sensation to the full. There was no way a policeman’s salary would ever stretch to anything like that, no matter how much he liked to give priority to his car. Having some guy park it for him was another first. It felt odd, handing over the keys to a car he was responsible for and in fact had had to sign for, to a stranger. If anything happened to it, he’d probably spend the rest of his life paying off the debt.
In Brandtner’s opinion, this place was a whole lot less nicer than his favorite haunt, and the people who frequented it appeared to be a self-centered and shallow lot. The women were all silicone, expensive dental work and impressive hairdos, all in some kind of platinum blonde shade. They all seemed to be dating men quite a bit older, but the looks in their eyes were the same.
Trying to appear at home, Brandtner strolled up to the bar and ordered a martini. He attracted quite a bit of attention from the women who were sitting alone at their tables, but he pretended not to notice. Unperturbed, he walked over to a table by the wall. He heard Böck’s voice in his ear and covered his reaction by lifting the glass to his lips.
“See anything unusual?”
What was he up to? Böck knew he couldn’t reply. The communication was only supposed to be one way. In theory, having the other cops nearby would ensure his safety. Though he’d seen the victims, Brandtner couldn’t bring himself to feel much concern. All that mattered was cracking the case.
Soon after his arrival, one of the lonely women at a table across from him got up, appeared to take a deep breath, straightened out her back, and while doing so, puffing out her chest. She walked over to Brandtner’s table, swinging her hips in a way that seemed to be a little exaggerated.
“I haven’t seen you around. New here?” ??”You could say that. Max Horster.”
“Claudia Mutter. Can I offer you a drink?”
Brandtner wondered if this could be his killer. She didn’t seem to be anything other than the sort of woman who would attach herself to the kind of man he was supposed to be.
She gestured for one of the waiters to come over.
“A Cuba Libre for me. And another one of those for my friend here. Now, will you tell me all about yourself? What’s your business?”
They went on talking about business, cars, speedboats, country houses and other status symbols. Their conversation might have gone on for longer, but after a while, Claudia’s questions and responses were longer and longer in coming, and in between, she began to inch closer. She was fiddling with the shoulder straps of her dress, pushing back her hair and pouting, while casting looks filled with innuendo at Brandtner. After a while, she appeared to get tired of the show, and she got up abruptly with only a word of goodbye.
Probably a false alarm. Apparently, she was disappointed her intended target wasn’t rising to the bait.
Brandtner decided to order a new martini and wait a little longer. Most of the victims had still been alive at this time in the evening. Time enough for the killer to make her approach later. When he’d nearly finished the third drink, another young woman at an adjacent table made eye contact. She raised her glass, and gazed encouragingly at him. Perhaps this was the one. Brandtner got up and ambled over to her table.
“Hello there. Are you a newbie?”
“You could say that.”
“I saw Claudia having a go earlier. You didn’t bite. Good for you. The things I could tell you about her -”
“Can I offer you a drink – frau -”
“Kathi Steuer. And yes, you can. Please.”
“I’m Max Horster. Pleased to meet you.”
Again, he bought the lady a drink, then tried to engage her in conversation. He was beginning to think this was a waste of time, or perhaps he was less eager than the victims and didn’t qualify. For all he knew, the killer might have approached more than one man each night and only settled on the victim later, for some reason he had yet to discover. This girl, Kathi, seemed even less likely to be a murderer, and definitely not insane. She was petty and vindictive but it was extremely hard to believe there was more here than met the eye. It didn’t take her long to tire of him, and when a good looking young man passed by, she didn’t hesitate to go off with him, with barely a word of excuse.
Amused, Brandtner returned to his own table. It was time to order a new drink, and evaluate the results so far. Perhaps it would be better to leave and continue some other night, but he didn’t want to give up just yet. Judging by the constant movement of the clientele, he realized that the night was only beginning. Small groups of people were leaving together but others arrived instead. Those who didn’t come paired up, sometimes left with a partner. He might as well stay the whole night through, or at least as long as he could without attracting attention.
He sat down at his old table, just in time to see Kathi point him out to a young man. The young man walked closer and looked him over. For a second, Brandtner was afraid he’d somehow been recognized or at least identified as a police officer. Then it dawned on him that the young man had the same intentions as the two young women earlier. This presented Brandtner with something of a dilemma. The second profile had admitted that the killer might be a homosexual male, although this was less likely than it being a woman. If he rejected the man’s advances and he later turned out to be the killer, unlikely as it might seem, this would have been a waste of time. However, if the killer was a woman, his contact with this man might drive her away. His hesitation wasn’t lost on the young man and for a second, Brandtner believed his dilemma had been solved for better of worse. Then the young man flashed him a provocative smile and he knew he had to make a decision. If this encounter proved not to match the expected approach, he could always reject the man later, so he found himself smiling invitingly. He only wished he wouldn’t hear about this for weeks to come from Böck, if not the tactful Kunz.
“I haven’t seen you around before.”
“No. I’m new here. Max Horster.”
“Wilhelm Kaufmann. Can I offer you a drink?”
It would be interesting to see if this man would follow the pattern of the earlier attempts to attract his attention. If so, herr Kaufmann would soon leave disappointed. At first, Brandtner didn’t know what to make of the conversation. It followed the same outline as Claudia’s, only with less physical display. Cars, speedboats, business. Nothing personal. Brandtner wasn’t sure how to play this, so he just kept a low profile, waiting for Kaufmann’s cue. Just when he was beginning to think that he’d been mistaken about the other man’s intentions, after all, Kaufmann leaned across the table, and put his hand just above Brandtner’s knee. This was it. Time to disillusion him. He’d managed to dissuade the other two interested parties. Now he had to do the same with this one.
“Excuse me. There must be some kind of misunderstanding.”
“No. No misunderstanding. There’s no need to be nervous. I assure you no one will raise an eyebrow. This isn’t the 1950’s, you know. People here are very open minded.”
“Please remove your hand from my thigh. Now. Don’t make me ask you again.”
Brandtner felt rather foolish. Kaufmann must be aware of the double messages he was sending out. Hopefully, the man would acknowledge defeat and leave gracefully anyway. The last thing they wanted was a big row to attract attention, but he was in luck. Kaufmannn’s eyes blazed at him, but the man knew when he wasn’t wanted and got up and left without a word of goodbye.
It was getting late, and still no sign of the killer. Maybe this had been pointless. Or she’d simply been looking for her next victim somewhere else. He was so deep in thought, he didn’t notice a new arrival, until she stood over his table, looking down at him.
“I didn’t know you liked to come to places like this one.”
He could say the same about her, but since there was a lot he didn’t know about her, there would be no point.
Putting her off would attract more attention. He decided that the night was over as far as his work was concerned.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
This was the same all over again. Polite meaningless conversation. He didn’t want it to be that way with Dorothea.
“Yes, please. A Pina Colada.”
He’d have to find a way of calling off the eavesdroppers. The last thing he wanted was to have people spying on him when he was meeting his girlfriend.
“Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”
In the men’s room, he turned off the wire. He couldn’t care less what his backup thought. The work day was over. Now he wanted privacy. They left together as soon as they’d finished their drinks. He was intensely aware of her scent and her body heat. It was as if tonight’s work was a distant memory. All he could focus on was her. It took him a while to realize that she was different somehow. She was wearing different clothes, higher heels, more makeup. If he’d seen her from a distance, he didn’t think he would have recognized her.
Once inside her apartment, her demeanor changed. The demure expression on her face was replaced by one he couldn’t read.
“What gave me away?”
“Excuse me -”
“You never told me you were a police officer.”
How had she guessed? And why should she even care? He felt confused and disappointed. It had never been more clear to him that they barely knew each other. Until tonight, that hadn’t mattered.
“I didn’t want to discuss my work.”
“I should think not. And I thought you cared about me. You were only trying to catch your killer. Alright. You’ve found me. What are you going to do about it?”
Suddenly, it was as if a veil had been lifted. Of course. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place at once. The killer he’d been chasing for months was Dorothea. How could it be that he hadn’t even considered that possibility? But he knew the answer to that question. Work had been the last thing on his mind when he’d met Dorothea.
“What are you going to do about it?”
Her voice was different too. Cold, expressionless.
He sighed. There was only one thing he could do. It didn’t give him any pleasure. Not at all as he’d expected.
“My duty is clear. I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Don’t do this, Dorothea. Please.”
“You lied to me. Why should I listen to you?”
“Why did you do it?”
“You wouldn’t understand. Alex – if that’s your real name -”
“Alex, I’m leaving. If you really care about me, as you tried to make me believe, you will not try to stop me.”
“You know I can’t let you do that.”
He wished someone else had been the one to bring her in. Anyone but him. The pain was making it hard for him to focus. Dorothea – his Dorothea – the one he had loved, had never existed. It had all been a lie. She had been the one to lie.
“Just as I thought.”
Before he had time to react, she moved. A metal candle stick was in her hand. The heavy object made contact with his head and suddenly, everything exploded. He felt his consciousness waver. For a while, he blacked out completely, but she couldn’t have hit him very hard. By the time he could see again, she was standing in the doorway, carrying a shoulder bag. He couldn’t let her get away. Struggling to get to his feet, his hand fumbled for the ankle holster. The hard, familiar weight of his service weapon was reassuring. He knew his duty.
“Dorothea – please stop.”
She turned and faced him.
“No. I can’t go back. Not again. This time, they’d never let me out. Do what you have to do.”
“I’ll make sure you get a good lawyer. Please. Don’t make me do it.”
“I’m sorry, Alex.”
She took a step across the threshold, then another. In a second, she’d be gone. His hand squeezed the trigger. The sound of the shot was shocking in the silence of the upper floor. He could hear it echo around the hallway outside. But he hadn’t missed. Dorothea began to sway on her feet, then fell backwards into the apartment. He couldn’t stop watching the huge blood stain that was spreading across her chest. Shuddering, he put away the gun and struggled to his feet.
Blood was trickling from the corner of her mouth, but her eyes were still open.
“I love you. I would never have harmed you. The others, but not you. Did you ever feel anything for me, or was it just a job to you?”
“I love you too, Dorothea. I had no idea it was you. Not until tonight.”
“If only it could have stayed that way.”
She coughed and more blood poured out of her mouth. Her eyes glazed over and she didn’t move again.
Brandtner could feel his own sight blurring with tears and he was forced to blink. Reaching out with a shaking hand he began to smooth the hair away from her face. He had no idea how long he remained sitting like that, his hand stroking her hair. What had made her hate so much? How could she have turned into the frenzied killer, who mutilated her victims so horribly? Once she must have been a sweet, innocent girl capable of love. And if she hadn’t been lying even when she spoke her last words, that girl had still been there somewhere.
Finally, he made an effort to collect himself. He had to call for backup. With fingers that still felt unsteady, he punched in Böck’s number.
“Alex? Where the hell have you been? We’ve been worried sick about you. What happened?”
“I’ll tell you everything later. Just come to this address. Bring a forensics team. It’s over. I – got her.”
He gave Böck Dorothea’s address, then terminated the call. Right now, he couldn’t face the endless explanations. Böck and the others got there too soon. He wasn’t ready to face them.
When Böck caught sight of the dead woman, he immediately began to worry about his friend. Would he be hurt too? And the way he was just sitting there, so close to the body led him to believe something was seriously wrong.
“Alex? Are you ok?”
For a while, Böck was afraid Brandtner wouldn’t even reply. The pause stretched out for so long, he was beginning to think he’d need to call a real doctor, not just dr Graf.
“Yes. I’m ok.”
“Did she resist?”
“What? She was going to leave. I couldn’t let her do that.”
“Did she hurt you?”
Again, Brandtner’s mind didn’t seem to be on the questions. Naturally, Böck realized that shock would set in after you had to fire your weapon on a suspect. Especially if, like now, the result was death.
“She knocked me out. It’s nothing.”
“Let me see.”
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
For the time being, Böck decided to leave Brandtner in peace.
“Come on. I think you’ll be better off down in the car.”
He held out his hand to Brandtner, but it was a long time before he accepted it. With relief, Böck pulled his friend to his feet and led him out into the hallway, sidestepping the body. Downstairs, they were met by Renate.
“I just heard. Is he ok?”
“I think so. Great. Are you off duty?”
“I am now.”
“Please take care of him. I’m needed upstairs.”
Renate nodded. She held out her arms to Brandtner and eventually, he allowed himself be held.
Much later, Renate was allowed to take Brandtner home, back to Rex, for some much needed rest. Rex looked at his daddy reproachfully, but soon relented and licked his face comfortingly. Brandtner didn’t have much to say, and Renate didn’t push. She was hoping he’d get a good night’s sleep before the questioning started again the following morning.
Her hopes were dashed when her ex woke at 7 and insisted on being taken back to the city, to wrap up the case. She could relate to his thoroughness. After all, she loved her work as well, but she had a feeling something more was behind his diligence. Again, she asked no questions. She merely dropped him off at the office, before she made a quick trip back to her own place to get ready for work herself. She promised herself she’d drop by in the evening to make sure her ex was doing ok.
“Alex. What are you doing here so early? I thought I told you to get some rest.”
The look Brandtner cast at Böck reminded him suddenly that the man he was talking to was his boss, not Kunz.
“I mean, are you sure you’ve had enough rest?”
“Do you have any news about the case?”
“It’s barely 8 in the morning. Forensics took their samples around 4 am. How do you expect them to have any results yet?”
“What about the background check on Dorothea?”
“Fritz is working on that right now. As you can see.”
Kunz was holding the receiver to his ear, scribbling away like mad on a notepad on his desk. So far so good. You could always count on Kunz to do good, solid police work. Another good thing about him was that he didn’t make a habit of answering back, the way Böck did.
“I want to go back to Dorothea’s place. I need to understand. Why she did it. What caused her to become what she became. If you don’t want to come, I’m going alone.”
“No, wait. Can’t we just hold on until Fritz has more information for us?”
If Kunz hadn’t been in the process of finishing his call, Brandtner wouldn’t have followed his friend’s and colleague’s advice. Now he stopped in mid stride, impatiently waiting for Kunz to wind up his notes.
“Right. Apparently, our killer tried to commit suicide at the age of 19.”
To their surprise, Alex snapped at them.
“Her name was Dorothea.”
Kunz stared incredulously at his boss. Where did that rancour come from? Brandtner hadn’t meant to snap at Kunz, but he couldn’t bear to hear Dorothea referred to as merely ‘the killer’.
“She wasn’t always a killer.”
“Quite. I’m sorry, Alex, I didn’t mean to -”
“Alright, alright. Just get on with it.”
“After the attempted suicide, she was hospitalized for two years. After being released, she -”
“It seems she attacked a young man. She stabbed him, but he survived. Her father managed to have the whole thing hushed up. He was a retired military man. From what I hear, he was extremely strict and overbearing. In any case, she was hospitalized again, this time for several years. In fact, she was only released some six months ago, when her father passed away.”
“She told me about that. That her father had recently died. Of course. I think our psychologists will find the connection now. But I still can’t see – Ok, Christian, let’s go. Fritz, will you contact professor Bucszinsky? We need an updated profile. In fact, call dr Antoni as well. No harm in getting a second opinion.”
“No problem. I’ll get right on it.”
“And forgive me for the outburst. It was uncalled for.”
“Don’t mention it. It’s quite understandable under the circumstances.”
Outside Dorothea’s door, Böck stopped so abruptly Brandtner bumped into him.
“What are you doing?”
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Of course I am. Get out of the way. I need to do it.”
Böck gestured for the uniform on guard outside to unlock the door. He stepped aside and let Brandtner go ahead. Brandtner couldn’t help staring at the spot where only last night, Dorothea had been lying, while the blood was pouring out of her body. He’d killed her. Whatever she’d done, she’d loved him and he had loved her. Now she was lying on a slab, down at dr Graf’s morgue. What a waste. And now that he knew a little more about her background, he realized what pain she’d been in. What had caused that pain? Some man? Her father? He had to know the truth. It wouldn’t bring her back, but at least he would know.
He began to open drawers at random, rummaging through the contents, but he was always careful to leave everything in order. The whole place was neat and tidy. He wouldn’t leave it in a mess. The forensics team had done enough damage. Eventually, he found an old photograph, lying in the bottom drawer of her desk. He brought it out and set it down on the desktop. It was a photo of a man in uniform, standing very upright. Two other people were in the photo. A woman, who looked cowed, and a little girl of about 10. The girl had to be Dorothea. She was fat. Not plump or even slightly chubby. The little girl was obese. There was no other way of putting it.
His continued search didn’t turn up any other photos of Dorothea at any age. A few baby pictures might have been of her, but there was no writing on them identifying her. He had a feeling that unless the photo he’d found had depicted her parents, that too would have been destroyed or thrown away. So that was the explanation. Dorothea had been overweight. No wonder she’d formed such a hatred towards men. Brandtner knew from his own experience how cruel teenagers could be. In his case it had been girls as much as boys, but the memories still hurt. He’d been known as the ‘dog kid’. Since he’d loved dogs more than those other kids, it hadn’t hurt as much as it might have, but still, when he had wanted to ask a girl to the prom, no one had been interested. In the end, he’d had to go with his cousin Waltraud.
“Yes, Christian. I’m done here.”
“Was that -”
“Yes, that was Dorothea.”
Brandtner was willing Böck not to say anything else. He didn’t want anyone to comment on Dorothea.
“Poor kid. That had to hurt. Believe me, I know.”
“Well, actually, I was kind of fat when I was a child. My grandmother made such wonderful strudels and I didn’t have that many friends, so I was always sitting there, in her kitchen, stuffing my face, listening to old stories.”
“Oh. Well, when I was in school, they called me the dog kid.”
“Kids can be cruel.”
“Tell me about it. Ok, let’s go.”
“Did you find out what you wanted?”
“Yes. I think I get it now. It makes me so angry. All this might have been prevented if only someone had looked beyond the surface and seen the girl inside.”
“That’s very profound. Would you have?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t really interested in girls at that age.”
“No. I was just ‘the dog kid’.”
“Right. Alex, I’m really sorry about the way things turned out.”
“Thanks, Christian, I appreciate it.”
Back at the office, they were met by an officer from internal affairs, who wanted to interrogate Brandtner. After the interview, which turned out to be a lot less taxing than he’d expected, it was suggested that he take leave of absence. He didn’t argue. After this case, what he really wanted was some time to himself. He needed to make a definite decision about his future.
“Christian. Fritz. I’ll be at home for a couple of days. If you need me, just call.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll handle things here. Right, Fritz?”
“I’ll drop by later.”
“Me too. Paola could make you a really nice -”
“Guys, it’s ok. Right now I’d like to be on my own.”
“Get some rest now.”
It was only a little past lunchtime, but Brandtner felt bone weary. All he wanted was to sleep for hours. But first, Rex wanted to go outside. After a few moments of playing with Rex, Brandtner was beginning to feel a little better. It was impossible to brood when you had a dog who constantly badgered you to throw the ball to him. He wasn’t alone. There were people who cared about him, and his dog needed him. It would have to be enough.