Authors: Chris Petit
Also by Chris Petit
The Psalm Killer
Back from the Dead
The Hard Shoulder
The Human Pool
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2016
A CBS company
Copyright © Chris Petit, 2016
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
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The right of Chris Petit to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
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Hardback ISBN: 978-1-47114-340-3
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
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To Anna and Iain
It was still dark as the old man dressed. The light would not come for another hour. Socks and suspenders. Trousers and braces. The underpants of which he was so ashamed,
dish-wash grey and stained, for lack of soap, so threadbare they were in holes. His shoes, once good, barely held together and leaked at the slightest provocation. They smelled of the detergent
used to wash the slaughterhouse floor. The medal deserved a collar, he thought. He had no cufflinks either and made do with rolled sleeves. The suit still had its waistcoat, which he wore for the
little extra warmth it afforded, usually under his one sweater, which he discarded that morning, wanting to look his best. He took his overcoat, hat and scarf, which hung on the back of the door.
As an afterthought, he folded his pyjamas and placed them under the pillow. He wanted the gesture to provoke some regret or nostalgia but felt nothing.
The pistol was an old Mauser C96. He appreciated the aesthetics of its distinctive box magazine in front of the trigger, the long elegant barrel and comfort of the wooden
handle. His last companion of choice. His hands were cold but he would not wear gloves. He passed through the apartment, careful not to disturb the others because he wished to leave unobserved. He
closed the door softly behind him, stood at the top of the stairs and stared into the descending gloom.
The block warden was slow to arrive. He was a short man with a childish face and the insolent, spoiled look of minor authority. He didn’t see the pistol in the old
man’s hand until he raised his arm. He gave a small yelp of surprise, followed by his characteristically unpleasant laugh, which he never had time to finish. He was in the middle of putting
on his coat, with his mouth open, when the bullet entered his head, through the eye, at which the old man had been aiming. His head snapped back from the force. Blood and bone hit the wall,
followed by the bullet. He slumped back and slid down, his blood a dark smear on dirty paintwork. The remaining eye fluttered, almost coquettishly, as he hit the floor sitting, paused and rolled
In the booming echo of the shot the old man thought he heard footsteps stop on the stairs. Female. He knew whose and regretted he could do nothing about that; perhaps she was
his angel of death after all. At least he was her avenger.
The old man turned the gun on himself, grasped the barrel in his left hand to hold it steady and pulled the trigger. The bullet travelled upwards through the unresisting flesh of his chin and
tongue, missing his false teeth, into the soft palate of his mouth, passing the nasal passage, to penetrate the brain where it lodged, causing none of the messy damage of the first shot. Such a
neat, clean death; the old man was gone before he hit the ground, doing more tidily for himself than his victim, who jerked and twitched like a dog in a dream.
The young woman was still standing petrified when the second shot fired. A voice in her head told her not even to think and get out. She ran with her hand over her mouth until she reached
outside and spewed in the courtyard as the door banged behind her, barely stopping before she carried on running.
August Schlegel woke up in a prison cell with no recollection of how he had got there. Everything swam unpleasantly. He wondered if he were still drunk. Like a man
contemplating white space on a map, he thought, ‘My name is August Schlegel and the street where I live is the same as my first name, in the former Jewish quarter.’ He opened one eye.
Had they thrown him in the drunk tank? There were many things he disliked about himself, starting with his name. He was only twenty-five but his hair had gone quite white, which he also disliked,
as he did the way it sat on top of his open, ordinary face.
The air stank of stale drink. He had a memory of throwing up during the party. The party. There had been speeches. A big room full of boozed-up men. A group of the oldest and toughest had
decided to make him the butt of their lurid and preposterous tales. Stoffel claimed to have dressed as a woman for the S-Bahn murders, to act as bait. The idea was beyond imagination. Stoffel was
bull-necked with a boxer’s nose and a tobacco-stained moustache, which he claimed to have shaved off for his drag act. Tears of mirth ran down everyone’s cheeks.
They were all reeling drunk by the end. He remembered wondering if he would end up spending the night in the cells again; it seemed to be happening more often. He recalled standing swaying,
trying to read his watch, and someone saying, ‘Ach! After eleven. Too late to go home. Everyone downstairs!’
Sleeping it off in the cells was standard police practice.
He must have dozed off. The next thing he knew, he was being poked awake. The reek of brutal aftershave told Schlegel it wasn’t just a bad dream. He ran his furred and
distended tongue around his teeth and tasted a horrible residue. He could feel his swollen liver.
‘You’ll do,’ said Stoffel, continuing to poke him.
Schlegel couldn’t find his hat and one glove was lost. His jacket and coat were wadded up under the bunk. At least the big leather waistcoat was still there. He kept
repeating under his breath: I am not homicide. On the rare occasions Schlegel found himself drinking with the likes of Stoffel – at leaving parties, and there were plenty of those – he
had a warning list in his head of subjects never to mention, however drunk. He hoped the image he had of himself regaling them hadn’t happened. Stoffel’s crowd were always laughing at
things not in the slightest funny until someone said something really funny, when they made a point of not laughing at all.
He arrived in the garage hatless, his ungloved hand stuffed in his pocket. Stoffel was sitting in an Opel with the engine running. The garage was bitterly cold and it was no warmer in the car,
whose heater didn’t work.
‘I am not homicide, you know,’ he said to Stoffel.
‘The rest are busy.’
Busy sleeping it off, he thought sourly. Where was his hat? It was a good one.
There was a hole in the floor of the car and a chilly draught blew up his legs. He suspected Stoffel wore newspaper under his vest from the way he rustled. There was much
discussion about what gave the best insulation. Stoffel smoked a foul cheroot. He was a wet smoker. Schlegel was aware of not having cleaned his teeth, not that it mattered. Nearly everyone’s
breath reeked these days. He tasted last night’s alcohol. No shortage there. Outside it began to spit. To stop from feeling sick, he concentrated on the grinding of the useless wipers and the
smeared vision through the greasy windscreen.
A lot of official traffic was on the roads. Trams were crammed with commuters. Those banned from public transport trudged past with their heads down. Another grubby dawn, another working
Saturday and another of those filthy colourless days found only in Berlin in winter, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-three.
A roadblock was set up where the street had been sealed off. They were in a run-down working-class part of Wilmersdorf. Schlegel saw soldiers on standby, their scuttle helmets
silhouetted in the drizzle. There were a lot of ordinary policemen too and plainclothes, as well as special Jewish marshals with armbands.