Read The Zurich Conspiracy Online

Authors: Bernadette Calonego

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General

The Zurich Conspiracy (9 page)

BOOK: The Zurich Conspiracy
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She looked so slim and fragile, but Josefa was well aware of her strength. Claire was just the victim of a cunning, malicious man, she thought to herself. And she wasn’t the first.

A flock of green-and-brown spotted ducks was bustling over the meadow around the parking lot on Zurich University’s tranquil Irchel campus. Gulls had taken over the ponds. A student occasionally rushed over the little bridge; mothers were walking with their small children, but it was mainly a place for dogs and their owners to romp around.

Josefa saw a little girl burst into tears at the sight of an off-leash Great Dane.

“Leash your dog right this minute!” shouted the little girl’s mother, who was pushing a stroller some distance away.

She could hear the woman’s cries from across the meadow, but Josefa chose to ignore them; she had her fill of drama. Walking up the hill, past the university’s model agricultural operation, which reeked of horse droppings and pig manure, Josefa sat down on a bench beneath a knotty linden that overlooked the city; from this spot on top of the hill it didn’t even look like a city. The icy Alpine peaks shimmered in the distance, and a gentle range of wooded hills could be seen just in front of them. Josefa took some deep breaths. The sun was blazing down on her face. She closed her eyes. Maybe this is where she could sort out her thoughts and calm her feelings. But she had scarcely taken one deep breath when she heard footsteps.

An old man was making his way along the path, stopping every five or ten feet to catch his breath; a Siamese cat, its tail held high, followed close behind. The cat sometimes stopped to sniff some blades of grass, then sat down and blinked at the sky.

“He wants to have a rest,” the old man said to Josefa. “Me too. Say, is there enough room on this bench?”

Josefa moved a little to one side. The old man sat down, and Josefa saw that he had a half-finished crossword puzzle in his hand.

“Nice day after all this wet weather, isn’t it?” he asked.

She nodded. “Your cat seems to be enjoying it too,” Josefa answered, since a conversation appeared to be inevitable.

“It’s a tom. We go for a walk almost every day.”

“All those dogs don’t bother him?”

The man laughed. “Ueli is much faster. And smarter. More than one dog has gotten himself a sore nose.” He laughed again then looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “Do you have your dog with you?”

“No, only my thoughts.”

“Aha…I hope you don’t have any problems.”

“I do, with the office.”

“Aha.” The old man fell silent for a moment. “You know, when I look back I often say to myself, ‘Most fights aren’t worth it.’ It would’ve been smarter for me to run up a tree like my cat and observe things from a safe distance.” He scratched his face. “Ueli does it, and his pride doesn’t ever seem to get hurt.”

Josefa smiled. Maybe the old guy wasn’t so far off. “I’ve got a tricky problem here.” He waved his newspaper in the air.

“I’m not good at crosswords,” Josefa admitted.

But the old man was undeterred. “It’s the key word, and the clue is in verse. Here it is.” He cleared his throat. “
He moves our personal belongings, strangers’ worlds pass through his hands. He knows their comings and their goings, but never tells us where he stands.
” He showed Josefa the letters he already had: __O__ __ E__T R__ __ G__ __.

Josefa shook her head. “Sorry, I’m really not an expert in these matters.”

The cat hopped onto the bench and rubbed his head on the old man’s sleeve.

“Ueli, you rascal,” he muttered affectionately.

Josefa got up, and the old man looked up at her.

“Oh, of course, you’re probably busy with your own thoughts anyway. Hope all goes well. Would be a pity for a young girl like you if it didn’t.”

Josefa smiled. “Good luck with your crossword,” she said walking away.

She had already climbed to the brow of the hill when it suddenly hit her. She spun around; the old codger was still sitting on the bench.

,” she said, gasping for air. “The word you’re looking for is
, a porter.”

For a moment the old man looked puzzled, and then his face suddenly lit up. “Right,” he exclaimed in delight. “K-O-F-F-E-R-T-R-A-E-G-E-R!”

When she got home she unpacked the last few things from her suitcase and kept repeating what the old man had said:
“Observe things from a safe distance.”
She decided that whenever things got to be too much, she would just climb a tree—a make-believe one—and look down on what was happening from there.

Her phone rang at the same time as there was a knock at the door. She chose the phone: it was Paul Klingler.

“Are you in your office? I’ll call you right back,” she shouted into the receiver while rushing to the door. It was the man from downstairs, an Albanian from Kosovo, as she’d discovered thanks to Esther.

“You me help?” he asked, expectantly. “I no understand.”

She reluctantly took the paper he held out to her and quickly scanned it. It was a form from a primary school. It had something to do with getting access to the school’s psychology service.

“Doesn’t the school have to fill this out?” she asked impatiently. Or a counselor at some facility for asylum seekers? Why did this man come to her of all people? Just because they’d exchanged two words?

“No, I must do,” the man insisted. “It is because my son. But I no understand.”

Josefa held the form gingerly between two fingers, as if afraid of catching something, then remembered that Paul was waiting for her call. “I have to phone someone first. I’ll be down to see you in half an hour.”

“Half an hour,” the Albanian repeated, as if holding her to it.

“Half an hour,” Josefa confirmed, closing the door and dialing Paul’s number.

“What’s the matter?” he asked in his usual penetrating voice, a voice completely at odds with his gaunt physique. “Did I get you out of the shower?”

“No, my neighbor just dropped by.”

“What neighbor was that?” Paul asked, ever curious.

“The one downstairs, a Kosovo Albanian.”

“A Kosovo Albanian? What did he want from you?”

“Listen, I thought
wanted something from me!”

“Maybe…I heard that Loyn’s gone shopping for a character called Schulmann.”

“I just knew you’d know that! Even I didn’t find out until the day before I went on vacation.”

“Sure, I’m in the same game. Tell me, who ever brought
on board?”

“You know him?”

“Slightly. So who brought him on board?”

“Probably Bourdin, but I don’t know exactly. Schulmann worked for us in San Francisco once.”

Josefa did not want to tell Paul about Schulmann’s assault. But her friend could figure out easily enough that the new man was a slap in her face.

“Yes, I remember. He’s very good on technical things, but he’s an absolute misfit as head of marketing. You just have to ask the people he’s worked with,” Paul remarked. He clearly had his ear to every wall.

“Nobody at Loyn ever asked the staff,” Josefa remarked bitterly.

“Have you got anything on for today?” Paul continued.

“Yes, I’m expecting a visit any minute.”

“Too bad, I wanted to talk you into leaving that gang and coming to work for me.”

Josefa was nonplussed. Working with Paul?
How do I respond to this left-field offer?
Fortunately he changed the subject immediately.

“And how was St. Moritz?”

“Good. The horses were really eye-catching, and the guests were totally pleased.”

“That might have been Feller-Stähli’s last bash. By the way, they’ve brought the body back to Switzerland. The funeral was huge.”

“That business is really peculiar. What’s a Swiss lawyer doing hunting bears in Canada?”

“Grizzlies, dear girl, grizzly bears. Rich hobby hunters are particularly keen on them. They’re trophy hunters, understand? They’ll pay ten, twenty, fifty thousand for one, just so they can brag about it in their villa on Lake Zurich afterward.”

“Is that even permitted in Canada? I mean bear hunting?”

“Apparently in Prince George it is.”

“Prince George?” That made Josefa sit up and take notice.

“Yes, our dear Mister Feller-Stähli was trotting around in the wilds somewhere around there.”

“Was he alone?”

“Certainly not at the start; it’s a guided hunt for lazy tourists. But maybe he wanted to be the first to kill a grizzly. Be just like him. Always was a show-off. Probably got lost, how do I know. At any rate they didn’t find him until a week later.”

“What did he die of?”

“Hypothermia and exhaustion, so I heard; there was an unexpected cold snap up there. But Feller-Stähli still isn’t off the hook.”

“What do you mean?”

“He gave the top people at Swixan such good advice that nobody’s been able to prove them guilty of anything to do with the bankruptcy so far. And he helped Thüring and his consorts legally shelter their millions.”

Josefa uttered something incomprehensible, but Klingler was under a full head of steam.

“And what’s more, his good friend kicks off, the honorable Beat Thüring, the CEO himself. What do you say to that?”

“In the first place”—Josefa was slowly losing patience—“he’s still only gone missing, and secondly…secondly, why should I have an opinion about it?”

“Just the same, he was also under your wing in St. Moritz, so I’ve heard.”

“Under my what? Now let’s stop right there, Paul. As if
were the one to decide who gets invited. Come on!” Josefa was pacing like a tiger around her bedroom. “If Bourdin or Walther wanted to suck up to those characters…”

“Josefa Rehmer, the clueless wonder,” Klingler teased her. “Maybe it’s just as well you don’t know everything your prominent guests are up to. Especially when they were romping about in Tenerife at the same time you were. So keep your ears and eyes well shut.”

“And you your mouth.” Josefa’s riposte ended the conversation. She hung up the phone and went to the bathroom, but Paul’s words echoed in her ears.
Prince George, when have I heard of that place before? Of course, that’s where Greg lives, Helene’s boyfriend in Canada.

She was wrapped in Stefan’s arms two hours later. Her hands traveled under his jacket, feeling his body, sensing the warmth of his skin, the tensing of his muscles, his arousal. They hadn’t seen each other in over a month. Josefa hadn’t failed to notice that the time between their assignations was getting longer and longer.

“You look like you’re fresh from a holiday,” Stefan joked as he brushed back her hair. He liked it when she wore it loose. She gave him a kiss and pulled him into the kitchen where they made two Camparis with orange—an old ritual they enjoyed. Stefan held her tight as he drank. His bold, definitive features that otherwise radiated irresistible energy seemed worn. Jet lag, Josefa thought to herself. A lawyer for an international private bank in Zurich, Stefan’s frequent trips were getting to him over the last few months, obviously taking their toll. But maybe it was the result of his double life as well.

Josefa had met him two years before at one of Loyn’s events. It was quickly clear to both of them that this would be just an affair. Whenever they met—always at her place—they would first talk for a bit at the kitchen table over a snack; as they talked, they would get closer, finding their common island in the river that otherwise kept them apart.

But today it seemed Stefan didn’t want to waste any time. He took Josefa in his arms almost immediately, pushed up close against her, and did not let her go.

Now she lay on his warm body, enjoying the stillness, enjoying Stefan’s lazily wandering touch. He played with her hair, stroked her back, gently kissed her shoulders. Josefa wanted to lie like this forever, slightly drowsy, the scent of sex in her nostrils. But she knew Stefan’s time was limited.

They had gnocchi with homemade sauce while Josefa related the events of the past few weeks: the hiring of Schulmann and the revelation of Claire’s liaison with him, Josefa’s talk with Walther and her ongoing troubles with Bourdin, the party in St. Moritz, her Tenerife holiday and the mysterious Ingrid, and finally the strange break-in at Esther’s. It all came gushing out. Then she showed him the unsettling anonymous e-mails she’d been receiving. Stefan read them closely, and as he did, Josefa noticed that his wavy, chestnut-brown hair was rumpled, and that he was wearing the white bathrobe Josefa had bought him at the outset of their affair. She felt a tender warmth for this man.

BOOK: The Zurich Conspiracy
3.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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