The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Nightmare on the Neckar – Chapter 7
6 pm, Saturday 1st November
James, who has been looking increasingly uneasy, asks Nora and Anna to accompany him to his room. Once upstairs, he sits them down on the bed. "Uhm, Anna... I don't quite know how to break this to you, I've been trying to work out how to do so all day... Last night while you were, ahh, 'indisposed', your friend Fuchs rang. It seems there was some sort of accident at your house last night... a fire. I... it's burnt out from what he said."
"What!" exclaims Anna. "A fire! At my house?" She lapses into German and into tears.
James, putting his arms around her, tries to comfort her as best I can. Nora joins in: between them they manage to restore Anna to a semblance of relative calm. "I must telephone Fuchs now, to find out what is happening." She sets her jaw. "This is a very bad business. My house! Have these men no shame?"
"Why don't you phone him now, and arrange for us to meet him, at his house or a café somewhere, so we can sort it out," suggests James. "And why don't you go down to reception, Nora, and talk to whoever's on the switchboard about your feeling that someone'd been in your room."
As Nora disappears James explains to Anna his suspicions that Gil and Helga may be in league with Molnar, Reuter and company, and that he hopes to fool any interference on their part.
Down at the desk Nora finds Gil and immediately starts to complain about her room. Gil looks surprised and then guilty. "Did you see anyone coming in?" demands Nora, just as the phone goes.
Gil puts Anna's call through to Fuchs and then returns to Nora, looking perturbed. "It was the police, Miss McShane. They spoke to Helga. They are looking for terrorists, and they asked for our help, and said they needed to search all your rooms. They said they would take nothing!" He is almost tearful.
Anna arranges to meet Fuchs at the Neue Pinakothek art gallery in an hour's time, in front of Dürer's 'Portrait of a Merchant of Hamburg'. She tells James that there were no suspicious noises after the call finished.
Gil is looking piteously at Nora. "We thought it was for the best - it was the police!"
Meanwhile, Iain is in his room, where he has just finished sending out some email. He picks up the phone and calls Heidi Probst. "Hello Heidi, this is Iain Blayne. Ella may have mentioned me? I was wondering if you'd be free tonight for dinner at say 8:30? I'm afraid that I'm new here so don't really know where to go. I presume you know a nice place?"
Heidi sounds thrilled to be speaking to him. "That would be wonderful! Shall we meet at the Artemisia? It's a very good vegetarian restaurant, not far from you, near the University's Modern Languages department."
Ella is tucking into her crême brulée as Hans expatiates on the subject of his duelling society. Considering it is supposed to be a secret organization he does not need much prompting.
"You have to be of good family to be a member, you see. Ideally your father and your grandfather will have been members of the same society."
"What about the Green Shirts?"
"They are just the same. Your family is either in one or it is in the other. Sometimes new people are allowed to join, whose fathers were not members, but they must be of good family - the best people of Germany, yes? Not commoners."
"I expect quite a few people who were members when they were students are in influential positions now," says Ella.
Hans is pleased. "Yes! That's exactly the point. We will all be important people in Germany when we finish here. And we know we can trust each other. If you have fought alongside a man, you know you can trust him, yes?"
"So who is there in Heidelberg, say, in public life, who was a member of the Happy Boys?"
"Well, the Mayor, for a start. And the Commissioner of Police. Some of the judges, and others were in the Green Shirts. And a lot of businessmen - the Klein family, who own the engineering works, they are Happy Boys. I will be working with them when I finish here - Herr Klein has promised me a job because of the society. Do you see? It is all just people helping each other - a very good system! It makes sure that the right people are in positions of authority - people whose breeding is suitable, who have the pedigree that shows they are fit to rule."
The SITU team, excluding Ella, meet up in Greg's room to confer. Greg is standing by the window, his impressive bulk dominating the room.
"Anna, I have to ask you about this. Apparently the police allege you are a terrorist." As she starts to protest he holds up his hand. "I assure you that none of us suspect you of any such thing. But we have to recognize that is suits our foes to have you under surveillance by legitimate authorities - and so they have planted this story."
"No doubt they will say the fire at my house was an accident in a bomb factory," she says grimly.
"Iain," continues Greg, "why don't you, as you speak German, hail a taxi and ask to be taken to whatever district of the city has the largest number of tourist hotels, where foreign travellers will attract the least attention. The rest of us can prepare to move, waiting for Ella's return. When she reappears she can do some websurfing to try and learn anything possible about Schloss Kleider-Wollenstein and about Badgastein in general; in particular, we should try to learn whether or not Badgastein is under the jurisdiction of the Heidelberg police. I'll contact SITU and tell them the latest."
Nora has been itching to speak, but Greg's rolling delivery makes him difficult to interrupt. She finally bursts out "I'm a little surprised at the lack of urgency you're all showing! I reckon we should high-tail it out of town and head for the mysterious Schloss!"
"That's right," says Greg. "We have few advantages in this situation, but one of the few we do have is that we know about Molnar's Schloss, and he doesn't know that we do - as far as we know. We need to exploit that weakness, and the sooner we can scope out the castle and, with luck, discover a way in that the occupants won't know about us using, the more likely that we can use this element of surprise to its best advantage. But before that, we need to find out everything we can here, and make the most of our resources in Heidelberg - like Fuchs and Probst."
"I'm not so sure about Otto," says Nora. "Making good pals with him might be a good idea: but what if he really is a terrorist? Anyway his department is probably very leaky, so we should really pursue the rest of the investigation on our own."
"And another question leads on from that," says Greg. "We now know that we are facing murderers who have the protection of the law, so are we out of our league here? Should we all leave Germany at once, in hopes of cutting our losses at Uriah, or should we see this through, at what we have to face is a genuine hazard of our personal lives?"
There is a moment's silence while everyone digests this choice, until Iain says "I'm off," and heads out of the door.
Iain pulls on his running gear and jogs round the neighbourhood by way of the disused theatre. He enters, warily, to find the scene much as it was last night. Udo the chief tramp is staring mournfully into an empty orange juice carton.
"Good evening Udo."
"Ah, Swedish man! Not Death today - a pity, I was hoping for another game of chess. Now you are Life - Health - Fitness? None of them are very welcome here, my friend." Indeed, those tramps who are here and conscious are regarding Iain with some hostility.
"I was hoping you may help me a bit? One of my colleagues has gone missing and we think he's gone the same way as others around here. We traced his last known location to a house on Danzigstrasse owned by someone called Ferenc Molnar. Do you know him?"
There is a mutter and grumble that passes around the auditorium. Udo shudders and crosses himself. "Do not speak that name!" he hisses. "Just call him The Magyar. I know who you mean."
"I feel that maybe we have a common problem," persists Iain, "and that we could co-operate a bit in solving it."
"What do you know of our problems?" demands Udo contemptuously. "You and your cousin! We have problems that the likes of you can never even dream of."
"But will you help me against Mol... The Magyar?"
Udo considers briefly and then shakes his head. "No, it is much better not to. The Magyar serves a much greater power, greater than anything you puny humans can comprehend. It is foolish to stand against it."
"But what about your people, here, being killed?" asks Iain in frustration.
Udo looks at him with a level gaze, and for the first time Iain feels he can almost see a hint of rationality in his eyes. "None of us are anyone else's person, Swedish man. We are all our own. 'Duty' and 'responsibility' are lies put about by the Father of Lies. So is 'society'."
Ella feels she has learnt all she needs for the time being, but Hans appears keen to retain her company. Eventually she manages to fob him off with the excuse of tiredness, which he accepts politely and with good grace - although it has been clear from the tenor of his remarks that he would have liked to have spent the night with her.
On the way back she too calls in at the theatre. Udo hails her in German, and she nervously responds with a polite wave. She wanders around for a few minutes, but it is apparent that 'Uriah' is not here. She remembers the gloves and syringe she found last night: the courier will have got them to Broomwood Hospital by the end of today, probably, so it might be worth ringing up some time tomorrow to see if any preliminary results have been established.
She returns to the Unter den Linden to find everyone packing.
"I won't settle for less than three stars this time!" she exclaims, relievedly.
Before returning to change for dinner, Iain takes a taxi and books the party into the Eurotel, which is a couple of miles away near the railway station. It seems to be much favoured by foreign business types. He books a room for Anna as well.
He comes back to inform the others, showers, and sets off to meet with Heidi. He is in shirt and trousers, for the first time this trip: fortunately there was no need to wear the hated tie he had brought along just in case.
The restaurant is warm and cheery, full of young people chatting and joking. It is clear that most of them are regulars, as is Heidi, who seems to know all the staff and most of the customers.
"Good evening Heidi," says Iain. "So nice of you to agree to dinner. Ella seemed rather insistent that we meet."
"Yes! She has told me such a lot about you! What a lovely person she is - no?"
Although Iain is initially rather nervous that Heidi may make an advance that he will be obliged to rebuff, this turns out not to be the case. Whether she has picked up on his indifference or was never interested he cannot say, but her manner is nothing other than friendly, albeit rather excessively demonstrative. Iain finds himself enjoying the evening greatly - such pleasant company makes a considerable change from the rigours of the investigation so far. Even though his social gifts are not what they might be, Heidi more than makes up for his deficiencies with her eagerness to chat.
During the course of the evening he manages to establish, among much trivia and detail, that she has a great respect for Fuchs, seeing him almost as a father figure to her in the field of detection - she has learnt a great deal from him in the year they have worked together, and hopes to learn a great deal more. She has a very high opinion of his intelligence and his understanding of the criminal mind. He is something of a maverick, though, it seems, responding none too well to orders and somewhat less than popular with his superiors. "He's too good for Heidelberg!" says Heidi fiercely.
She is less keen to talk about Commissioner Nomi. He is a frightening man, famous for his fits of rage, in which he can reduce a sturdy Chief Inspector to shreds within seconds. He is very powerful, controlling all the branches of the police in the city: and he has since rising to his current position in 1982 made the police force much stronger here than it is in most cities. Although Heidi initially saw this as a good thing, she is less convinced now she has been on the force for a few years: she doesn't like the way the general public are scared of her uniform. She thinks the police should be rather servants to the public than masters.
As the evening draws to a close, Heidi tells Iain "Oh, that Hungarian that Ella asked me to investigate - Molnar? He has been here for some years, actually, thirteen years. He has no criminal record, and there is no record of his having been employed here. He has no social security number - that is unusual but not illegal, it just means that he can have no access to welfare services, health and so on. He has been resident in Heidelberg, at 23 Danzigstrasse, all that time."
"Do you know where he came from?"
"Not from Hungary, actually, from Rumania, although he is a Hungarian national."
James and Anna proceed to the rendezvous with Fuchs. Anna is in a miserable and furious mood, and James wisely says little.
The Neue Pinakothek is a modern building, which looks like it was moulded from white plaster: it stays open until 11 pm, unusually for an art gallery, and there are only a few people wandering about. Fuchs is easy to find, in the room dedicated to 16th-century Flemish and North German painting. He is wearing his dirty fawn raincoat and is seemingly lost in contemplation of Dürer's brushwork.
Anna and Fuchs immediately start talking quietly in German, while James waits patiently, occasionally peering at Joachim Patinir's 'Adoration of the Magi' when someone else enters the room.
Eventually both approach him and they move to sit on the bench in the middle of the room. "Otto says that he thinks the Police Commissioner is behind all this, James," says Anna. "He says the Commissioner is trying to cover up these disappearances - isn't that right?"
Otto nods firmly. "Why else would he take me off the case? He and that Reuter are together in this. We were lucky that Anna got her samples taken when Reuter was away from the mortuary. If he had been here we would never have even got this far."
"But why would they set the fire at Anna's house?" asks James.
"To frame her as a terrorist? Or perhaps to try and kill her," says Otto phlegmatically.
Anna gasps quietly and James squeezes her hand. "So who do you think is behind all this, Herr Fuchs? Why would the Commissioner be covering it up - who is he protecting?"
Otto barks a short laugh. "If I knew that, I do not suppose my life would be worth living! Someone very powerful, it must be." His face twists. "The police force was not like this when I joined up. I've a good mind to march into Nomi's office first thing in the morning and tell him exactly what I think of him - and resign my job. See how he likes that!"
"Hmm, that might not be advisable," says James nervously. "Perhaps you might wait until we call you in the morning before taking any rash steps. For now, though, Anna will be safe with us, anyway. And watch out yourself - you may be in danger too!" He wishes his voice had a little more conviction in it.
Before they go their separate ways, James asks Otto if he can find anything out about Ferenc Molnar. "No problem," is the reply. "I'll get Constable Probst onto it in the morning."
Greg walks out into the rain and finds another payphone. Fortunately, this being student country, there are plenty of them to choose from. He gives SITU the news that something awful seems to have happened to Uriah, and that Anna - also a SITU member, after all - has been victimized by someone who wants to label her a terrorist, plus the news of the arson.
There is a brief silence while the person at the other end puts her hand over the phone, and then her voice is replaced with a man's. "Senator Wentworth, Andre Swahn here. If you and the others want to pull out of this investigation now, do so - we won't hold it against you. It's clear this is a more dangerous mission than we anticipated, or we wouldn't have sent inexperienced recruits. If you feel like you're in over your heads and in personal danger, then we can send a tougher team out to relieve you, if you wish."
"Let us have a think about that," says Greg. "But you can definitely help us - earlier today I called with some questions I wanted answered. The faster progress you can make on them, the better we'll be able to do."
"We hope to have something for you by tomorrow lunchtime," Swahn says.
Hanging up, Greg takes the sunglasses out of his pocket, and examines them carefully. They are non-prescription, and there does not seem to be anything unusual about their makeup at all. Trying them on, he finds it impossible to see anything at all in the dark conditions prevailing. Reuter must have remarkable night vision.
He cleans off the underneath of his boots, removing any traces of mud from the house in Danzigstrasse, and then finds a secluded corner to carefully burn the documents found there: he had judged none of them worthy of further analysis.
That done, Greg heads towards the centre of town, looking for Uriah. He has a feeling that the abandoned theatre might be a good place, but Uriah was not there when Iain visited it earlier: perhaps regular checks should be made. He heads for the Potsdamer bridge once more, and looking around carefully he clambers down the ladder that leads down its side.
Underneath is dark and smelly. The bridge has three vaulted arches, each with more modern piling around it, and a good deal of debris has washed up around them. Greg pokes around for some time but finds no sign of Uriah, or of any habitation: he does, though, notice that the sewer outlets which vent into the river from either side are rather large, easily large enough to climb into.
He is interrupted by a torch beam, shone down on him from the bank, and a challenge in German.
Greg innocently raises his face and his hands into the beam, and calls out "I beg your pardon?"
There is a mutter of "Americaner!" and then the voice says slowly and loudly "This is the police! Come out with your hands up!"
Greg has little option but to comply, and emerges into the beam of two torches. There are two uniformed policemen leaning over the rail looking down at him. "What are you doing there, sir?" says one.
"I was looking for... a glove I dropped last night, at the parade," says Greg.
They both seem to relax. "These arches are forbidden to the public, sir. The water can be very dangerous after rain. Please come up here at once."
Greg clambers back up to be admonished further. The police watch him cross the square, and he enters a café and buys a cup of coffee. While he sits and drinks it, they remain on patrol around the square and the edge of the bridge.
He had been hoping to make some purchases, but all the shops are shut at this time: they will have to wait for the morning.
Nora is not going to spend the evening sitting on her suitcases, so she calls Paul Schmidt again and asks if he would like to meet her again. He is clearly impressed with the speed with which she works. He asks her to meet him at the Rio night club, favoured dancing venue for the young of the city.
Nora enthusiastically dolls herself up, and sets off into the night. Her shoulder is still rather stiff and painful, but she reckons that as long as she is reasonably restrained on the dancefloor she should be able to keep herself from too much discomfort.
The club turns out to be playing the worst kind of cheesy Euro-disco, and it's full of students being very ironic about the whole affair. Paul is in little mood to chat, being something of a raver out on the floor, and it is not until a couple of hours of intense grooving have taken place that Nora can draw him aside to a relatively quiet corner of the room.
Greg returns to the Unter den Linden to find all the party there but Nora; a subdued Anna is also present. He takes Ella aside briefly and murmurs to her that he was uneasy while she had gone to see Hans without anyone else nearby. Now that they know that Hans is part of a duelling society, it's all too likely that he might be an enemy.
Ella has been using her computer, and has come up with some information on Schloss Kleider-Wollenstein. It is a late medieval castle at the head of the Gastein valley, in which is set Badgastein, a popular spa resort during the summer. It is only about fifty miles from Heidelberg, in the mountains to the south. There is a cable car up to the castle, which seems o be the only way of reaching it for unskilled climbers. Ella is confident of her own abilities but less certain of some of the other investigators, who are not quite so outdoorsy.
"I think we should rent a van and drive down there," says Greg. "If it's a tourist place there's probably plenty of handy guesthouses."
"Yes," says Ella, "we could no doubt hire equipment to pose as hillwalkers, and I think we could try going in two groups or splitting up to try and change our cover."
"What about these rooms I've booked at the Eurotel?" asks Iain. "Should we keep them on? And what should we tell the Brauns about where we're going - bearing in mind they'll probably pass it on to the police?"
Nora is nodding solemnly as Paul blathers on once more about his prospects. 'Oh, you're so right... Paul.' She is confident that she has made a more than favourable impression on him.
He heads off to the bar to get drinks, and she remains in the quiet corner. As he is waiting to be served, twenty feet or so away, she hears, above the music, a faint bleeping noise. Nora can see that Paul is startled and then annoyedly fishes in his pocket, pulling out a portable phone. He listens to it, nodding but saying nothing, frowning. Then he suddenly glances up at where she is standing, across the room, and on his face is a look of suspicion and horror.
11pm, Sunday 1st November 1997
Nora: at the Rio nightclub
Everybody else: at the Unter den Linden
Nora: Before meeting with Paul Nora visits the railway station: there is a station in Badgastein and trains from Heidelberg are every two hours or so during the day. She buys seven open tickets.