The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Nightmare on the Neckar – Chapter 6
4.30 am, Saturday 1st November 1997
"I've got some wound dressings in my first aid kit up stairs," says Iain to Nora. "We need to treat that wound of yours before we do anything else."
"I'm going to go into hospital and get it sewn up," says Nora. She does, now, seem to be slightly shaken by the terrible turns events have taken.
So it is possible to dampen her enthusiasm, thinks Ella to herself. "I am very concerned about all that talk of using Nora and Uriah's disappearance," she says. "I think we should go back to that house immediately. They won't be expecting anything else to happen tonight!"
Greg agrees. "We should return to the house at 23 Danzigstrasse as quickly as possible. We have significant reason to suspect that Uriah might be there, and that his life might be in danger. Anna will have to stay here, of course; James, Ella, you might also remain with Anna, but if any of us are planning to go, most of us should."
"I'll stay with her," says James confidently.
Iain is busily patching Nora back together. "I've seen the results of people getting shot, and you're bloody lucky," he mutters. "None of you guys have a gun by any chance?" he adds, to the room in general.
"I have this," says Greg, indicating his musket, which the others had until now assumed was a harmless replica.
Nora calls for a taxi and heads off to Casualty with great haste. She has to wait before she is seen, in an accident room full of other people in costume with minor cuts and sprains, and she decides to call Paul Schmidt.
The phone rings for some time before it is answered, in a sleepy voice. Nora asks for Paul, and there is a moment's silence, before the voice - a young man, but not Paul - says with some difficulty "He is not at the home now."
Iain goes up to his room and digs out some more wound dressings from his first aid kit, and sticks them and his compact camera into his kit vest. He swiftly dashes off a note to his fiancée on the laptop ready to send later.
"If we're going back there for Uriah, we'd better be off now," he says to the others after returning from his room. He has removed his mask but still wears his Death costume and has his 'scythe'. The rather cumbersome costume has been modified slightly to make it less restricting to movement.
Greg, Ella and Iain head back into the night, in the direction of Danzigstrasse.
"Uriah could be in little bits by now!" says Ella, as they cross the bridge, the fitfully-blowing debris of the night's party by now their only companion.
Greg nods solemnly. "The place can be approached in any of several ways. There is a skylight which might be reached via adjacent rooftops, but this is surely not the easiest manner of approach. There are steps down to the basement, the front door - remember the special knock Nora mentioned - or, the method I would prefer: the back yard, via the gardens."
"After scouting out the back of the house, we might want to arrange a diversion out in the front of the street to help get Uriah back," says Ella. She has considered contacting Heidi Probst, but thinks that even if they could get hold of the young constable at this time of night, it might not be such a good idea.
"I should be able to get in the back without too much trouble," says Iain. "And I'll head for the basement - looking for Uriah, or evidence that he's been held there."
Greg has been thinking, and he says "This may sound strange, but it's a serious suggestion. I think that despite the possible risk to Uriah - this might also be his only salvation - and the high probability of destroying evidence, we should burn the house at 23 Danzigstrasse down. An investigation would be bound to follow, and there would be another investigation by the local press into anything bizarre that might be found within. Provided that the press isn't part of the conspiracy here! We need to find a way to put our enemies on the defensive. This might be it."
Back at the Unter den Linden, James cannot sleep, pacing nervously between Anna's semi-comatose form and the window. He is painfully aware that this hotel can no longer be regarded as a secure location, if indeed it ever could.
Suddenly the phone rings. James jumps, startled, and dives to pick it up before its ringing wakes Anna (although in fact that looks unlikely).
"Herr Bowater? I have a call for you - none of your friends are in their rooms!" It is Helga Braun, who sounds tired and irritable.
She puts the call through with a series of clicks. A middle-aged man's voice speaks. "Hello? Is this the gentleman from Central London, please?"
James introduces himself warily.
"Otto Fuchs, police inspector. Herr Bowater, have you seen Professor Keizinger tonight, please?" His voice is tense.
Looking nervously down at Anna, James smoothly lies "No - what's all this about? Sounds pretty serious!"
"Gott in Himmel! If those scheisse... Herr Bowater, if you see her, you must tell her to call me at once. Her house has been destroyed by a fire."
"What?" gasps James.
"We are investigating the scene now, but it looks very much like arson. The neighbours say they saw nothing, dummkopfen that they are. Tell Anna to call me at once, and I will arrange for her safety."
As the tenacious trio approach Danzigstrasse, all is quiet and still, with no hint of the earlier tumult. Iain clambers over into the garden of No 25, and peers cautiously over the wall into No 23. All is quiet.
He beckons to the others, and all three climb into the garden of No 23. There is a small patio, with a back door, presumably to the kitchen, and a short flight of steps downwards to the basement. There are no lights on at all, nor were there at the front of the house, and all is still.
They quietly approach - Greg emitting a muffled curse as he trips over a plant pot - and Iain tests the handle of the door. He is surprised to find it unlocked. He opens it carefully, and brushes ahead of him with the foil head of his scythe, to feel for tripwires. There are none, although there is a strong smell of disinfectant. The house is still deathly silent.
The door opens into a dark corridor, which Iain illuminates with the pencil beam of his torch, Greg and Ella pressing close behind. Two doors open from it.
Through the left door is a small cement-walled chamber, into the wall of which are set a pair of manacles, about four feet above the floor. Lying in one corner of the room, which has no furniture, is a rucksack: it is Uriah's. It has been emptied, and the contents are not present.
The right-hand door opens into a bigger room, which is lined with white ceramic tiles. There is a drain in the floor. The room is furnished as an operating theatre, with two tables, two large sinks, lights, a mobile instrument trolley, and shelves full of bottles, tools and suchlike. There is no anaesthesia equipment, Ella notices uneasily, and there are restraints attached to the operating tables. It seems very clean, and the smell of disinfectant clings to every surface. She picks curiously through the equipment and supplies, but knowing little about such matters is unable to tell whether it is anything out of the ordinary.
Greg fills his pockets with random substances and items, in the hope of later study, and heads decisively back out into the corridor, which ends in a flight of stairs upwards. He readies his gun and slowly ascends, the others close behind.
The orange streetlight comes through the glass panel above the front door to faintly illuminate the hall, fortunately for Greg, who is not the most delicate on his feet. He notices with some surprise that the two paintings Nora mentioned are missing, pale patches on the wallpaper indicating where they must have hung.
All the rooms on this floor are empty, and they bear the sign of hurried packing: shelves are bare, furniture disarranged. The same story is true on the upper two floors. There is no sign of Uriah, or of anyone else.
The three SITU agents settle down to search the house thoroughly.
Nora, her wound stitched and dressed, rides back to the Unter den Linden in another taxi. She has firmly come down from the adrenaline rush of being shot at, and now feels rather shaky and lonely.
James sees the taxi draw up from his window vantage point, and also sees that the two policemen on duty outside have left - strolling off into the night, without being relieved. He greets Nora and they sit together over Anna's recumbent form.
Only ten minutes or so have passed when there is a clattering in the street. James and Nora move to the window to look out, and see that a man is down below, clumsily bumping his way along the wall of the guesthouse, knocking over dustbins and empty bottles. He seems to be trying to push through the wall every couple of feet along it, as though he were blindly looking for the door of the guesthouse. He must have missed the actual door, though, because he is heading the wrong way along the wall, towards the corner. He shambles crookedly along, and as he is caught in the streetlight at the corner of the building both James and Nora let out involuntary gasps. His face is Uriah's, but horribly contused and with a long, fresh scar down the side of his head. And he is much wider and less tall than Uriah. In his right hand he carries a long, curved knife, its blade glinting in the light.
Nora and James rush down to the door. But by the time they reach the street, there is no sign of Uriah, if it was he: the figure has disappeared from sight as effectively as if it had simply vanished.
"Right, what have we got?" asks Iain, as he, Greg and Nora regroup in the front parlour of 23 Danzigstrasse.
"There was only one bedroom which looked used, and that had this in, fallen under the bed," says Ella, proffering a newspaper in what looks like Hungarian. "There were clothes in the wardrobe - dinner suits and so on. And another room had a wardrobe full of butler uniforms, in all sorts of different shapes and sizes."
"I found this, in the other top-floor room," says Iain. He unrolls a sheaf of anatomical diagrams, their text in German. They look like reference material for medical students, or something of that sort.
They look at Greg, who has to offer only a pair of black sunglasses, like those worn by Hans Reuter, and a couple of trashy German paperbacks.
"This is the good one, though," says Nora with a slight trace of smugness. She produces a piece of paper: an invoice from a dry-cleaning company. "It was in one of the suit pockets."
The invoice details cleaning instructions for three evening suits, Iain translates, "two with heavy bloodstains on jacket and trousers!" It is addressed to Herr Ferenc Molnar, but the address is not 23 Danzigstrasse. The invoice seems to have been sent to Schloss Kleider-Wollenstein, Badgastein, Baden-Wurttemberg.
It is some time before the party are reunited at the Unter den Linden. They discuss the night's experiences over breakfast.
Nora glances nervously around, her shoulder still stiff and painful. "If all our rooms have been searched then the hoteliers clearly know something. Maybe they are worth 'questioning'."
All look at Helga and Gil as they cheerily dish up rolls and coffee to the other guests.
"I reckon that the people we are investigating probably didn't search the rooms:," Nora continues. "It could have been the anti-terrorist police, or someone who didn't want our link with the fictitious University of London revealed. Maybe SITU are planning to abandon us..."
"We should consider changing accommodations," says Greg. "Selecting a hotel at random might be smarter than staying at Unter den Linden. At worst, it would slow the police down in trying to figure out where we've gone."
"It is rather disturbing that whoever searched our rooms only took material relating to our cover," adds Ella. "We will have to abandon it, I think."
"We now have a new suspect, Molnar," she continues. "That's a Hungarian name: perhaps Heidi could find out about him from the immigration department for us. His talk of the 'Master' is very intriguing, he must be the one we want."
"Yes, Heidi seems a good choice to ask about Molnar. If she really is a villain, the worst will be that Nora will be conformed as one of us," says Greg.
"I will introduce you to her, Iain, so that you can work on gaining her confidence. Hopefully she will be able to tell us more about Molnar," says Ella.
She stirs her coffee thoughtfully. "Those names the tramp mentioned seem to refer to outcasts doomed to wander for eternity, with no rest or end in sight. Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, Ishmael, son of Abraham and legendary ancestor of the Bedouin Tribes who was cast into the desert with his mother, and Vanderdecken, captain of the Flying Dutchman. I can't decide if he was barmy or if there really is something to it all. Certainly they confirmed that people are going missing. I think we should check the theatre every night in case we spot something." She spent an instructive half hour surfing the Web earlier that morning.
"Our enemies have a large part of the local power structure under their control, but chances are that they don't control it all," says Greg. "We need to find places where their power does not extend. I'm going to try to learn what I can about the internal structure of the German government, and under what circumstances any federal police force - a German equivalent of the American FBI - might be able to intervene in local affairs, along with what mechanisms there are to deal with corruption in positions such as the Commissioner of Police. Back issues of the Mannheim Herald might disclose whether the Commissioner has had feuds with anyone in the local government - is he allied with, or opposed to, the mayor, for instance, in local politics?"
Greg is uncomfortably aware that Iain is looking at him curiously, presumably expecting him to start babbling about conspiracies. He puts his hands open on the table. "Listen, everyone, there's some things I ought to tell you about my background." Ella, who has spoken to him privately earlier that morning, puts a hand reassuringly on his arm, and he smiles at her. "I guess this is all a matter of public record, and there's no point trying to be secretive about it, even if I wanted to keep secrets from you. I used to be active in Californian politics, but I was brought down by a series of scandals - I was accused of sexually harassing women members of staff, and of being funded by organized crime interests." He looks levelly at each of the other operatives, and sees no condemnation, only curiosity in their eyes. "I assure you that none of these allegations had any foundation. I was framed by my enemies - powerful enemies."
"Why?" asks James.
"What I did to generate that reaction is a matter of public record. I used my position in the State Senate to investigate the mysterious death of two federal agents I knew, and kicked over some nasty anthills. If I'd been elected Attorney General, I would have been even more dangerous to the people behind those murders, so they decided to neutralize me. It worked."
Nora packs a small rucksack full of essentials. "Things may start to go rather pear-shaped very soon," she mutters to herself. She puts plenty of money and travellers' cheques into her money belt as well.
She is feeling far from he best, but puts a cheery voice on as she calls Paul Schmidt from a nearby public phone box. "Hello Paul: I think I need a little help..."
They arrange to meet for lunch.
James returns upstairs, to find Anna gently stirring. He offers her coffee and paracetamol.
When she has recovered sufficiently to converse, he asks her "Anna, did you manage to follow up that tissue rejection research Ella was talking about?"
"That again? I looked, James, but there is no-one in Heidelberg who would be capable of this work. And I studied the latest literature: no research group anywhere has announced the sort of breakthroughs that would be necessary." She winces, rubbing her temples, over which her hair is vigorously straying. "If there really is someone making monsters this way, it must be some 'mad scientist' in a castle somewhere - eh?"
James shudders slightly and changes the subject. "Greg was thinking perhaps, if you had the time, you might help us look at back numbers of the journal - to see if any of the names are suggestive."
"European Molecular Letters? Very well, but I cannot see the point. I know all the local workers in this field personally." She looks up at James slightly shyly. "What are your plans for today, James? I probably should go back home..."
"Er, no," puts in James hastily. He has still not worked out precisely what to tell her about Fuchs's message, particularly as it was presumably overheard by whoever it is that seems to be bugging him. "Perhaps you could show me some of the sights of the city?"
Ella finds another payphone and calls her student friend Hans. He sounds extraordinarily hung over.
"Ach, you missed a great party last night, Ella. Willi was ill all over Lotte's ball dress, and then he fell in the river!" He laughs heartily.
"It sounds wonderful," says Ella, forcing a trace of conviction into her voice. "Would you like to meet for dinner tonight?"
They agree that Hans will take Ella - he will hear of no other arrangement - to a well-regarded restaurant serving local specialities, the Hochstubl.
Greg, from yet another payphone, is calling SITU. He gives them the details of the grant proposals, ytterbium suppliers and so on that he wants traced, and asks them to work on them. There is a resigned sigh at the other end of the phone. "I don't know how long this will take, Mr Wentworth. We're very stretched here, as you know."
Greg grinds his teeth slightly but conquers the urge to speak harshly. "And can you find out what properties might be imparted to ytterbium, or other nearby elements, by compounding it as mixed halides?"
Next he phones the Department of Inorganic Chemistry here in Heidelberg, asking for information on the various tests that might have been applied to Walter Konig's blood sample, comparing them with the brief notes that Anna was given by Uriah. He makes careful notes, but is aware that his scientific background is too weak to be able to draw any conclusions: this might be better fed through to SITU as well, as even Anna had said she did not fully understand the principles of physics involved.
Ella calls Heidi Probst at the police station, and says that her colleague Iain Blayne is keen to meet her. Heidi sounds intrigued. "What's he like?"
Ella struggles to think of the right thing to say about her fellow-Scot. "He's... very nice."
It is agreed that Iain will call Heidi later to arrange a meeting. "Oh, and, Heidi, can you trace a foreigner for me? A man called Ferenc Molnar: we think he's Hungarian. There must be some record of his coming into the country..."
"I'll see what I can find," says Heidi briskly and professionally.
Ella then sends the syringe and gloves off to Broomwood Hospital, by courier.
Nora is painfully aware that she is not at her best over lunch. Paul has noticed her bandage, of course, but has been too polite to comment upon it.
After a little light badinage she asks him how he happened to be on the corner of the street outside the Unter den Linden the night they first met.
"I was on duty: we were watching a suspect in that guesthouse."
"In the guesthouse? Who?" exclaims Nora.
"Not one of the guests, don't worry! A German woman. A professor at the university, would you believe? And she is a terrorist. Well, Baader and Meinhof were intellectuals, hm?" He looks disgusted. "She must have been visiting with one of the guests, but all we had to do was follow her there and back: another team will have taken the lead from there. The visit was probably quite innocent, you need not fear."
Over dessert, Nora asks Paul what he thinks of the police commissioner of Heidelberg. They have covered his career, family and ambitions in great detail and are now moving on to his colleagues. Paul seems to be his own favourite subject of conversation, and although charming he is dreadfully dull. Nora has been mildly flirting with him, which has met with a like response, but she would not yet describe him as conquered.
"The Chief?" Paul looks round, almost instinctively. "Why, he's a great man, that's for sure." He seems sincere. "He's done a lot for us, and for this city: the police are really respected here, not like in Mannheim or somewhere, where the people just don't pay any attention to the police."
"But what's he like as a person?"
"Well... he can be a bit fierce. More than a bit. He's a scary man when he's angry. But that just makes us try harder, do you see? To avoid his anger. Fortunately I don't have much direct contact with him! I'm just a lowly constable, you see."
And likely to stay that way, thinks Nora.
Greg spends some time ringing round local political organizations. He is given contact names for the Heidelberg branches of the Social Democrat and Green parties. This latter group are able to help him with his questions about German political structures. It appears that the states are largely autonomous in police matters. The federal police force deals only with intelligence matters. The Heidelberg police would be answerable to the Baden-Wurttemberg police authority, and that in turn to the Baden-Wurttemberg government, which is currently Christian Democrat and has a very conservative reputation. In the city, the mayor would have authority over social affairs, but the police commissioner would be superior in his own area. Overlaps, like the homeless, would be dealt with by joint committees. The Heidelberg mayor is Christian Democrat as well, and runs a hands-off style of city government.
Ella prepares for her meal with Hans by reading up on fencing. The sport has a tremendous quantity of jargon associated with it, and is deeply bound in tradition. She hopes she has picked up enough not to appear a complete fool, at least.
He is waiting for her in the bar of the Hochstubl, and orders her a martini without asking what she wants. He is much more smartly dressed than when they met previously, in what looks like a Savile Row suit - preferred to Italian suiting by wealthy Germans.
They move to a table, and Ella finds that Hans has already ordered her food as well. Clearly he believes in the masterful approach towards women. He chats amiably and interestedly with her over a range of innocent subjects, and she finds him easy to talk to, and considerate in his conversational style (if in little else!)
Over the starter - a delicious wild mushroom canapé with a delicate dill and mustard sauce - she mentions his scar. "It makes you look dangerous... I do like dangerous men!" she lies.
Hans gets a serious expression and touches the scar lightly. "This is a sign that I have been in a fight - a duel, I think you say. It is very dangerous and very secret."
"Goodness! What were you fighting over?"
"It was my society, the Happy Boys they are called, against our rivals, the Green Shirts. We must fight them every year: it has been so for many centuries."
"Duelling clubs? What a strange idea! We didn't have anything like that at my university."
Hans looks rather down his nose. "No, I would think not. It is just here in Germany we have them. And only the best people - you know? - can join."
6 pm, Saturday 1st November
Ella at the Hochstubl with Hans
Everyone else at the Unter den Linden, including Anna