Authors: James Craig
A slow death: A Kriminalinspektor Max Drescher novel
the smell of tear gas in the evening.’ Pulling up the waistband of his trousers, Kriminalinspektor Max Drescher took a short run up and kicked the empty canister – about the size of a tin of soup – ten yards down Prinzenstraße, into the lingering haze of the tear gas. Making a satisfying racket, it bounced along the road in the general direction of a burned-out tram. ‘Yes!’ Max pumped his arm into the air in mock triumph. ‘Jürgen Klinsmann, eat your heart out.’
Michael Rahn smiled indulgently. By now, he was used to his boss's irritating habits, including his willingness to clown around at the most inappropriate moments.
Such as now.
Casually shouldering his CS gas launcher, the sergeant peered into the smog. ‘This isn’t going to deter the bastards for very long. I think they must be totally immune to this stuff by now. It’s like we’re living in a horror movie.’
‘I’ve been living in my own horror movie for years,’ the Kriminalinspektor grunted.
‘We’re creating a mutant strain of anarchist crazies.’
‘They were totally crazy to begin with. Now that the Wall’s come down, we’ve just given them a bigger playground to run around in.’ Wiping his nose, Max pointed to the second floor of one of the hulking tenements that lined both sides of the street. It was one of dozens of abandoned buildings occupied by squatters since the opening of the Berlin Wall had led to the western part of the city being flooded by störenfried, human flotsam of all descriptions. ‘Is he up there?’
‘Well then,’ Max grinned, ‘let's go and get the little bastard.’ At the edge of his vision, he caught sight of a sudden movement. Turning, he was shocked and dismayed to find his quarry had come looking for him.
The hunter becomes the hunted.
Time seemed to slow down. The Kriminalinspektor studied the ugly mug of Erwin Helmes as it came rushing towards him. Unshaven, with bloodshot eyes and a monster zit on the end of his nose, Helmes was not a pretty sight.
You look even more of a mess than I do,
Max thought, making no effort to get out of the way.
‘Sie verdammt schieβe.’
Helmes’ incoherent cursing was of less immediate concern than the dirty brown bottle in his raised hand. The bottle was about to come smashing down on Max's unprotected skull when a uniformed arm appeared out of the gloom and elegantly backhanded the rioter across the face with a wooden baton.
‘Bravo.’ Max applauded as the petrol bomb smashed on the tarmac. Helmes collapsed in a crumpled heap, holding his nose, while issuing a stream of ever more hysterical curses.
‘Serves you right, you asshole son of a bitch.’ The Kriminalinspektor breathed in deeply, enjoying the petrol fumes, as he watched the riot cop follow up his initial intervention with a couple of quick kicks to the collapsed man’s ribs. Feeling that etiquette demanded it, Max stepped up to administer a few well-deserved blows of his own.
‘Good evening, Counsellor,’ Max smiled as he gave the prostrate man a final meaty kick. Breathing heavily, he took a step backwards, in order to better inspect his handwork. Lying in a small puddle of petrol, Helmes let a satisfying groan. His forehead had split open above his left eye and a smear of blood ran down the side of his face.
‘It was very good of you to come out here and find us,’ Max chuckled. ‘Save us the time of looking for you.’ He glanced over at Rahn and grinned. ‘So, tell us, how is the revolution going tonight?’
‘Police brutality.’ Helmes whimpered. ‘You are a fucking Nazi.’
‘If I was a Nazi,’ the Kriminalinspektor said grimly, ‘your stinking corpse would have been found face down in the Landwehrkanal long ago.’
‘You are fascist scum,’ the man wheezed.
‘And you,’ Max grunted, stepping forward to give Helmes another kick, ‘are a shit-stirring Alternative List scumbag.’
‘Max, that's enough.’ Michael Rahn gestured back down the road. ‘We should get out of here.’
‘The animal tried to brain me with a bottle.’ Max protested, administering one final, weary kick before finally stepping aside. ‘Cuff him.’
‘Sure thing, boss.’ Rahn jumped forward, pulling Helmes’ arms behind his back with practised efficiency.
‘Make them as tight as possible.’ Despite the intense cold, Max was sweating hard. Hands on hips, he took a succession of deep breaths, waiting for his heart rate to come under control.
I'm way too old for this shit,
he reflected as he listened to Rahn reading Helmes his rights. Eventually recovering his breath, he turned to the riot cop who had saved him from a cracked skull. Glancing at the name on the man’s uniform, he offered a hand. ‘Thanks, Goldbrunner. Kriminalinspektor Max Drescher.’
The cop lifted the visor on his crash helmet and exchanged a perfunctory handshake. ‘My pleasure, Kriminalinspektor.’
‘This is my sergeant, Michael Rahn.’
Rahn and Goldbrunner exchanged nods.
Max gestured towards the prostrate prisoner. ‘And this –’
‘I know who
is,’ Goldbrunner interjected, the disgust in his voice obvious.
‘Good,’ Max nodded. ‘Anyway, I owe you one. This will go into my favours book back at Stresemannstraße. And I
repay my debts.’
‘Thank you. I’ll remember that.’
Rahn hauled the prisoner to his feet. ‘We should get going.’
‘Okay.’ In no hurry to leave, Max surveyed his domain.
‘He’s right, Kriminalinspektor,’ Goldbrunner cautioned, ‘this is no place to hang around. It’s a fucking war zone and it’s only going to get worse. It's going to take us days to get all of these bastards out of here.’
If not weeks, or even months,
Max thought grimly.
‘This neighbourhood is such a total shit hole.’
‘That's no way to speak about our brothers and sisters from the GDR,’ Max laughed. ‘After all, there is no such thing as East Berliners and West Berliners any more. We are all one big happy family now.’
‘Like fuck,’ said Goldbrunner sourly. ‘These bastards have been bombarding us from the rooftops with flares, petrol bombs, stones, tiles. Anything they can lay their thieving hands on.’
A steadily increasing pulsating noise signalled the arrival of a helicopter overhead. The four men looked up as the Agusta hovered over one of the apartment buildings about a hundred and fifty metres further along the street. From each side of the aircraft, ropes were thrown out. Moments later, a series of black figures slid down on to the roof. ‘The commandos are going in,’ Goldbrunner observed.
‘They'll sort it out,’ Max grinned.
Right on cue, came two loud bangs, followed by a series of screams.
Watching Rahn lead Helmes down the road, the Kriminalinspektor gave Goldbrunner a cheery wave. ‘Good luck. I imagine you’ll need it.’
After reaching the Polizeipräsidium on Stresemannstraße, Erwin Helmes was placed in a holding cell while they waited for a doctor to inspect him. Sitting at his desk, Max sipped at a steaming cup of black coffee as he watched TV. On an RBB news bulletin, the Mayor, Walter Momper, was angrily criticising the rioters and their use of ‘criminal violence of the worst kind’.
What would criminal violence of the best kind be then, Mr Mayor?
Max wondered idly.
‘The squatters,’ Momper continued, ‘who claim the right to live free in empty apartments, attacked the police with Molotov cocktails, stones and anything else they could throw at the advancing officers. They were at no time ready to undertake negotiations. Our policy is to find peaceful solutions, but to respond to such violence with power and strength. I am extremely concerned at the scale of the violence and, above all, their readiness to kill.’
Wandering past Max’s desk, Michael Rahn glanced at the screen. ‘Has he got anything interesting to say?’
‘Of course not,’ Max scoffed.
‘Christ, what a mess.’ Michael shook his head sadly, ‘Who would have thought that it's a year now since they opened the Wall?’
‘They should fucking close it again.’ Max gestured angrily. ‘It wasn't so long ago that Momper told us ‘
The Wall is history, Berlin has a future
’. What he didn’t tell us was it was a future as a magnet for every scumbag, troublemaker and criminal within a thousand kilometres.’
‘According to Albert Camus,’ said the sergeant airily, ‘freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.’
‘Let him come to Berlin,’ Max huffed, ‘and see if he still thinks that. I’ll show him round myself.’
‘He’s dead,’ Michael pointed out.
‘Lucky him. In this city, freedom just means the chance for everyone to be a prize prick.’
Grinning, Michael rubbed his chin. ‘As a quote, that doesn’t quite have the same sense of poetry as the offering from Mr Camus.’
‘But it’s true,’ Max protested. ‘And this lot,’ he gave an exasperated wave at the TV screen, ‘are the least of our problems. While we’re running around like idiots, fighting a war against feckless kids, the mafia are buying up half of East Berlin right under our noses.’ Max shook his head angrily. ‘Momper and all the other politicians haven’t got the remotest clue about what’s happening in this city. Policing it is a nightmare already and it’s only going to get worse. We’re going to be going toe-to-toe with organised crime for the next fifty years, maybe even more.’ A wicked grin spread across his face. ‘At least
‘Thanks a lot,’ Michael laughed.
‘My pleasure.’ Max offered up the slightest of bows. ‘I’m sure you’ll do a really great job.’ As the Mayor’s haunted face disappeared from the TV screen, the Kriminalinspektor reached across his desk, picked up the phone and quickly dialled a number from memory. It rang for what seemed like an eternity before an answering machine kicked in. Ending the call, Max quickly punched in another number. This time the phone was answered almost immediately.
‘Well, well,’ the voice teased, ‘if it’s not Max Drescher, Berlin’s top cop, himself. How very nice to hear from you.’
Max smiled. ‘How did you know it would be me?’
‘Who else would it be at this time of night?’
‘You're working late.’
There was a gentle laugh from the other end of the line. ‘Oh, you know, it's good to have something to help keep you busy when your boyfriend is out roaming the streets, using the authority of the state to go about beating up on poor defenceless students and throwing families out into the street.’
‘Hardly,’ Max grunted. ‘All I'm doing is making sure that degenerate bourgeois types like yourself can sleep easy in your beds.’
‘You know me,’ the voice purred, ‘I don’t want to sleep
‘Look,’ Max lowered his voice, ‘why don’t we go and get a bite to eat and then head back to my place?’ He mentioned a diner that should still be open at this late hour.
‘Sounds like a plan. I'll be there in twenty minutes. Love you.’
‘Okay,’ Max coughed, ‘see you later.’ He put down the phone and looked up to see Michael at him grinning like an idiot.
‘Do we have plans for tonight?’
‘Yes, we do,’ Max smiled, ‘and they include
processing Helmes and writing up our report.’
The grin faded from Michael's face. ‘And what exactly will you be doing while I am stuck here, doing your paperwork for you?’
Getting to his feet, Max slipped on his jacket. ‘That,’ he said firmly, ‘is none of your damn business.’
‘SHIT.’ Dinara tugged angrily at her Sex Pistols T-shirt. ‘But I have to go and see Pink Floyd.’ She stamped her foot. ‘I simply
to go. Everyone else is going to be there, so why can’t I? Corina’s brother is taking her. And Kerstin and Lisa are going with them. Their parents are cool about it.’
Carl Beerfeldt sighed. Despite having heard this plaintive monologue several times before, he had no idea who any of these people were, having long since given up on trying to keep track of the girl’s social life.
Mistaking his dismay for hesitation, she tried one further push. ‘Pink Floyd. Even you must have heard of them.’
‘Of course I’ve heard of them,’ he snapped. ‘I’m not that old.’
‘And they’re coming here. It’s going to be spectacular.’
I can imagine.
The open-air rock concert, in the former no-man's land along the Berlin Wall between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, was something that Carl would have quite liked to go to himself. Not that there was any chance of that; he had about as much chance of getting permission to go from his wife as Dinara did. Changing tack, he tried to shift the blame on to his absent spouse. ‘Your mother won’t buy it.’
‘But I have to go,’ Dinara wailed. ‘It’s just not fair.’
Carl felt his reserves of patience, limited at the best of times, evaporating rapidly. ‘You're only fifteen, for God's sake. There will be tens of thousands of people there. It will be chaos.’
In one fluid motion, the girl reached down and grabbed an unopened can of Coke from the table. Arching her back, she rotated her shoulders and hurled it at his head. He ducked out of the way and it smacked into the fridge door, before landing on the floor. ‘I hate you,’ she screamed with such venom that he feared her head might explode. ‘Who are you anyway? You're not my fucking father.’ She looked round for another missile to throw at him. Glancing nervously at the knife rack by the sink, Carl bounced on the balls of his feet, readying himself for flight.
Rejecting the other weapons on offer, Dinara let out a long, low growl of frustration. Then she stormed out of the kitchen. Realising that he had been holding his breath, Carl exhaled, letting his heart rate return to a more normal level before reaching down and recovering the Coke can. Placing it carefully in the back of the fridge, he ran a finger across the dent Dinara’s latest assault had put in the fridge door. It was the latest in a long line of battle scars that littered the house; testament to the length and intensity of this inter-generational conflict. A sense of infinite weariness washed over him. If anything, Dinara was becoming even more of a pain in the ass. How was that possible? Carl had tried, really tried, to make an effort with his step-daughter but the little bitch was having none of it. She was wearing them all down. It would have been far better if she had stayed with her father in Italy.
Happy families are all the same, Tolstoy famously said; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Pulling out a chair, Carl sat down at the kitchen table and rested his head in his hands. What to do? A psycho teenager was the last thing he needed; it wasn’t like the family didn’t have enough on its plate already right now.
How did I end up with four kids?
Sylvie Beerfeldt thought wearily.
And by two different men?
It wasn’t quite what she had in mind 17 years ago, tripping out of Madame Alexa Brummer’s finishing school in Lausanne, ready to take on the world. Instead, she’d got pregnant and plunged, head first, into a series of chaotic and doomed relationships. She shook her head sadly.
Things never go the way you plan them.
Ah well, it was too late to worry about that now.
‘Shit, shit, shit.’
‘You watch your tongue, young lady,’ she scolded, ‘or you’ll be going off to bed with a smack.’
It was a most feeble threat, and ten-year-old Nathalie Beerfeldt treated it with the contempt that it deserved. She stared defiantly at her mother for a moment and sighed heavily, before stomping her feet and throwing her new teddy bear pyjamas on to the floor. ‘But it’s just not fair.’ she proclaimed theatrically.
Already tucked up under her Donald Duck duvet, her younger sister Maggie, eight next month, gloated. ‘You have to do what mummy tells you to,’ she giggled. ‘You
to. You’re just a kid.’
‘No, I’m not,’ Nathalie screamed, going purple with rage. ‘
‘Just a little kid.’ Maggie taunted her sister. ‘Almost still a baby.’
‘Girls. That’s enough now.’ Sylvie picked up the discarded pyjama top and sighed. Any minute now, six-year-old Adam would come running in from his bedroom next door to enjoy the show.
And where was daddy when the going got tough? Absolutely nowhere to be seen, as per usual.
Tossing the garment on the bed, she looked up to see Nathalie bolt through the bedroom door, making a dash for freedom.
‘Nathalie. You get back here right now, or else.’
Ignoring her mother’s threats, Nathalie ran along the corridor and up the stairs, savouring her temporary taste of freedom. Grinning madly, she headed for the sanctuary of her half-sister’s study on the second floor. As she bounded up the last few stairs and through the open door, a shiver of excitement ran through her. An MTV video flickered on the screen of the TV standing on the dresser, its sound down low. Dinara, her older half-sister, was lying on the bed in the comer, her empty gaze focused on the ceiling. Nathalie stepped over to the bed and shook her by one foot. ‘Dinara?’ she asked. ‘Can I come in and watch some videos with you?’
The older girl did not respond.
Nathalie tugged again at the striped sock. ‘Please.’ It was only then that she noticed the man sitting at the desk where Dinara occasionally made a desultory stab at doing her homework. She turned towards him. ‘Who are you?’
The man put a finger to his lips, bidding her to be silent. He wasn’t smiling. Nathalie felt a wave of fear spreading from her stomach. She glanced back at the open door to see if her mother was coming up the stairs to fetch her, but there was no one there.
‘It’s all right,’ she mumbled, ‘I’ll go to bed.’
Looking down at the gun in his hand, the man said nothing.
Tears started rolling down the child’s freshly scrubbed cheeks. ‘I’m sorry I’ve been a bad girl,’ she sobbed, ‘I won’t do it again.’ She looked hopefully at the man. Still he was silent. ‘I have to go now,’ she whispered, taking a step backwards, in the direction of the study door. ‘They are waiting for me.’ She was just about to turn and run back to her mother when she saw him shrug and pull the trigger.
Tapping a few buttons on his Casio calculator, Carl Beerfeldt studied the numbers that popped up on the LCD display and shook his head. How could anyone make a living from selling books? Carl knew that most new businesses were doomed to failure. This was certainly no exception. Fortunately his bookstore,
Das Letzte Wort
, was just a way of explaining away a little of the cash that he had stolen from his previous employers in his previous life. However, in reality, the shop took so little money that he was beginning to doubt that he would be able to launder anything like enough.
Taking another sip from his rapidly warming bottle of DAB beer, the condensation on its side long since evaporated, he began clearing his papers from the kitchen table.
What was taking Sylvie so long? Surely she should have managed to get the kids to bed by now?
He knew that they could be a handful, but his wife usually displayed just the right mixture of tenderness and toughness to get the job done inside fifteen minutes. At least it gave him time to sort out dinner. Getting to his feet, he placed his papers on a worktop and turned to the fridge. Opening the door, he pulled out a pepperoni pizza.
The frozen pizza slipped from his grasp and bounced across the tiled floor. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ It was not a question that needed an answer. Even before he turned to face the gun, Carl Beerfeldt knew exactly what was happening. He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, like a drowning man trying to keep his head above the surface. Finally, he mumbled: ‘You need me alive. You know that, don’t you?’
The gunman glanced down at the pizza on the floor. ‘It’s a bit late for deals.’
‘It’s never too late.’ Carl smiled weakly. ‘There’s always time.’
‘I’m not sure that your family would agree with you.’
Feeling himself going under, Carl fought for air. ‘Jesus. No. Jesus fucking Christ. No.’
‘Oh yes,’ came the deadpan reply. ‘Jesus
Christ yes. What did you expect, you moron?’
the kids?’ The words stuck in his throat and he slumped against the door of the refrigerator. For several moments he could do nothing except listen to his own, laboured breathing.
‘Why the kids?’
‘Why not? No one gets a free pass here.’
Choking back the tears, Carl looked his executioner in the eye. ‘You guys just never give up, do you?’ he groaned.
By way of reply, the first round slammed into his abdomen.
As the dark blood spread across the cool tiled floor, Carl tried to focus on the face looking down at him. A distant voice demanded: ‘Where is the money?’
‘It’s too late for money,’ Carl croaked. He could taste the blood now, salty and thick, in the back of his throat.
‘Where is the money that you stole from us?’
‘Fuck … you.’
‘Fine,’ the voice said as the face floated out of view. ‘That’s fine. Keep your expensive little secret. I’ll find it anyway.’
‘It’s all over,’ he rasped. ‘I have to go.’ Trying to let it all wash over him, Carl barely felt the next two shots as they ripped into his guts. He smiled as he began to lose consciousness and started to float away. Now all that he had to do was find Sylvie and the kids and everything would be fine.