The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Nightmare on the Neckar – Chapter 8
11pm, Sunday 1st November 1997
Nora watches Paul Schmidt nervously as he speaks briefly into his mobile. She attempts to read his lips, but he is speaking German and she has no idea what he is saying - although from the way he looks angrily across at her, its general thrust is in no doubt.
She edges towards the door of the club, and has just started to engage a doorman in light badinage when Paul comes up behind her, reaching for her elbow with one hand and into an inner pocket with the other.
Back at the Unter den Linden, the remainder of the SITU operatives, together with Anna, discuss their future plans.
"I think we should make a move on the Schloss," says Ella. "I would really like to find out more about Nomi and the duelling societies but things are getting a little uncomfortable in Heidelberg. But I definitely do not want another team to take over, we can do this."
"Yes, we can't afford to wait any longer," says Greg, although he looks a little doubtful about her last statement. "Anybody know if the trains are still running this late at night?"
"International lines probably, but local ones I should think not," says Iain.
"I agree, we probably need to go to the Schloss to solve this. But a couple of Range Rovers would be better than a van - more comfortable and they'd give us off-road capability too. Perhaps someone who speaks a little German", James looks pointedly at Iain, "might like to act the innocent tourist in Badgastein and ask a few questions about the history, the castle, etc. Taking one or two people with you might not be a bad idea either - happy family on holiday and all that. Greg and Ella? Wife and father in law?
Greg shakes his head. "If we can't take the train, we don't want to rent a car - odds are that our names would go into a computer and that Nomi's people would find us in time to call ahead to the Schloss. We need a way to get to that castle without any of our enemies being the wiser. I say that even though it will cost us a bundle, we flag down two cabs and have them drive us down. There'll be no record of who we are, we'll be in two groups and if Anna is in one and Iain in the other, they can talk to the drivers and they can never be the wiser that we aren't all just sleepy Germans on a lark. A really generous tip - which is appropriate under the circumstances - would also make the drivers less apt to mention us to other people. Somehow I don't think that the night dispatcher for some cab company is likely to be one of the Happy Boys."
Iain straightens up. "I think we've all agreed to leave Heidelberg. I'll try and get tickets for us on the next train to Paris. If the police do try and follow us we may buy another day or two whilst they chase down that false trail."
James sees the strength of the rental computer argument. "Perhaps Anna and I", he looks questioningly at Anna, "might wait for Nora and we can join you at Badgastein? If you lent us your mobile Ella, you could suss it out and let us know where to meet you."
"Iain, you and I'll take care of Nora now," says Greg firmly. He steers the surprised Iain out of the guesthouse and into a taxi.
"Nora McShane," says Paul quietly, "you are under arrest on suspicion of terrorist activities." He produces his police badge from his pocket and displays it to her, taking her elbow. His expression is miserable and angry.
"Oh Paul! How dare you...!" exclaims Nora, hoping to attract the attention of the sympathetic doorman. He, though, on seeing Paul's badge, is looking firmly the other way. "I'm innocent!" she continues. "How can you think such a thing!" She bursts into loud tears, which attracts a good deal of attention from the people in the queue.
Paul, looking embarrassed, brandishes his badge at the onlookers and says firmly "Police", which has the effect of scattering them. Clearly Heidelberg is a town where the police force gets a good deal of respect.
"Now, come along with me to the station, and we can sort this out there," he says quietly in Nora's ear. "If you really are innocent nothing bad will happen."
Nora takes full advantage of the situation and, seizing the surprised Paul's arm firmly, drags him down and across her, bringing her knee up sharply so that it impacts satisfyingly with his face. As he reels back upright, she cries out "Help! Rape!", and chops him in the side of the neck with her stiffened palm.
All around, the crowd gasp in horror as he clumps to the ground: Nora looks anxiously from side to side, and sprints off into the darkness. There is no great move to pursue her, although as she glances back she sees people attempting to bring Paul round.
Greg and Iain draw up to the club in their cab to see a troubled scene outside: police sirens can be heard in the distance. Their hearts sink as they take it in, while the taxi cruises by.
Suddenly, Iain cries "There she is!", pointing at a phone box on the next corner. Nora is drumming her fingers on the phone, trying to will the Unter den Linden reception to pick it up.
Greg leaps out, scoops her up - this is getting to be a habit, he thinks to himself - and bundles her into the taxi. Nora stiffens in fright at first, but once she takes in the situation becomes merely very excited and animated.
"We have to leave straight away, we can't risk going back to the guesthouse," she says, explaining what happened with Paul.
Greg, thinking fast, says "The quickest way to get out of here will be by taxi, but we can't take this one to Badgastein - he'll remember that he picked you up from that incident, and the police will know where we've gone. Let's get out at a phone, and tell the others to move out straight away and bring our luggage - they can pick us up and we can all head out south together."
James has been trying to reassure Anna. "You'll need to buy some clothes and things," he says, trying not to think about the fact that she is still dressed as a schoolgirl. "Since this is obviously to do with the SITU investigation, we'll pay, and that you should get receipts. Since everything is closed at the present, perhaps one of the others could lend you a few bits and pieces?"
Anna winces slightly, thinking of the ways Nora and Ella dress - rather differently to her own conservative style - but accepts graciously.
"Why don't you stay with us tonight," continues James. "I'll use Uriah's room." He fancies a tinge of disappointment crosses her face.
In the distance they hear sirens.
Iain, Greg and Nora hop out of the taxi at a safe distance from both club and guesthouse, and Iain phones the railway station to order six tickets to Paris. He then calls the Unter den Linden, and is greatly relieved to be put through to Ella.
Ella sighs in exasperation as Iain relates Nora's escapades. She and James at once start to gather together their and the others' belongings, to prepare for a swift departure.
Iain calls the reception again and speaks to Helga Braun. "A delightful place you have here. It's a shame to be leaving so soon, but we have urgent business that's just come up in Milan and need to be leaving immediately. Hopefully we'll have time afterwards to come back and see more of Heidelberg."
James packs up Uriah's effects as well. "We can't rely on SITU to inform his family, so I was going to take it on myself," he explains.
James and Ella stumble to the corner of the street, laden with suitcases, while Anna goes to flag down two taxis. They pile in, and head off to pick up the other three.
Iain, Greg and Nora are getting increasingly nervous by the time they arrive: police are at the nightclub in force and have started fanning out to search the nearby streets. "Were you seen leaving the guesthouse?" asks Greg.
"Yes, but we weren't followed: word must not have got to our watchers to pick us up yet. They'll think we're off for Milan, if they talk to the Brauns."
"Or to Paris, if they check at the station. Good!" says Iain.
Dividing party and luggage between the two bemused divers, the SITU team heads southwards into the night, as the police sirens swell and fade ominously in the streets of Heidelberg.
In the middle of the night, both taxis stop by another payphone. James calls Fuchs, who is at home and extremely cross to be disturbed. He is not greatly mollified by James telling him that he has managed to find out abut Molnar from Heidi independently.
Greg calls SITU, and is answered by the same receptionist as earlier: she must work a long day. "We're going to stick on the case," he says, "but we could use some backup, especially if there's someone with climbing skills."
"I'll see what we can do," she replies calmly.
It is still dark by the time the operatives arrive in Badgastein, most of them feeling more dead than alive thanks to severe lack of sleep. Nora's injured shoulder has stiffened up painfully after her exploits of the night.
Iain stumbles out of the taxi - Anna, who has the academic's happy gift of ready sleep, is curled up on James's shoulder - and beats on the door of a likely-looking hotel, the Kristall. He manages to rise the night porter, and after a little persuasion and some money handed over in advance he books the operatives and Anna in.
They crash onto their beds and are claimed by blessed rest.
The morning reveals a scene of damp splendour. Badgastein is set at the foot of a mighty berg, its charming wooden houses huddled apologetically as the mountain thrusts its way up between them. High on the side of the mountain, louring down at the village, is a fairy-tale castle in the Ludwig the Mad of Bavaria style, all turrets, gables and arching stonework, catching the early sun. A cable-car run snakes its way up the mountain to the castle: there is no road, although Ella's experienced eye immediately picks out a route by which it could be climbed to.
The village itself is small, and seems to be mostly devoted to the holiday industry: there are a number of guesthouses, clustering around the spa. There are also a good collection of shops selling walking, climbing and skiing equipment, although to judge from the meagre number of tourists walking the streets early November must be between seasons.
"As soon as possible we need to question some locals about the Schloss, get a map of the local area and scout out the castle for accessible entry and exits," says Ella over a late breakfast. "If nothing turns up we could always go back to Heidelberg..."
"I think not," says Iain grimly.
"We need to get into the Schloss as soon as we can," puts in Greg. "I want to be on the first cable car up that mountain. But we need to make some purchases, as well - Nora should wear sunglasses or a scarf, something to make her less recognizable to Molnar should he see her again. A big, shapeless sweater might be a good choice, since he saw her in that Marie Antoinette outfit, and it ought to be chilly enough to warrant such clothes at the altitude we'll be at. Something similar for Anna might be good too."
"If we're going to climb up we'll need the gear: that should be easy to come by here," says Ella.
"And I have some things I need to buy, too," James adds.
Ella and Iain go out together and spend a happy hour trying out various exotic items of walking equipment. From the look of the mountain they judge anyone in reasonable physical condition should be able to make it up: hands will only be needed in a few places. Nora and Greg should have little trouble, but neither James nor Anna are at all strong or fit and they would probably have difficulty. Also, if there was rain, or snow, the conditions would be much more difficult: in that situation they reckon none of the four others would be able to ascend safely.
"Well, SITU's paying our expenses - let's get everything we might conceivably need," says Iain cheerfully. The shop owner cannot believe her luck as six large bundles of equipment, including hunting knives and ice axes at Ella's insistence, are purchased.
James pops into a supermarket to buy half a dozen bottles of wine, a corkscrew, some plastic cups, some rubber tubing, and a jar of jam. He then visits a hardware shop and buys a gallon container of petrol - sold for use in chainsaws - and a cigarette lighter. He carefully obtains receipts for all his purchases.
Greg makes his way to the cable car station to find that there is no public service - it seems this is a private line for the use of the castle. The attendant at the station offers to telephone up, if Greg will tell him his name and business, and a car will be sent down for him if the Baron agrees to see him.
Ella phones Broomwood Hospital, and is put through to the pathologist who is dealing with the syringe and gloves she found. She learns that the gloves had nothing of particular interest about them: traces of sweat and talc inside, general dirt and debris outside. The syringe, though, had a curious pharmaceutical inside: "we're still analysing it, it's not anything out of the standard formulary. We can tell you that it included a strong tranquillizing agent, but there seems to be some other stuff in there too - we'll keep working on it for you."
Ella agrees that she will phone back later in the day.
11.15am, Monday 2nd November 1997
Everybody in Badgastein
James: you pack up Uriah's things and help yourself to his passport, his bank and credit cards, his 'lucky ticket', and a letter from the Utah State Lottery announcing his good fortune. Your eyes bulge as you see the amount of the win: $13.5 million! There are also several photos of a young woman, and a huge wad of cash and travellers' cheques: about $2000 worth.