Read The Stronger Sex Online

Authors: Hans Werner Kettenbach

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Psychological, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Travel, #Europe, #Germany

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BOOK: The Stronger Sex
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It was possible that Frau Fuchs had called Herr Klofft a stupid sod and threatened to smash his face in, but the provincial employment tribunal had also considered the dismissal without notice of the truck driver invalid and rejected the appeal. The case was entertaining, but obviously no use as a precedent for my purposes. I was being paid for doing the reverse of the points it raised, for helping the employer, that hot-tempered brute Klofft, to make his dismissal of his ex-lover incontestable in retrospect.
A little later, however, I did find a dispute that had gone all the way to the Federal employment tribunal, and I could draw on it. A book-keeper, a woman aged twenty-eight, had gone on holiday to Greece for two weeks, and two days before the end of that time had phoned the appropriate
person in her firm applying for two days extra. Her request had been turned down, whereupon the book-keeper had said she might fall sick, and she had not been back at work when she was supposed to turn up. Later she produced a medical certificate from a foreign doctor, prescribing her seven days' bed rest at the resort where she was staying for menorrhagia, excessive bleeding during her period.
By then, however, the firm employing her had dismissed her without notice. In reply to the charge brought by the book-keeper, the local employment tribunal had declared that dismissal unlawful too. The firm had appealed, and its appeal was thrown out by the provincial employment tribunal. The firm was not giving up, but lodged an appeal with the Federal employment tribunal. The Federal tribunal decided that there should be a new hearing and a new ruling, and threw the case back to the provincial tribunal. In fact the Federal judges quashed the original ruling of the appeal court only because of some errors of form, but they also said that a series of points relevant to the content of the case should be considered by the provincial employment tribunal in coming to its new conclusions.
For instance, the Federal judges thought that an employee who went off work sick if a request for more leave was disallowed was not acting in line with his or her “contractual duty to the employer”, and was thus providing a good reason for dismissal without notice. It was not even necessary for the employee expressly to threaten to be sick; it was enough for “a sensible third party” to be able to “evaluate the mere mention of sickness as a clear indication that if longer leave is disallowed a medical certificate may follow”.
After that the judges went into the specific facts of the case. They said that the book-keeper must explain how a prescription of seven days' bed rest by the foreign doctor could be reconciled with the fact that, only three days after
its date, she felt “able to set out on a drive home to Germany lasting several days”.
They also emphasized the “great value as evidence” of a medical certificate, but expressed severe doubt of whether the certification by a foreign doctor complied with “the terms of German employment laws and social legislation”, and whether the circumstantial evidence assembled by the defendant – the company employing the book-keeper – did not allow conclusions to be drawn about “abuse of the employment laws by the plaintiff”.
There was some reason to suppose that in the dispute between Frau Fuchs and Herbert Klofft we could cite this case, and that I had dug up a reasonably strong argument in my client's favour. Although I still couldn't be sure of that.
For I did not know
what
Katharina Fuchs had threatened her boss with. Probably she had no heavier artillery than the book-keeper, but simply announced that she was going to be off work sick if Klofft didn't give her the week's holiday she wanted. And according to the Federal employment tribunal that was indeed sufficient grounds for dismissal without notice.
I also assumed that what Cilly Klofft had overheard was exactly that threat, and it was the information she would have given me if I had asked. But before I could put the question, her husband had interrupted our tête-à-tête.
That impossible, rough-spoken man again!
Should I call her to make sure?
It was a great temptation. But I also realized that Klofft's pent-up anger with me could be taken out on her if I was so quick to ring again. Maybe he might pick up the phone himself this time.
I sat there for some time, deep in my own thoughts. My own thoughts and feelings, yes, those too. I jumped when there was a knock at my door. Simone came in with a few
provisional files that I was to sign and return to Frau Enke. She put them down on the corner of my desk and said goodbye for the weekend.
She was wearing a floaty yellow summer dress and what looked like new red shoes, or rather sandals with stiletto heels and little straps, fastened around her bare legs with more little straps. When she had gone out, I remembered Cilly Klofft hinting that her husband had still wanted sex with Frau Fuchs.
She had said he was still “randy” for his employee in spite of the fact that she had broken the relationship off. And she hadn't said no when I asked whether he had demanded sex from Frau Fuchs when she was asking for time off. Instead, Cilly Klofft had replied that she herself would have used any method that came to hand against a man who tried to humiliate her like that.
Had that repulsive creature suggested some kind of barter with his ex-lover? Just once more and you can go on leave? Or just ten times more, beginning now, on the spot, and the other nine when you come back? Once a week or however it might turn out?
I was ready to believe the man capable of anything by now. But I didn't know what to make of Katharina Fuchs. After all, she'd been in a relationship with him for ten whole years. Just for what she could get out of him? I had no idea what sort of person she was.
And above all I didn't know what surprise revelations she might spring on me in court.
10
The weekend was unexpectedly peaceful. While I looked through the files and signed them, I had begun wondering whether to call Frauke and indeed whether it would be
tactically wise to do so at the moment. She hadn't been in touch since the event at Frau Novotna's gallery, which had ended with the two of us going our separate ways, and I could easily believe that she wanted to let me stew in my own juice.
Or it was also possible that she herself, if I showed I wasn't impressed by such conduct, would begin feeling insecure if not even jealous, and would unexpectedly turn up maybe on Sunday morning, maybe on Monday evening, perfectly casual, carefree and at her ease, apparently without any recollection of our quarrel and the icy silence that had followed it.
I was even wondering whether there was any point in bothering about the tactical wisdom of making overtures to Frauke again. Did I know how our relationship was going to turn out in the long run? I wasn't sure.
However, I did know that I didn't want to spend the weekend on my own. Waiting for the phone call that Cilly Klofft said she'd give me? Imagining the surprises that Frau Fuchs's lawyer might come up with in his bill of complaint?
While I was feeling increasingly gloomy over that prospect, the phone rang. It was Frauke – yes, perfectly casual, carefree and at her ease. She said an engagement she'd had for the evening had fallen through quite unexpectedly, she could leave the office now, and how was I fixed?
We met outside the cinema. That was Frauke's idea, and we'd agreed on
Live Free, Die Hard
, although I didn't much like the hunk with the thuggish bald patch and childish nose, and definitely not the way he kept dying without ever ending up in his well-earned grave. During the shoot-out I was wondering how Frauke would react if Cilly Klofft's call came late that evening. I forgot the question when Frauke began massaging my thigh.
After the film we went to the restaurant next door for some pasta and then back to my place. It was a pleasant
night; Frauke obviously thought so too, and I enjoyed it not least because my fears that my sexual inclinations might have shifted dramatically and alarmingly proved unfounded in practice.
Saturday morning was sunny and a little windy. A few small white clouds chased over the deep blue sky. I got up, taking care not to wake Frauke, who had thrown off the duvet but covered her face with one corner of it, and made breakfast. It was ready by the time Frauke came out of the bedroom, yawning and rubbing her eyes. While she was in the bathroom, I went down to the newspaper kiosk and bought the
Süddeutsche Zeitung
. I didn't subscribe and take a regular copy, but I knew that at her own place it was the first thing Frauke reached for, particularly on a Saturday morning for the arts section.
We spent almost an hour and a half over breakfast, reading the papers. In the end I saw, in the local paper, a comment about the flea market this Saturday at the big car park of the industrial estate in the Alte Chaussee, and I asked Frauke if she'd like to wander around there for a bit and see what was on offer. She was all for it. While she was getting dressed, I cleared away the breakfast things. I was just putting the cutlery in the dishwasher when the phone rang.
I was alarmed. Cilly Klofft could have called me any other time, she'd have been very welcome, but not right at this moment. Frauke appeared in the bedroom doorway, brushing her hair, and looked enquiringly at me. I picked up the phone.
It wasn't Cilly Klofft. It was her husband. “Good morning, Dr Zabel,” he said. “Herbert Klofft here. Am I disturbing you?”
I said, “No, no… I…” I was totally baffled, and couldn't even finish the sentence on which I'd embarked. He left me searching for words for a while, but not too long, before helping me out.
“It's nothing important,” he said. After clearing his throat hard, he went on. “Just wanted to ask if you had the time and inclination for a game of chess. It doesn't have to last a long time. Maybe we could set the clock to two halves of thirty minutes each?” He paused, but while I was still searching for an answer, he added quickly, “Or any other timing, just what you like, it's up to you.”
I saw at once that I wouldn't get another opportunity to come a little closer to this client in a hurry. But I sensed Frauke's eyes on me. She was still standing at the bedroom doorway, brushing her hair rather more slowly, listening in.
I said, “Yes… yes, I would like that, only… the fact is, I have something fixed for today.”
“Oh. Yes, of course. That comes first, naturally.” I wouldn't have expected this usually rough-mannered oaf to show disappointment so clearly. After a little pause during which I tried in vain to think of some comment to mollify my No, he said, “Well, maybe some other time. Anyway, I wish you a pleasant weekend, Dr Zabel.”
I said quickly, “Just a minute, if you would.”
Frauke lowered her hairbrush. Klofft said, intently, “Yes?”
I cleared my throat and said, “I'll call you back later.”
When I'd ended the call, Frauke said, “Who was that? Oh, sorry! None of my business, I expect!”
“It was Herbert Klofft.”
“Oh yes?” She made a small artificial throat-clearing sound. “Herbert, you said?”
“Yes, Herbert! My client!”
“Oh, really?” She passed the brush once more, slowly, over her hair. “And his business is so urgent that he calls you at home on a Saturday morning?”
I was beginning to lose my temper. “He was asking whether I'd like a game of chess with him.”
Lowering the brush, she stared at me. “On a Saturday morning?”
“So? Not the worst time in the world for playing chess!”
“Really? So why aren't you accepting?”
“Because I want to go to the flea market with you!” My tone of voice was sharper than I meant it to be.
“I tell you what, why not call – er,
him
straight away?” She paused and then added, “That's what you promised her, didn't you? I'll call you back later.” She wasn't going to much trouble to imitate my voice, but it was clear that she was parodying me. “And tell her you're already on your way. She can put the champagne on ice.”
I could hardly believe my ears. “
She
? What do you mean,
she
? I told you it was Herbert Klofft calling!”
“So you said. But I understood all right, don't you worry!”
She turned away and disappeared from sight. I heard her moving about the bedroom, turning the bedclothes upside down. I was about to go in after her, but before I could bring myself to do it she reappeared with the bag in which she brings her night things, walked through the living room without deigning to glance at me, and disappeared into the bathroom.
My mind elsewhere, I closed the dishwasher and turned on the programme. In the bathroom I heard the clink of Frauke's jars and little bottles that stood on the shelf above the basin. As I switched the dishwasher on, she came out of the bathroom again, carrying her bag, her cheeks flushed.
She took a step closer and looked at me. I opened my mouth, but before I could say anything she said, “Have a nice weekend. And thanks for the hospitality.” She went to the front door of the apartment, turned back once more and said, “Oh, and my regards to Herbert – I mean Cilly Klofft. Your client!” With that she opened the door and walked out.
11
When I was standing at the front door of the villa, under the overhanging roof, listening to the chime of bells that I had just set going, I could almost see Cilly Klofft before me. I was expecting her to open the door, maybe in her painter's smock again, with those eyes of hers that shone in a dim light. But it wasn't her. It was a blonde, handsome woman in her mid-forties wearing jeans and a striped kitchen apron. She examined me briefly through the crack in the doorway before letting me in.
She gave me no chance to show my good manners, but climbed the stairs ahead of me, slippers on her bare feet, went to Klofft's door and knocked. I heard Klofft's voice. “Come in!”
BOOK: The Stronger Sex
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