/ Language: English / Genre:det_political / Series: Berlin trilogy

Rosa

Jonathan Rabb


Jonathan Rabb

Rosa

PART ONE

ONE

1919

Berlin in December, to those who know her, is like no other place. The first snows take on a permanence, and the wide avenues from Charlottenburg to the Rondell breathe with a crispness of Prussian winter. It is a time when little boys drag their mothers away from the well-dressed windows at KaDeWe or Wertheim’s or the elegant teas at the Hotel Adlon and out to the Tiergarten and the wondrous row of marble emperors along the Siegesallee. Just as dusk settles, as the last flurries of the day swirl through the leafless trees, you can steal a glimpse of any number of little eyes peering up, hoping, just this once, to catch a stony wink from an Albrecht the Bear, or a Friedrich of Nuremberg with his large ears and dour expression. Just a wink through the snow to tell him that Christmas will be kind to him this year. “There, Mama, did you see! Do you see how he winked at me!” And the pride that next morning, bundled up beyond measure, racing out from his fine house on Belziger or Wartburg Strasse to tell his friends of his triumph. “Yes, me, too! Me, too!” Berlin in December.

This, however, was January, when the snow had turned to endless drizzle, so raw that it seemed to penetrate even the heaviest of layers. And whatever civility they might still be clinging to elsewhere, here on the east side of town, all the way up to the flophouses in Prenzlauer Berg, people had little time or patience for such gestures. Christmas had brought nothing, except perhaps the truth about how the war had been lost long before the summer, how the generals had been flimflamming them all the way up to the November capitulation. Oh, and of course, the revolution. Christmas had brought that, a thoroughly German revolution, with documents in triplicate, cries from the balconies, demonstrations and parades, tea still at four o’clock, dinner at seven, and perhaps a little dancing afterward up at the White Mouse or Maxim’s. Shots had been fired, naturally, a few hundred were dead, but the socialists-not the real socialists, mind you-were straightening everything up.

Still, it was the weather that had most people on edge. The rain just wasn’t giving in, and it was why Nikolai Hoffner, rather than waiting out on the tundral expanse of the Rosenthaler Platz, had snuck off to Rcker’s bar for something warm to drink. Years of experience had told him that nothing of any significance was going to happen today: later on, he would come to regret that arrogance. So, with a knowing smile, he had left the ever-eager Hans Fichte up on the square; at the first sign of trouble, Fichte knew where to find him.

Hoffner sat with a brandy (“I’d walk a mile for Mampe’s brandy, it makes you feel so hale and dandy!”), the early edition of the BZ am Mittag in front of him. He had not sat like this in weeks, a quiet read to clear the mind. And not because of the nonsense that had been going on out at the stables, or up at the Reichstag: all the pretty uniformed men had managed to disrupt traffic too many times, now, to recount. No, Hoffner had been up to his ears in real violence, genuine terror, hardly the kind plotted in Red pamphlets or designed in back rooms by overfed burghers calling themselves socialists. They played at revolution; he knew another kind. But for today-orders from on high-he was told to leave that alone and join the rest of his breed in the streets to make sure “nothing untoward” would come to pass.

Hoffner finished off the last of his drink and nodded to the barman to bring him another. As he was one of only three people in the place-a man at a corner table, his head tilted back against the wall, his mouth gaped open in sleep; a woman with a beer and bread, her business at one of the nearby hotels temporarily interrupted-the service was unusually prompt. The barman approached with the bottle.

“This, I’m sad to say, will have to be the last.”

Hoffner looked up from his paper. “I’m sad to hear.” He had a steady, reassuring voice.

“It’s this damned rationing,” said the man. “This and another bottle’s all I’ve got for the day. My apologies.”

Hoffner half smiled. “What do you care if the money’s coming from me or from someone else?”

“Simple economics, mein Herr. No brandy, fewer people in here to buy my sausages before they rot.” The man opened the bottle. “It’s called the distribution of capital, or something like that. You understand.”

Hoffner’s smile grew. “Completely.”

“And”-the man nodded as he poured-“the money’s not coming from you. It never does. So why don’t you be nice to me today and let someone else pay for the brandy?”

Hoffner reached into his coat pocket and produced a ten-pfennig coin. He placed it on the table.

The man smiled again as he shook his head. “No, no. I like that you don’t pay. You like that you don’t pay. We may be governed by socialists now, but it’s better that you hold on to your money.”

The man popped the cork back into the bottle and headed for the bar. “Time to wake up, Herr Professor Doktor,” he said as he moved past the man in the corner. The man at once opened his eyes, looked around in a daze, and then, in one fluid movement, pawed out his beard, picked up his umbrella, and stood. Upright, he seemed far more impressive, though from the look of his clothes, one had to wonder how much sleep he had gotten in the last few days. He peered over at Hoffner. “Is it safe out there, mein Herr?”

Hoffner continued to read his paper. “Safe as can be, Herr Professor Doktor.

“Excellent.” The man turned to the barman. “My thanks, Herr Ober.” And, placing his hat on his head, he started for the door, stopping momentarily to bow to the lady. “Madame.” He then glanced quickly through the windows, and was gone.

Hoffner scanned through several stories, all of which were doing their best to assuage a devoted readership. The Reds were dead: good old Liebknecht had gotten his in the park, little Rosa in the clutches of a murderous mob, though her body was still missing; Chancellor Ebert could be trusted with the government; business was on the rise, so forth and so on. And yet, even within the lines meant to pacify, the BZ had that remarkable capacity to stir up a kind of subdued panic:

Reichs Chancellor Ebert, with the full cooperation of a diligent military, has declared the streets once again safe for the men and women of Berlin. Hurrah! With the National Assembly election only days away, we must thank this provisional government for the speed with which it has put down the Bolshevik-inspired insurgency, and hope that it is equally tireless in its efforts to hunt down the deluded lone sharpshooters who still infest our city. Those living in the area between Linienstrasse and the Hackescher-Markt are advised to remain indoors for the next twenty-four hours.

The woman at the table laughed lazily to herself. Still pretty at twenty-two, twenty-three, she jawed through her bread. She was wearing the unspoken uniform of those girls who sell roses and matches at the restaurants along Friedrichstrasse-the silk-thin dress, ruffles along the low collar and cuffs, the dark cloche hat with its front trim tucked up, just so-except hers was well past its prime, the sure indication that she, too, had progressed. All pretense long gone, she spoke her mind. “It’s so easy to spot one of you,” she said, not looking up. “Long brown coat, brown shoes, brown hat, brown, brown, brown.”

Hoffner flipped to the next page. “One might say the same of you, Frulein.”

She bit into a wedge of bread. “But you won’t. As a gentleman.”

“No, of course not. As a gentleman.”

The woman started to laugh again as she picked at the remaining slab of bread, her fingers like little bird beaks pecking at the crust. “Another glass of brandy for my friend, Herr Ober,” she said, her eyes fixed on the bread. “We must make sure to keep our men of the Kripo warm and happy. Who will protect us from the Russian hordes?” Another laugh.

Hoffner folded his paper and placed it on the table. “Alas, Frulein, but the Russians are out of the Kriminalpolizei’s jurisdiction. We deal only with the Berlin hordes.”

The man at the bar smiled quietly and retrieved the bottle, but Hoffner shook his head and pushed back his chair, a bit farther than he had anticipated needing. His wife was pleased that he was having no trouble keeping the weight on, a testament to her culinary skills amid all the shortages. Not that he was fat, but Hoffner had a certain image of himself that he was, as yet, unwilling to part with: good height, deep eyes, dark hair (he had gotten the latter two from his Russian mother, likewise the first name), reasonably fit, and with a thin scar just beneath the chin, a worthy reminder of championship days as a Gymnasium fencer. At forty-five, however, several centimeters had vanished to the slight roll in his shoulders; the depth of his eyes had relocated south to a pair of ever-widening bags; and while the hair was still full, dark most certainly would have been a stretch. As to the rest, more like distant friends than close companions.

“Thank you, Frulein,” said Hoffner. “But I’m guessing you’ve got better things to do with your hard-earned money.”

The front door opened and a pocket of chilled air quickly made the rounds. There, slick from the rain and out of breath, stood Hans Fichte, his eyes on Hoffner.

“Shut that door,” barked the barman as he placed the bottle back on its shelf.

Fichte did as he was told, and moved quickly to Hoffner’s table. “You’re needed back in the square, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. It’s-” He glanced around, then leaned farther in over the table. “It’s important we get back.” Fichte spoke as if he actually thought someone other than Hoffner might have any interest in what he was saying.

Fichte was a large man, over two meters tall, and with wide, thick shoulders. A strip of flaxen hair, matted in sweat and rain, held to the top of his brow, and his usually gray/white cheeks were blistered in odd blotches of red. A single drop-let it be perspiration-clung to the tip of his nose, which was too long for his narrow face, and which always gave him a look of mild disdain. At twenty-three, Fichte still had a boyish smoothness to his complexion, though the ordeal of the last six weeks was beginning to dig out some distinguishing lines: hardly what one would call character, but it was something.

The fact that Fichte had reached twenty-three-uncrippled and completely unconnected with any of the convalescence asylums that had recently surfaced throughout the city and the Reich-made him something of an anomaly. Fichte had been fit enough to serve his Kaiser in 1914, or at least up through the second week of September 1914, when, in a moment of profound stupidity, he had volunteered during a drill to demonstrate how to use one of the early gas masks, those chemically treated masks that required wetting with a special activating agent immediately prior to use. Hans had not known about the need for the wetting. The gas had come on, he had inhaled, and from that moment on, he had ceased to be fit enough to serve his Kaiser.

Damaged lungs, however, were just fine for the Schutzmannschaft (municipal beat cops), and after three years of stellar duty, Fichte had applied and won transfer to the Kripo. He had been presented to Hoffner two and half months ago as his Kriminal-Assistent (detective in training), a replacement for a partner of twelve years who had volunteered and then gone missing in 1915. Victor Knig had come as close to a friend as Hoffner had permitted, and his death had taken some time to get over. With the choices on the home front greatly diminished, the Kriminaldirektor (KD) had been kind enough to let Hoffner work alone for the better part of four years. Hans Fichte was now the price for that kindness.

“So important,” Hoffner said as he got to his feet, “that you’ve decided to leave the square yourself?” He was waiting for a response. “In the future, Hans, find a boy-there’s always one roaming about-and send him to get me. Yes?”

Fichte thought for a moment, a mental note etched across his face. When it was properly filed, he nodded, and then headed for the door.

Hoffner followed, stopping as he reached the bar. “One more for my friend,” he said. He pushed a coin along the uneven surface, then turned to the young woman’s table and placed several more in a neat stack next to her glass. She continued to stare at her bread.

“It’ll cost you a lot more than that, Herr Detective,” she said.

Hoffner slowly pulled his hand away. “No-I think umbrellas go for about that much in this weather, Frulein.”

She looked up. A kind, if sparing, smile curled her lips.

Hoffner turned back to the bar to find two small glasses filled with brandy. “Come on, Fichte. It’ll do you good. Whatever’s up on the square can wait while you get a bit of warming-up.”

Fichte hesitated, then strode to the bar and downed the brandy in one swift movement. He stood there, awaiting his next assignment. Hoffner did his best to ignore the deferential stare as he sniffed at the liquid and then tossed it back. He placed the glass on the bar. “You’re welcome, Fichte.”

Another moment to consider. “Oh. . 0A0; yes. Thank you, Herr Komm. . 0A0; Hoffner.”

“And to you as well, Herr Economics.” Hoffner tipped his hat to the young lady and motioned Fichte to the door. Together they stepped out into the street.

The brandy, as it turned out, was no match for the city’s infamous Berliner Luft, a smack of frigid air just the thing to set Hoffner’s eyes tearing. He turned up his coat collar and pulled his hat down to his face. His wife had insisted he take a scarf, but he had left it back at the office: Martha would find a certain pleasure in that later tonight. Hoffner noticed Fichte was sporting a nice thick woolen muffler. And who’s been taking care of him, Hoffner wondered.

They turned right, the rain spraying up at them through the wind tunnel that was the block of tenements. The street was deserted, its gray stone merely a faade for the life that lay hidden beyond. Too many times, Hoffner had been forced to venture into the inner courtyards, each dripping with laundry-Turkish, Polish, German-endless lines of clothes that spoke to one another in a kind of ragged semaphore. And within the crumbling buildings, the squalor grew only more oppressive, dank hallways leading blindly from one hovel to the next, each filled with the smell of rotting cabbage. The worst was the “Ochsenhof” (“cattle yard”), with its dozen entrances and twenty stairways, all leading nowhere, pointless escapades in search of criminals all too secure within its walls. It was a vast, silent place to the men of the Kripo, indecipherable and thus impregnable.

Outside, however, all was serene. The stones blended effortlessly into the darkened haze of sky, only those occasional passersby bold enough to peek out from under the brims of their hats able to determine where one left off and the other began. Hoffner was not one of these: he pressed his head farther down to meet the wind. By the time he and Fichte had made it to the square, his pants were once again damp through from the knees down: at least the exertion was helping to keep him warm.

Surprisingly, the wind was taking no interest in Rosenthaler Platz. People were jumping on and off trams without the least sign of aerial difficulty, and whatever Fichte had thought demanded his immediate attention, Hoffner could find nothing that was even remotely out of the ordinary: like a painted newsreel clip, the square buzzed in accelerated activity. There was the requisite line outside the windowed cafeteria that was Aschinger’s, the hawkers of neckties and sponges and fruit brandies in front of Fabische’s on the corner (“A suit, mein Herr? Take one, Ready-To-Wear!”), and the usual mayhem of cabs, horsedrawn carts, and pedestrians darting in and out of one another’s ways. Rosenthaler Platz had taken no time off to breathe during the revolution; why should it do so now?

“Well,” said Hoffner as they maneuvered their way through the crowd, “I can see why you raced back to get me.”

“The building site, Herr Inspector.”

Fichte led Hoffner up toward the subway excavations. The fencing around the northern tip of the square had been there for almost a year, a promise from the Kaiser that his capital would be home to the finest trams and underground trains in Europe. Few Berliners took notice anymore of the wooden slats that sprouted up around the city, most Stdters resigned to the ongoing renovations that had been a part of their lives for the past twenty-five years. Wilhelm’s insecurity about his chosen city had led him, over time, to reinvent her as a paean to grandeur in the architecture of her monuments, churches, government buildings, stores, hotels, and, yes, railway stations. It was said of Berlin that even her bird shit was made of marble.

Then again, the slats did make for nice advertising space. A large placard of a cigar-smoking goblin peered down at Hoffner as he followed Fichte toward the site. The lime-green skin against the cerise background, at first off-putting, quickly became hypnotic. The creature had an almost maniacal smile, the cigar evidently just that good to take him to the edge of sanity, although why a goblin would need any kind of stimulus for that sort of behavior had always puzzled Hoffner. A cigar, though, would have been nice right about now.

Fichte and Hoffner moved out into the square, jumping the tram rails as they sidestepped a cab, its goose-squawk horn eliciting a growl from Fichte. A single patrolman stood guard atop the wooden ramp that led up to what, until recently, had been the boarded-up entrance to the pit behind the fencing. He put out a hand as Hoffner and Fichte approached.

“It is forbidden, meine Herren.” The man’s German had the precision of working-class Berlin, the extended roll of the r’s a pompous display of office. He kept his woolen short-coat buttoned to the neck, its band collar sporting the single stripe of a constable, his lip-brimmed helmet topped by the ubiquitous silver imperial prong. “Please turn around-” The man caught himself as soon as he recognized Fichte. “Ah, Herr Detective.” There was nothing apologetic in the tone.

Hoffner knew this type, a Schutzi-lifer who considered the very existence of the Kripo a slap in the face, even if, every year for the past fifteen years, he had applied and been rejected for transfer. Still, it was the chain of command. Order had to be preserved. The man stepped aside.

Hoffner nodded. “Patrolman.”

A white-gloved finger smoothed through a perfectly pruned moustache. “Detective.”

Hoffner moved past the man and began to make his way down a second ramp behind the fencing. As he did so, he turned his head and corrected, “Detective Inspector.

Inside, the building work was far more extensive than one might have imagined from the square. An area, perhaps twenty meters by ten, extended to the far fencing, most of it still earth. Closer in, however, stood the top staging of a tower of wooden scaffolding that dug deep into the ground. From their vantage point, Fichte and Hoffner could see only a fraction of the edifice, its depth apparent only once they stepped out from the ramp and moved to the ladder at its center. A second patrolman stood directly behind the small hole of an entrance. Hoffner looked at the man, then peered down the shaft. “Must be a good fifteen meters,” he said. Police lamps, recently attached, hung along the rungs, all the way down. Hoffner looked back up, a thoroughly disingenuous smile on his lips. “May we?” The man said nothing as Fichte took hold of the top rung and started down. Hoffner followed.

The air quickly thickened, and the smell of damp earth-at the top quite pleasant-gave way to something less inviting as they descended, familiar, yet nondistinct. It was only when he reached the bottom and stepped away from the ladder that Hoffner recognized the odor. Human feces. Muted, but undeniable.

The two Kripomen were now standing in the first of a series of man-made caverns, wide mining shafts that spoked out from the central area. The subway station at Rosenthaler Platz had evidently been chosen to house an underground arcade-shops, cafes-the skeleton of which had been near to completion before the work had been shut down. All that remained by way of construction material, aside from the timber and steel supports, was the odd piece of wiring and the scrawl on the wooden slats, measurements and the like penned in a dull charcoal. A few of the slats had gone missing, though Hoffner recognized that they had been well chosen; none of the gaps looked to be threatening the pit’s structural integrity. He had to hand it to the poachers.

He never imagined, however, that these poachers would be standing directly behind him, or rather sitting. And yet there, along a narrow wooden bench in an adjoining cavern, sat an utterly unexpected foursome-husband, wife, and two sons of perhaps eight and ten. They were all neatly dressed, considering the circumstances, the man in a worn coat and tie, the woman in a long dress in need of a good cleaning, all with overcoats folded in their laps. The gaunt faces stared straight ahead as if, with a kind of macabre persistence, they were waiting for a train. Off to the side were what looked to be two well-worn feather beds sitting atop several of the absent slats, a small wooden table, a bucket, and a camping fire. A steel trunk rounded out the furnishings.

Two more patrolmen stood at either end of the bench. A third-a sergeant, from the braiding on the brim of his helmet-stood by the fire. He took a step toward Hoffner. “Herr Detective, I am-”

“Yes, I’m sure you are,” said Hoffner as he turned to Fichte. “I think my partner can fill me in.”

The attention seemed to catch Fichte by surprise. When Hoffner continued to stare, Fichte finally said, “Apparently they live down here. The man was an engineer-”

“Division Two, Firma Ganz-Neurath.” The voice came from the father. Hoffner turned. “I am a designer for this site,” the man continued in an accent tinged with something other than German. “Under the direction of Herr Alfred Grenander. We have only been living here. Nothing else. Nothing else.” There was a wavering sincerity in his tone, one that Hoffner recognized all too well. It was usually reserved for the third or fourth hour of interrogation, that time when a man tries to convince himself of his own innocence. “I am not ashamed to be here.”

Hoffner kept his gaze on the man, then turned to Fichte. “He’s not ashamed to be here,” he echoed wryly.

Fichte nodded. “From what we can make out, he lost his position. They had a choice. Either hold on to their flat, or eat. They decided to eat. It’s actually pretty livable down here. It’s dry, warm, and except-”

“Yes,” said Hoffner. “I can smell it.”

Again, Fichte nodded.

“And the boys?”

“On the rolls at a nearby school. They haven’t missed a day.”

Hoffner looked back at the family. Again, he waited. “Why am I standing down here, Herr Kriminal-Assistent?” Before Fichte could answer, Hoffner continued, enjoying his audience: “He seems like a nice-enough fellow, decent. Amid all the shortages, war, revolution, he’s managed to find a way to keep a-well, to keep something over his family’s head. He sends his children to school. He’s been an engineer with Ganz-Neurath, Division Two, under the tutelage of the great Grenander himself. What more can we ask of him?” Hoffner peered over at the sergeant, then slowly moved toward him. “But, of course, for the Schutzmannschaft, this poses a problem. Criminals everywhere, and they choose to spend their time on-”

“We have no interest in this man,” said the officer.

Hoffner had not expected the response. For a moment he said nothing. Then, with an audible sigh, he turned to Fichte and said, “Why am I down here, Hans?”

Even in the dim light, Hoffner recognized the slight tensing in the younger man’s expression. With a jabbed thumb over his shoulder, Fichte said, “This way.” And without further explanation, he picked up a lamp and started toward the central tunnel. With no other choice, Hoffner did the same.

The air grew still heavier as they made their way deeper into the maze. Fichte stopped at one point to pull a small glass inhaler from his coat pocket, the nebulized liquid making a sharp puffing sound each time Fichte sucked in. Hoffner had learned not to notice these brief episodes; the shame in Fichte’s face was something he didn’t care to see. Hoffner slowed and waited until Fichte had picked up the pace again. Two caverns on, they stopped. A lone patrolman stood at the entrance.

It was the odor that gave it away. Decomposing flesh, when kept moist, takes on a scent not unlike rotting fruit with a bit of sulfur thrown in. Hoffner had actually experimented with various mixtures some years ago. He had kept a number of covered bowls in a remote area of the cellar at police headquarters, all filled with different concoctions. It had taken him nearly two weeks to hit on the right combination. When asked why he was doing this, Hoffner had explained that it could be used to train detectives how to sniff out hidden or buried corpses: take the bowl, place it behind some boards, etc. They had all gotten a good laugh out of it until a young assistant detective by the name of Bauman had cracked the infamous Selazig case of 1911 by nosing around the man’s office. Selazig had been in the pickled-herring business and believed that the smell of his cannery could hide anything he might be keeping behind the walls of his office. Detective Bauman had been doing a routine check of the man-the disappearance of his wife and son, missing money, Herr Selazig distraught beyond all measure-when he happened to detect something of a familiar scent coming from behind a large filing cabinet. So acute was Bauman’s nasal prowess that he had actually distinguished the smell of rancid pears, so he described it, from that of three-day-old fish. The bodies had been found within a small chamber behind the wall, each laid out perfectly on an altar of sorts, bits and pieces of arms and legs having been nibbled away. Selazig had gone to the gallows, Bauman to Kriminal-Bezirkssekretr (detective sergeant), and Hoffner back to his experiments, along with a short article titled “The Odor of Death” published in Die Polizei, August 11 issue, a framed copy of which still hung in his office.

“It’s just here,” said Fichte as he moved through the cavern and knelt down in front of a mound by the far wall. He placed his lamp to the side and waited for Hoffner to draw closer. He then began to pull back the tarp.

Hoffner leaned over. “I’m surprised he didn’t post another moustache back here.”

“He tried,” said Fichte. “I told him that wouldn’t be advised.”

“Good. Who found it?”

“The older boy. He was rummaging.”

Hoffner crouched down and drew his lamp closer in to the corpse. Fichte had learned to take careful note of his partner at these moments. Gone was the waggish smile. In its place, a concentrated gaze lingered over the body and the areas just around it, every inch cataloged for later use. Without warning, the eyes would dart to a wall, or the space by the entrance, hold for a moment, then return for more probing. Fichte knew to say nothing.

Hoffner’s first inclination was to flip her over, check her back, look for the markings that had been so much a part of his life-their lives-since that first grisly discovery in early December. But this woman was too young to have anything to do with that. Strange to feel relief at the side of a murdered woman, he thought. “So,” said Hoffner, his tone matching his focus, “how many have been back here?”

“The boy and the father, and one or two of the patrolmen.”

“One or two?”

“They’re not convinced it’s our case. Keeping their mouths tight. They’re waiting for a Leutnant to arrive. That’s why I was in such a hurry.”

“Right. We’ll need shoe molds from each of them to match against all of this. And photos of everything before the body is moved.” Fichte jotted down a note in his pad as Hoffner continued to speak. “The boy, the father. They’ve seen no one else down here?”

Fichte shook his head. “It turns out there might actually be another three or four ways down into the site. It’s impossible to know how many, or where. According to our ex-engineer, the station promenade was to have extended as far east as Blowplatz.”

“Blowplatz? That’s over half a kilometer. Wonderful.”

The clothes were in surprisingly good shape. In cases like these, they were either missing entirely-the motive for the killing-or had succumbed to the elements-caked-on mud, gnawing rats, etc. Not so here. The woman’s skirt and bodice looked almost new, and she was wearing a pair of intricately woven lace gloves. That seemed odd. “And nothing’s been moved?” said Hoffner.

“As far as I can tell, no. The boy said he saw her, then ran for his father. They brought the moustache. I followed.”

Hoffner nodded slowly. “And how long do we guess she’s been down here?” He took a pen from his coat pocket and brushed the hair back from her face.

“Rate of decay, rats. I’d say about a week, week and a half.”

“Good.” Hoffner liked it when Fichte got something right. He moved farther down the corpse. “But the clothes say otherwise.” Hoffner used his pen to lift the hem of her dress and examine the legs. What he saw momentarily startled him. The flesh on the legs was almost entirely rotted through, with a small puddle of worms and crawling ants camped in between her knees. In an odd way, it looked as if they had been placed there, caged by the legs, and given free rein to go about their business, but only as far as the mid-thigh. There, Hoffner noticed something slick on the flesh, something that was keeping the worms at bay.

Fichte had seen it, as well. It was as if they were looking at two entirely different corpses, one a week postmortem, the other at least six. For several moments Hoffner said nothing as he stared at the strange sheen.

“Someone’s been taking care of her,” he finally said. He let the hem fall back. “Flip her over,” he said as he stood.

Fichte peered up at him. There was a momentary plea in the boy’s eyes, as if to say, They told us we were off this today. Then, with a conscious resolve, Fichte reached under her shoulders and slowly pulled her over.

“Oh God” was all he could get out.

FROM THE LANDWEHR CANAL

Police headquarters were a disaster.

Hoffner hopped out of the ambulance and motioned for the medic to continue driving through the main gate, or at least what was left of it. For a place he had been coming to six days a week for the past eighteen years, it was almost unrecognizable. The once-imposing line of redbrick archways looked ashamed of itself. Four days removed from the final assault, and the crumbling masonry-chalk-white-was doing little to hide the naked slats of wood that pockmarked the faade. Worse were the iron gates that skulked behind, all at wild angles, bent like spoons for a child’s amusement. And along the lower floors, turreted windows peered out blindly from empty sockets, shards of broken glass still clinging to their disfigured panes. Such was the crowning achievement of Alexanderplatz in the wake of revolution.

A trio of soldiers stood lazily by the gate, guns resting on the ground, their collars pulled up tight to fight back the chill. Each sucked on a cigarette, though the tobacco-where they had managed to scavenge that was anybody’s guess-was clearly too harsh for their young lungs. For a fleeting moment Hoffner thought of his own boys, younger still. He would have to teach them how to smoke properly one of these days. None of the soldiers took even a moment’s notice as the ambulance moved past them.

Hoffner had lost track of the different uniforms now strewn about the city-Guard Fusiliers Regiment, Republikanische Soldatenwehr, Section Fourteen of the Auxiliary, so forth and so on-the names and insignia all melding into one another. The majors and colonels who had once led them no longer seemed to matter. These were simply boys with guns in a once-civilized city.

The trouble had all begun quite innocently some ten weeks ago, when the sailors and stokers in Kiel had decided that they, like the great General Ludendorf, had had enough. Ludendorf had fled to Sweden at the end of October. They, unwilling to suffer through another humiliation at the hands of the British, had simply left their ships. On the fourth of November-in a moment of genuine socialist spontaneity-they formed a Workers’ and Sailors’ Council and took their defiance beyond the naval base to the city hall. Naturally, soldiers were sent in to suppress the uprising, but when the boys arrived-for they were mostly boys, after all-they discovered that it was not a wild mob that they had come to destroy, but a group of the dedicated proletariat. And so the soldiers joined them, and the word spread: Munich, Bremen, Hamburg, Dresden, Stuttgart. By the time the Kaiser declared the armistice on the eleventh, Germany was already comfortably ensconced in revolution.

Berlin, of course, was not one to miss out. On the ninth, Karl Liebknecht-son of the late socialist leader Wilhelm, and himself a recent political guest of Luckau prison-took to the streets with a legion of striking workers behind him. They marched under the banner of Spartakus-the new communist party-and declared the birth of the Free Socialist Republic from the balcony of the Royal Palace. Within days, Rosa Luxemburg was with them. She had spent the better part of four years in Breslau prison, her virtual isolation having done nothing to shake her devotion to the cause. There had been rumors-bouts of hysteria, the possibility that little Rosa had slipped off into madness while caged at the far reaches of the Empire-but she showed none of it on her return to Berlin. She had come to take the revolution as far left as humanly possible, and it was there that the real difficulties had begun.

Had the revolutionaries been of one mind, thousands of innocents might have been spared the fighting. But the revolutionaries were socialists: Karl and Rosa wanted the genuine article, workers of the world rising as one, the death of capitalism, so forth and so on; Chancellor Ebert and his Social Democrats-terrified of a Soviet-style putsch-wanted a National Assembly, elections, and perhaps even a bit of help from various capitalist concerns so as to get the country up and running again. They might have called themselves socialists, but they were a peculiar breed willing to bring back the monarchy-in name only-in the hopes of restoring order. And then there were the sailors-the People’s Naval Division-just back from the front, leftists through and through, so long as they got their pay.

Revolution, however, matters only when the soldiers decide to take sides. In early December Prince Max von Baden and the General Staff chose Ebert, and while there were brief moments of hope for Spartakus after that-Christmas Day on the Schloss Bridge, cannons at the ready, hundreds of armed civilians forcing the government troops into retreat; January sixth, thousands more marching along the broad Siegesallee toward the War Ministry-they were only moments. Karl and Rosa made speeches and printed articles and convoked meetings, but in the end they were left to live on the run and on borrowed time. Troops had been spilling in from the front like so much dirty scrub water since late November. They were hungry for a fight, and needed someone to blame for their recent defeat. Who better than the Soviet-styled Spartakus? Oddly enough, it was Police President Emil Eichorn who was the one to give Ebert his opportunity to mop everything up. Eichorn’s allegiance to the Spartakus movement had never been much of a secret. The new government could ill afford that kind of official opposition, and so, on the eleventh of January, it was Eichorn’s politics that ultimately turned the police buildings on Alexanderplatz into the last battleground of the revolution. Refusing to leave his desk after receiving his dismissal papers-and with a group of Spartacists on hand to defend him-Eichorn gave Ebert no choice but to send in a battalion. It was only yesterday morning that the morgue had removed the last of the corpses.

The men of the Kripo had been elsewhere on the fateful day: they had known what was coming and had left Eichorn alone with his revolutionaries. Even so, there was still bad blood between the government soldiers and the men of police headquarters. It was why Hoffner now chose not to meet them head-on.

He sidestepped his way through several clumps of fallen brick and, turning right with the building, headed down Alexanderstrasse. Hoffner pulled open the outer gate and then made his way to the third door down. The building had lost power on the twelfth, the corridors once again lit by gas lamps. Hoffner followed his shadow to the back stairwell and headed up.

It was on the third floor that he finally ran across another human being. As it turned out, first contact came in the form of Ludwig Groener, distant nephew or cousin or something of the great General Wilhelm Groener, who had played so pivotal a role in December by placing the army in Ebert’s hands. Unlike his epic forebear, however, Groener the lesser marched to the rear, still a detective sergeant at fifty-one, with fewer and fewer cases coming his way. He had become quite proficient with paperwork, and now rarely left the building. Not that he was unpleasant, or embittered by his place in the grand scheme: he was, but that wasn’t the problem. Groener simply had the most notoriously foul breath. It seemed almost inconceivable that such a small man could produce so overwhelming a stench. Hoffner kept to his side of the hall as they passed.

“I hear you’ve found another one.” Groener’s voice trailed after him.

Hoffner stopped and turned around. Groener had gotten the hint over the years: he kept at a healthy distance during these conversations. “Really?” said Hoffner. “And who’d you hear that from?”

“The KD wants to see you.”

“The KD? Dropping off some files, were you, Groener? Overheard a little something?”

Groener ignored the comment. “He’s waiting in his office.”

Hoffner turned and headed down the corridor. “Then it’s lucky I ran into you,” he said over his shoulder. “Otherwise I would have been completely at a loss.”

The men of the Kripo-known within police circles as Department IV-worked entirely out of the third floor, all four sides around the great courtyard given over to their offices, examination rooms, and archives. Hoffner’s office was along the back of the building, tucked safely away within the one spot that had managed to avoid the two-day battle for headquarters.

Stepping into the cramped space now, it was as if the first weeks of January had never taken place at all. Everything was as it had been, as it would be: open files littered the desk; bound casebooks, along with assorted editions of statutes and codes, stood in high columns along the bookshelves that ran the length of the far wall; two plaster casts of battered human skulls-evidence for upcoming court appearances-nestled between a stack of newspapers and two odd volumes of Brockhaus’s Konversations-Lexikon, for some reason Hoffner having taken a specific liking to the encyclopedia’s E and S installments; and, rounding it all out, a cup of something stale and cold-coffee was his best guess, but the color was wrong-sat at the center of his desk. Hoffner would have loved to have blamed his office on the revolution; he just couldn’t.

The one piece of perfect coherence in the room stretched the length of the wall across from his desk. It was a map of Berlin, clean, crisp, its few markings penned in a surprisingly neat hand. This was a custom with Hoffner: a new map for each new case. In that way he could allow the city to assert herself, fresh each time, her moods invariably the single most important clues to any crime. Each district had its own temper, a personality. It was simply his task to watch for the variations, find what did not belong, and allow those idiosyncrasies to guide him. Berlin called for deviation, not patterning. It was something so few in the Kripo understood. To his credit, young Hans Fichte was slowly not becoming one of them.

Hoffner stood in the doorway, as yet unable to see the incongruity in the four pins sticking out from the map: the Mnz Strasse roadwork, the sewer entrance at Oranienburger Strasse, the Prenzlauer underpass, and the grotto off Blowplatz. And now another in the Rosenthaler Platz station. There was something odd to that one-as he had known there would be-the feel of it forced as he drove the pin through the paper. He stared at it for nearly a minute before moving to the desk.

The place was still an icebox as he pulled his notebook from his pocket: someone had promised a delivery of coal by the end of the week, but Hoffner knew better. Picking up the cup on his desk, he sniffed at the contents and then took a sip: something to mask the brandy. With a wince, he swallowed and headed for the corridor.

The KD was behind his desk and on the phone when Hoffner pulled up and knocked at the open door. Kriminaldirektor Edmund Prager looked up and motioned Hoffner inside. Like his own appearance, Prager kept his large office sparse: a long wooden desk-phone, blotter, and lamp-with two filing cabinets at either end, and nothing more. More striking, though, was the absence of anything that might have indicated that a battle had been fought on these floors in the last week. Whatever remnants might still be in piles of debris around the rest of the offices, here there were none. Prager had insisted on it. If the revolution was over, it was over. He had no desire to be reminded of it.

Hoffner watched as Prager continued to nod into the receiver, an occasional “Yes, yes, of course,” or “Quite right,” poking its way into the conversation. Another half-minute and Prager again motioned to Hoffner. Not knowing what to do, Hoffner moved over to the window and gazed out, his eyes wandering across the wreckage in the square below.

Willingly or not, Hoffner now saw the Alex as if through a sheet of fine gauze, all of it familiar, real, yet profoundly not. In a single moment it had changed forever. Whether over hours, days, weeks, Hoffner had discovered that, in revolution, the passage of time is instantaneous, the reality of the sequence irrelevant and irrevocable: perspective made the sensation only more acute. He had felt something similar to this once before, the same distortion, the same jarring disbelief. Then, he had not thought himself capable of striking Martha-he wasn’t-and yet, in that one infinite moment, he had sent her to the ground, his oldest boy watching in horror, the reality of it now lost, only its shame lived over and over: one moment, all as it was, as it had been; the next, fine gauze, and with it a sense of helplessness so deep as to make it almost illusory.

“She has the same markings?” said Prager.

Hoffner turned. The KD was off the phone and was busy writing on a pad as he spoke. “Yes,” Hoffner answered. “Identical.”

A nod.

“You’ve heard the rumor, of course,” said Hoffner. “We’re due for another new chief, any day.” He moved toward the desk. “What does that make-four, five in the last month?”

Still preoccupied, Prager said, “And when were you planning on starting this rumor?”

Hoffner smiled quietly to himself. “As soon as all the bets were in.” He thought he saw the hint of a grin.

“So this makes five,” said Prager as he flipped through the papers.

“Yes.”

“And that makes your maniac rather special, doesn’t it?” Prager stacked the pages, then placed them in perfect alignment along the top right-hand corner of his desk.

“Yes.” Hoffner waited for Prager to look up. “This one looks to be his first. She might even have had a personal connection with our friend.”

“Personal?”

“He’s preserved her. My guess is at least six weeks. That makes her different.”

“Different is good. And how’s Fichte working out?”

“Fine. He’s with the body.”

“Yes, I know. Allowing someone else to take care of your evidence. How far we’ve come, Nikolai.”

“A brave new world, Herr Kriminaldirektor.

Prager motioned to the chair by the desk. “I need you to finish this one up.”

Hoffner sat. “I don’t think he meant for us to find this woman,” he said, as if not having heard the request. “The others, yes. This one, no.” Hoffner pulled open his notebook and flipped to a dog-eared page. “Preliminary guess is that she was asphyxiated like the others, then-”

“How close are we, here?”

Hoffner looked up. That wasn’t a question one asked in cases like these. In cases like these, one had to let it play itself out, each one unique, like the men and women who committed the crimes: degree was never an issue, and Prager knew that. Hoffner did his best to let the question pass. “As I said, we might have someplace to go with this one-”

“I need this finished,” Prager cut in. He waited. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Nikolai?”

Hoffner remained silent. “No, Herr Kriminaldirektor, I do not.”

Prager began to chew on the inside of his cheek: it was the one lapse in composure he permitted himself. “Almost half a dozen mutilated women in just over a month and a half,” he said, his tone more direct. “I’m not sure how long we can keep this out of the press. The distractions of revolution are beginning to fade.”

“They’re also not going to be getting in the way of an investigation anymore. And,” Hoffner continued, “correct me if I’m wrong, Herr Kriminaldirektor, but we’ve always been very good at using the newspapers to our advantage.”

“As you said, Nikolai, a brave new world.”

For the first time today, Hoffner was genuinely confused. “You’re going to have to make that a little clearer, Herr Kriminaldirektor.

Prager’s tone softened. “Once in a while, Nikolai, you need to consider the world outside of homicide. You need to consider the repercussions.”

Hoffner had no idea where Prager was going with this, when the KD suddenly stood, his gaze on the door. “Ah.” Prager moved out from behind his desk. “Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you quite so-promptly.”

Hoffner turned to see a tall, angular man in an expensive suit stepping into the office: a chief inspector with a thin coating of meticulously combed jet-black hair atop a narrow head. Hoffner stood. He had never seen the man before.

Prager made the introductions. “Kriminal-Oberkommissar Gustav Braun, this is-”

Kriminal-Kommissar Nikolai Hoffner,” said the man, a strangely inviting smile on his lips. “Yes, I know your work well, Inspector. A most impressive rsum.”

With a slight hesitation, Hoffner nodded his acknowledgment. “I wish I could say the same of you, Chief Inspector.” Hoffner then added, “I mean, that I know your work well. I don’t.”

Still coldly affable, Braun said, “No, no, of course not. We tend to keep ourselves to ourselves, upstairs.”

And there it was, thought Hoffner. “Upstairs.” Of course.

A step up from the Kriminalpolizei, both by floor and autonomy, were the detectives of Department IA, the political police. Hoffner had never figured out whether they had been created to combat or augment domestic espionage. Whichever it was, he had learned to keep his distance from the men on the fourth floor. Their influence, never lacking under the Kaisers, had grown by leaps and bounds during the last few months. It was simply a question of how far it would ultimately take them. Why they should be showing any interest in his case, however, was not at all clear. The first four bodies had been those of a sales clerk, two seamstresses, and a nurse, no connections among them-except perhaps that they had all lived solitary, isolated lives-but nothing to pique the curiosity of the Polpo: unless the boys upstairs knew something about number five that Hoffner had failed to see, which meant that Prager was obviously in on the secret.

“Yes, well,” said Prager, predictably less poised: seniority of rank never seemed to matter when IA was involved. “I can assure you that the Chief Inspector has an equally impressive record, Herr Detective Inspector. Although, of course, one never knows how much more has been left out of the file that would be even more impressive had it been in the file”-Hoffner enjoyed watching Prager flounder-“but, of course, it couldn’t be-coming from upstairs.” Prager nodded once, briskly, as if to say he had finished whatever he had been trying to say, and that, whatever he had been trying to say, it had been good. Very good.

Unnerved still further by the ensuing silence, Prager awkwardly motioned toward the door. “We’ll go down, then. At once.” Prager nodded to Braun, who headed out. He then turned to Hoffner and, with a strained smile, indicated for him to follow. No less confused-though rather enjoying it all-Hoffner moved out into the corridor.

The morgue at police headquarters-more of an examination room, and nowhere near as extensive as the real thing across town-sat in the sub-basement of the southwest corner of the building, in better days a quick jaunt across the large glass-covered courtyard, and then down two flights. For the trio of Prager, Hoffner, and Braun, however, it was more of a trek, the courtyard having taken the brunt of the recent fighting. Mortar fire had shattered several sections of the glass dome, allowing individual columns of rain to pour down at will, the echo, in spots, overpowering. Cobblestone, where it remained, was perilously slick; elsewhere, one was left to navigate through tiny rivulets of mud. Herr Department IA seemed little inclined to get his boots dirty.

“I could always carry you,” said Hoffner, under his breath.

“Pardon?” said Braun as he hopped gingerly from one spot to the next.

“What?” said Hoffner innocently.

“I thought you said something.”

“No, nothing, Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar.” Hoffner looked at Prager. “Did you say something, Herr Kriminaldirektor?”

Prager quickened his pace and, still a good ten meters from the door to the lower levels, stuck out his arm. “Ah, here we are,” he said. “That wasn’t so bad.”

Three minutes later, all three stepped into the morgue’s outer hallway, the air thick with the smell of formaldehyde. An officer sat at a desk. He nodded them on.

Visible through the glass on the far doors were six tables in a perpendicular row along the back wall. Sheeted bodies occupied the two tables at the far ends; the four inner ones remained empty. Along the other walls, bookcases displayed a wide array of instruments and bottles, the latter filled with various liquids and creams. Above, the old gas lamps had once again been called into service. Hans Fichte was by one of the shelves, holding an open bottle in his hands-sniffing at its contents-as the three men pushed through the doors and stepped into the room. Momentarily startled, Fichte tried to get the lid back on as quickly as possible. “Ah, Herr Kriminaldirektor,” said Fichte, “I didn’t expect-”

“You’ve been down here alone?” asked Prager.

“Yes, sir,” answered Fichte, still having trouble with the lid. “Except for the medic. But he left once the body. . 0A0; Yes, sir. As you directed. Alone.”

“Good.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Hoffner leaned into Fichte as he passed by him. “Hand in the cookie jar?” It was enough to stem any further fidgeting.

Prager led Hoffner and Braun toward the body on the far right table. He was about to pull back the sheet when Fichte interrupted. “No, no, Herr Kriminaldirektor.” All three looked over at him. For a moment Fichte seemed somewhat overwhelmed, as if he had forgotten why he had stopped them. Then, moving toward the table on the left-bottle still sheepishly in hand-he said more quietly, “Ours is this one here.”

Prager continued to stare at Fichte. “No,” said Prager, his tone almost apologetic. “It’s not, Herr Kriminal-Assistent.” He then turned to Hoffner. “The repercussions, Nikolai. Fished from the Landwehr Canal this morning.” Prager pulled back the sheet.

There, lying facedown on the table-with the all-too-familiar markings chiseled into her back-was the lifeless body of Rosa Luxemburg.

THE DIAMETER-CUT

It was a good hour and a half before Fichte placed the bottle back on the shelf, and then wiped his hands on his pants. His nose had gone a nice pink from the chill in the room.

“You were holding it the whole time they were here,” said Hoffner, who was peering over Rosa’s body. He was in shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow, with thick rubber gloves extending halfway up his forearm.

Fichte sniffed at his fingers as he walked back to the examining table. “Well, I couldn’t have stepped away.”

“With the lid open.” Hoffner continued to trace the incisions on her back with what looked to be a thin steel pointer.

Fichte took a moment to answer. “Yes.”

Not looking up, Hoffner added, “Feeling a bit faint, are you?”

“No. Why?”

“You might want to read a label now and then, Hans. Sniffing isn’t actually a science.”

“I did read it.”

Hoffner bent over a particularly intricate patch. “Really?” He nodded to himself. “So you’re comfortable inhaling a solution of arsenious acid. Glad to hear it.”

Fichte was about to sniff at his fingers again; he thought the better of it.

“It’s actually illegal now,” Hoffner continued, his eyes fixed on the series of narrow grooves. “Even at that dilution. But, of course, you knew that.” Fichte said nothing as Hoffner dabbed at a bit of swelling. The skin had retained a surprising elasticity. “Used to be that arsenic was a wonderful thing for preserving a body. I suppose there were too many of those side effects, though. Bleeding mouth, sores, vomiting. Don’t know why it’s still on the shelf.”

Fichte’s face turned a shade paler. “. . Right.”

Hoffner stood upright. He wanted some confirmation. “There’s something different about these.” He used the pointer to draw a circle in the air above several of the slices. “You see what I mean?” Fichte was off in his own thoughts. Hoffner enjoyed the teasing, even if Fichte always took it too seriously, but Hoffner needed the boy to see the corpse, not the woman. Over the last two months, Luxemburg had been a mainstay on the front page of every newspaper in town. This morning they claimed that she had been dragged off by an angry mob. The markings on her back, however, said otherwise. “You’ll be fine, Hans. I promise. Now, put on some gloves.”

Fichte looked over and did as he was told. With a newfound caution, he leaned in over the body and cocked his head to the side so as to get a better angle.

Hoffner waited. “Well,” he said, trying not to sound impatient. “What do you make of them?”

After several false starts, Fichte finally looked up from across the body. “They’re. .” He chose his words carefully. “More jagged. On an angle.”

“Which?”

“Which cuts?”

“No”-a hint of frustration in his voice-“which is it, jagged or at an angle?”

Fichte stood upright. His eyes remained on the body as if he thought it might twitch one way or the other with the answer. “I think-both.”

Hoffner would have liked to have heard more conviction in the voice, especially when Fichte had gotten it right. Instead, he leaned in and scanned across the carvings: he could sense Fichte’s gaze following his own. Shifting his attention to the far table, Hoffner stood and moved over to victim number five, today’s discovery. A nice glob of the preserving grease, which still covered most of her upper body and thighs, sat in a jar at the edge of the table. Hoffner handed the jar to Fichte, then turned up the overhead lamp. He pulled back the sheet. “Make sure it’s properly labeled,” he said as he bent over to examine the back. “We’ll need someone to take a look at it tomorrow morning.”

Fichte handled the jar with great care as he placed it on a nearby shelf. He jotted a few words of detailed description on the label, then wiped his gloved hands on his pants.

Hoffner continued to scan along the grooves. “That’s a nice eye, Hans. This one’s smooth all the way across.” Hoffner shifted his perspective. “As it was with ladies one through four.” He stood and peered over at Rosa. “But not with our Frulein Luxemburg,” he said as if to himself. “Why?” It was not the only dissimilarity Hoffner had seen: Rosa had not been asphyxiated like the other victims, and there was a nice crack to the top of her skull. It might have been from a rifle butt, but Hoffner was only speculating there.

Fichte stared at Hoffner as Hoffner stared at Rosa. After several seconds, Fichte said, “She was pulled out of the canal. Maybe-”

“No,” said Hoffner, no less intent on her corpse. “The water’s not going to have made that kind of a difference.”

“A different knife, then?”

Again, Hoffner shook his head as he moved back to Rosa. This time he used his gloved little finger to highlight the most dominant marking on her back, a straight rut of perhaps eight or nine centimeters in length, a centimeter in width. All the other rivulets spoked out or crisscrossed this central line, which ran between her shoulder blades. Hoffner had come to call it the “diameter-cut.” “It’s got the same little bumps every two centimeters”-he pointed with his finger-“here, here, and here. The same flaw in the blade.” He shook his head. “No, it’s the same knife.”

Fichte moved to the other side of the table and both men stood peering down at Rosa’s back. “Maybe,” said Fichte hesitantly, “he realized who she was after he’d killed her. He panicked and rushed the artwork.” When Hoffner said nothing, Fichte added, “It does have that kind of forced look to it.”

The word “forced” struck Hoffner. He looked up with sudden interest. “Why do you say that?”

Fichte nearly beamed at the encouragement. “Well,” he said, tracing a section. “These bits here. Our boy’s usually much neater in this part. See how the line lightens up and runs off just at the end.”

Fichte was right. Up by the left shoulder blade, one of the incisions seemed to tail off to the right as it joined the diameter-cut: not in keeping with the strict precision of the other lines.

“Here, as well.” Fichte pointed to another section.

Hoffner had noticed it fifteen minutes ago while under the watchful gaze of Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar Braun. It was only now, though, hearing the word “forced,” that he began to see something else. His eyes moved along the ruts as he spoke: “Bring over a bottle of the blue dye and a thin brush,” he said distractedly as he leaned closer into the body. “And grab one of those short blades.”

Fichte quickly found the items and brought them back to the table. Hoffner dipped the brush into the dye and gently ran it along the areas Fichte had just traced. As he got to the tail-off point-where the dye brought out the detail of the lighter strokes-Hoffner’s eyes widened. For several seconds he held his hand out over the area, his palm facing up. He stared at his own hand.

With a sudden urgency, Hoffner stepped farther down the body and drew a wide circle of blue on Rosa’s untouched thigh. He held the knife out to Fichte. “All right, Hans,” he said. “I want you to hold it in your open palm, with the blade facing away from you, your thumb on the knife’s midpoint. And with the flat of the blade parallel to your palm. As if you were going to jab it at me.” He waited until Fichte held it correctly. “Good. Now, carve out a small rut inside the circle.” Hoffner pointed to two spots on the thigh. “Start here, end here. Carve up and away from yourself.”

Fichte stared at him incredulously. “You want me to disfigure the body?”

“She won’t mind,” said Hoffner, his eyes still on the thigh. “Trust me.” He made a sweeping movement with his hand. “Up and away. Keeping the flat of the knife against the skin. Anytime, Hans.” The discussion was over.

This was not the first time that Fichte had been handed his fate. With no other choice, he slowly placed his free hand just above the back of Rosa’s knee and, pulling the skin taut, began to carve out a rut. The sensation was strangely calming, the cold flesh giving way easily to the run of the knife. To Fichte’s surprise, the sliced skin held together like pencil shavings, curling upward, then spiraling down over the thigh before crumbling onto the table. Reaching the endpoint, he stood back and placed the knife next to the body. Hoffner was already leaning in, staring up along the newly made groove.

“Good,” said Hoffner. He stood upright, keeping his eyes on Rosa. “Excellent.”

Fichte was not sure what to answer. “. . Thank you.”

Hoffner looked over, not having been listening. “What?” Almost instantly, he added, “Oh, yes. Good. You’re welcome.” He looked back at Rosa. “Now, I want another rut,” he said, tracing a second line on her thigh, “right next to the first one-”

“What exactly are we doing?” said Fichte, his tone a bit more aggressive than either of them expected.

Hoffner stopped and looked at him. “Cutting out ruts,” he said calmly. “Is that all right with you?” After a moment’s hesitation, Fichte nodded. “Good,” said Hoffner; he waited until Fichte had the knife. “This time,” he continued, “hold it with the blade facing into you, with your thumb at the back, as if you were going to jab it into your own stomach. Again, with the flat of the blade parallel to your palm.” Fichte positioned the knife. “Now carve down and toward yourself, between the same points, the same length as before. Exact same length. You understand?” Hoffner waited for a nod and stepped back.

It was a bit tougher going this time, but Fichte eventually created a parallel line. Again, Hoffner leaned in to examine the results. When he stood, he was nodding to himself.

“What?” said Fichte.

Hoffner thought a moment longer, then turned to Fichte. “Clean it out, and see for yourself.”

Fichte took a cloth, dipped it into a jar of alcohol, and swabbed out the ruts. He then drew to within a few centimeters of the body. When he had finished examining his handiwork, Fichte pulled back and smiled, tracing the first line with his finger. “Smooth,” he said; he then traced the second. “Angled and jagged. How did you know?”

“I didn’t,” said Hoffner, “until I watched you.” He took the blade and held it just above the new markings. “Look.” Fichte bent in closer as Hoffner demonstrated. “That second time, when you were cutting downward, toward yourself, the natural inclination is to carve at a raised angle, which means that the stroke becomes clipped and slightly forced. You see? And, at the bottom, in order to intersect the point without going past it, the stroke shortens, making the wrist inadvertently twist inward, thus making the blade curl just a touch. Like this.” Hoffner exaggerated the movement. “Hence the lighter markings to the side, here and here.” Fichte nodded. Hoffner shifted the blade. “Cutting upward, the angle is flatter, less severe, the motion a continuous stroke, smooth. You see? That’s why there was no need to twist to keep it from going past the point at the top.” He extended the blade to Fichte, the lesson complete. “I couldn’t do it myself because I knew what I wanted to see. It would have altered my hand. Not so with you.”

Fichte waited, then took the knife. “So, when do I start seeing all of these things for myself?”

Hoffner picked up the can of dye and walked it back to the shelf. “I don’t know. When you start looking for them?”

“That’s encouraging.”

“Really,” said Hoffner. “It wasn’t meant to be.” He waited, then laughed quietly. “Don’t worry, Hans. It’ll come. The question is”-he moved back to the table-“does it help us? We now know how they’re different. We still don’t know why.”

“So maybe I was right. Maybe he panicked. He was in a rush.”

“And he decided to cut up his latest victim in a way he’s never done before? Does that make any sense to you?” Catching Fichte in mid-breath, Hoffner added, “Think before you answer, Hans.” Fichte waited, then shook his head slowly. “So, what’s the most obvious answer? Two different strokes, so-”

Fichte needed another few seconds. “Two different men?” he said, completely unsure of himself.

“Exactly. A second carver.” Hoffner took a cloth and began to wipe off the brush. “And suddenly our world is far less simple.”

Fichte started to say something but stopped. He looked puzzled. “I’m not sure I’d describe what we’ve been working with so far as ‘simple.’”

“Maybe,” said Hoffner as he finished with the brush and headed for the shelf. “But remember, simple isn’t always the most helpful of things. It’s plain, fixed, consistent.” Hoffner was at the tray, ordering the brushes by size. “Look at us. It’s been simple for the past six weeks, and we’re still finding bodies.”

Fichte was not convinced. “So going from one madman with four anonymous victims to multiple killers with a victim whom everybody knows-not to mention another one who’s been preserved for six weeks-makes our lives better?”

“Better, worse, that’s not the point.” Hoffner put the finishing touches on the brushes. “It gives us more to play with, highlights the deviation. And that”-he made his way back to the table-“is always to our advantage.” He pulled the sheet over Rosa and took off his gloves. “Something to think about. Yes?” Hoffner moved to the sink and began to rinse his hands. He had trouble remembering whether this was the third or fourth time he had tried impressing this point on Fichte. No matter. Someday it would stick. “And progress always deserves a drink.” He brought his hands to a full lather. “How about it, Hans? Have we spent enough time with the ladies for one day?”

Fichte was still mulling over the impromptu lesson. “Shouldn’t we bring the KD up to speed?” he said.

“Hans”-Hoffner rinsed off the last of the soap, trying not to sound too dismissive-“the Herr Kriminaldirektor has been home for the past hour, sitting in front of a nice fire with a far better brandy than you or I will ever drink. He knows these ladies will be here tomorrow. He knows we’ll be here tomorrow. His only concern is that we don’t find any more of them to play with.” Hoffner shook out his hands, turned off the tap, and took a towel. “Unless you want me to drink alone?”

Fichte hesitated. “Well, no,” he said. He moved to the far table and covered up victim number five. “It’s just”-he began to take off his gloves-“I was meeting someone, and-” Fichte struggled to finish the thought.

“Ah,” said Hoffner, saving him the trouble: the prospect of facing dinner at home without something of a distraction beforehand was far more deflating than Fichte’s awkward brush-off. “A different kind of deviation.” The joke was lost on Fichte. “Never mind,” said Hoffner. “Another time.” He pressed a small white button by the sink, and a bell rang beyond the doors to inform the orderlies that the bodies were ready for the ice room.

“No.” Fichte was suddenly more animated. “You should come. I’d like you to come.” Still more steam. “Yes, come. Lina’s even asked about you.”

“Lina,” said Hoffner.

“A friend. A girl.”

“Oh, a girl,” said Hoffner, stating the obvious. He tossed the towel onto the counter. “Then I should definitely not come.”

“No, no. It’s nothing like that,” said Fichte, even more insistent. “Well, I mean it is like that, but it’ll be for a drink. One drink. We can talk about working together. You know.”

“‘Working together,’” Hoffner echoed.

“As detectives.”

“Right,” said Hoffner, more skeptically. “I can tell her what a fine partner you are, the great work you’re doing.”

“Exactly,” said Fichte. “We’ll have some fun.” He continued to gain momentum. “She’s great, my Lina. No. You have to come now. She won’t forgive me if I show up without you.”

“I see.” Hoffner stepped aside. He sat against the counter, arms crossed at his chest, as Fichte started in at the sink. “How can I deprive your Lina of my remarkable company?”

“Yes. Exactly.”

Hoffner watched as Fichte sniffed at his lathered hands. There was something reassuring about this particular fixation of his. Fichte completed his inspection and, finding nothing, rinsed off.

“So,” asked Hoffner, “how long has she been selling flowers along Friedrichstrasse?”

“About three months,” said Fichte offhandedly. He then looked over at Hoffner in complete surprise. “How did you know that?”

Hoffner smiled. “I was also once a twenty-three-year-old Kriminal-Assistent, Hans. Mine was called Celia.”

Fichte shook his head as he turned off the tap and picked up the towel. “No, my Lina’s a nice girl.”

For several seconds, Hoffner stared down at the floor, trying to recall his Celia. He could almost see her, the long, slim frame, the wirelike fingers, the small breasts, all of it, except for the face. He tried to find it-bad skin, pretty-but no, only a vague outline: an endless array of thieves and murderers clear as day, but no Celia. “A nice girl,” he said, still distant. He looked at Fichte. “And what makes you think mine wasn’t?”

Fichte saw the change in Hoffner’s expression. He stopped drying his hands. “. . I didn’t mean-”

Instantly, Hoffner started to laugh. “Well, you’re right. She wasn’t.” When Fichte smiled sheepishly, Hoffner pushed himself up from the counter and said, “All right, one drink, Hans. But anything to impress your Lina will cost you extra.”

Ten minutes later, after having retrieved his coat and having jotted down a few notes, Hoffner joined Fichte out on the square. The rain was misting in tiny drops of water visible only as haloes around the street lamps.

Fichte was enjoying a cigarette; he offered Hoffner a drag, but the smell of the smoke was enough to put anyone off a tasting. Fichte had a girl: he needed to save his pfennigs. Hoffner had always reasoned that the cheaper the tobacco, the greater the capital required to grease the way. From the expression on Fichte’s face each time he inhaled, few came more chaste than little Lina.

There was no reason to ask where they were heading. If Fichte was playing it well-and from the tobacco, he clearly was-he would have progressed to old Josty’s in Leipziger Strasse by now, over in the west, a step up: the cafe was fancy enough so that the girl would feel Fichte was showing her the proper respect, lively enough to know that respect wasn’t really what he was after. Fichte had probably asked one of the boys at headquarters where to take her, someone reliable. Hoffner felt a bit tweaked that Fichte had gone elsewhere for the advice.

“She’s quite popular, is she?” said Fichte as they continued to walk. Hoffner had no idea what Fichte was saying. “Or at least she was.”

“Was what?” said Hoffner. “Who?”

“At the lab. Luxemburg. She was popular.”

“Ah, Luxemburg. I suppose that depends on who you are.” Hoffner pulled up the collar of his coat. “You fancy yourself a Red, then?”

Fichte laughed awkwardly. “Certainly not.”

“So you’re more for the oppression of the masses. The inscrutable certainty of capitalism.”

“The what?” said Fichte.

Hoffner smiled quietly. “Yes. She was popular, Hans.”

Fichte nodded and then said cautiously, “You’re. . 0A0; not a Red, are you, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar?”

Hoffner dug his hands deeper inside his coat pockets. “And what did you have in mind?”

“Well, you know. .” Fichte had been given the go-ahead. “Blowing up buildings, marching in the streets, chaos, that sort of thing.”

“‘That sort of thing,’” Hoffner echoed. “Sounds a bit more like anarchy, don’t you think?”

“Anarchy. Socialism. Same thing.”

“I’ll leave the distinctions to you, shall I?”

Fichte hesitated. “She was a Jew,” he said with surprising certainty.

Hoffner nodded to himself. “Well, then, there you have it. The complete picture.” They ducked in behind a cart and headed across the street. Hoffner said, “You know, your anarchist wasn’t always waving her fists from balconies, Hans, but then you’re probably too young to remember that.” Hoffner hopped up onto the curb.

“Really?” said Fichte, following.

“Really.”

They continued to walk in silence until Fichte managed, “How so?”

The boy was genuinely keen on the subject. Hoffner said, “It might do you to pick up a newspaper now and then, Hans.”

Fichte nodded. “It might, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar, but then I’ve always got you if I don’t.”

Hoffner had never heard Fichte’s playful side: the prospect of seeing his girl was evidently working wonders. “Fair enough,” said Hoffner. “It was before the war, around the time they hanged that Hennig fellow for the Treptow murders. You remember the case?” Fichte nodded. “Frulein Luxemburg printed an article in one of her papers, something about how the average soldier was being mistreated by his officers. Not that this was any great news to anyone, but she claimed that it had gotten out of hand. Lots of press after that. A Red coming to the aid of the army’s downtrodden. Powerful stuff.”

Fichte was skeptical. “Luxemburg did that. . 0A0; for the soldiers?”

“She wasn’t trying to scrap the whole business, Hans-she wasn’t angling for them to disband the army or hang the culprits-she just wanted a bit of fair play.”

“Oh,” Fichte conceded.

“Naturally, the General Staff didn’t like it. They said that she’d insulted the entire breed-from the lowest scrub all the way up to General von Falkenhayn himself-so they put her on trial. Wanted to teach her a lesson, show her how easily a little Red could be crushed by the might of the Imperial Army. Except the soldiers started showing up in droves to give testimony, and all of them saying that she’d gotten it right. Something of a humiliation for the boys on top.”

“I don’t remember hearing-”

Reading, Hans. It required a bit of reading. Anyway, Rosa came out of it the most popular girl in town. First the workers, then the soldiers. She had a little army behind her, this little Jewess with the funny walk. That’s why they threw her in prison when the war broke out. And why those same boys she’d helped all those years before were so eager to hunt her down once the war was over. They were officers by then. Not terribly appreciative, were they?”

Fichte waited before answering with a grin, “You’re sure you’re no Red, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar?”

Hoffner smiled with him. “It’s not all wild Russians and unwashed masses, Hans. There was a bit of courage in what she did-even for a socialist-and you have to respect that.”

The two walked past the darkened shops of Konigsstrasse and up alongside the walls of the Royal Palace-recent victim of its own revolutionary clash, and now forced to play the role of impotent relic. This, thought Hoffner, was to be the home of the new government. Already it seemed to be screaming out “bureaucracy!” to the socialist upstarts champing at the bit-rococo and baroque ousted by the dull gray furnishings of reform. From a certain angle, the four-block behemoth actually looked like a massive legion of filing cabinets. Maybe the social democrats knew more than they were letting on?

Wilhelmine Berlin reemerged as they crossed the Platz and started down the always-vibrant Unter den Linden. Hoffner marveled that, even in the aftermath of revolution, the avenue maintained an almost pristine elegance: trams, buses, people, were all decorously in tune with each other. Not a single tree within the dual column at its center had fallen-to battle or to firewood-although a few limbs had snapped under the push of onlookers during those first wild forays in late December. Those not lucky enough to have merited access to the upper floors of the various stores and hotels-or who had simply been daring enough to venture outside-had been forced up into the bigger branches for their vantage points. Thus had the twin line succumbed to the weight of rebellion. Still, Hoffner had to concede that, socialist or not, Berliners had known themselves well enough to leave the avenue in one piece. It was, after all, far more than just another rendering of the grand European boulevard. It was-it would always be-the city’s conduit between east and west, between the grind of labor and the gate of privilege, between his own world and the world of nobility. Revolution or not, Hoffner knew that that line could never be broken. It had made a certainty of defeat even before the first shots had been fired.

Unbreakable, however, was not the way the avenue presented itself to him tonight. Where stone and light and trees sprouted, Hoffner saw only the rising shoulder blades of the Alex and the Brandenburg Gate, the crisscrossing carvings of the well-lamped Friedrich and Spandau and Charlotten Strassen; even the elfin spire of Hedwig Church seemed now like a jagged imperfection dug out by a flawed blade. Hoffner gazed at the passing bodies, trams, automobiles, all of them caught inside the impenetrable pattern of a madman’s imagination, their movements dictated by the sudden twists and turns, and all perfectly synchronous and smooth. Variations in speed, angle, and direction faded as the avenue breathed life into the design. And within it walked Nikolai Hoffner, a willing speck in its circulation. He had allowed himself to believe that the pattern would rise up, reveal its meaning, if only he could maintain the ruse, convince it that he, too, belonged on the diameter-cut.

A child darted away from its mother; a man dropped to his knee; a tram screeched to a stop. And the pattern dissolved.

The Brandenburg Gate-once again stone-loomed above, and Hoffner heard words. Fichte was saying something. Hoffner continued to walk: he decided to let Fichte’s droning die out on its own.

As it turned out, Fichte was merely pointing out a tram and, expecting no response, had raced off to hold the door. It took another moment for Hoffner to catch on before he put some life into his legs, ran up, and jumped on. He was greeted by several muted hrumphs from the seated passengers. A flash of his badge to the conductor quieted any further commentary.

Hoffner moved to the back of the car and gazed out at the receding avenue. He tried to find the pattern again, but it was gone. Another lost opportunity, he thought. He closed his eyes and let his body sway to the tram’s motion as Fichte checked his watch.

It was another fifteen minutes before Hoffner felt a tug on his sleeve. He opened his eyes to see Fichte moving to the door, the lighted sign of Cafe Jostin growing nearer and nearer through the tram’s window. They had arrived in Potsdamer Platz. Two uniformed Schutzis stood at either end of the square’s traffic circle, trying to impose order. Hoffner smiled at their ineptitude: even the buses seemed to be ignoring them. He moved toward the door where Fichte was waiting impatiently. The tram came to a stop and the two hopped off.

“I didn’t know the badge gets us a free ride,” said Fichte, quickening his pace as they crossed the square.

“Only mine,” said Hoffner, aware that Fichte was too far ahead to hear him.

Hoffner let Fichte lead the way as they approached the caf’s large front windows, several long panes of glass that stretched nearly half a block. The bodies inside were packed in tightly, standing and sitting, an amorphous mass on view for the curious passerby. Pieces of conversation spilled out onto the street with each opening and closing of the door, at this hour in constant flux from the young clerks and salesgirls recently unchained from their posts at Wertheim’s and the other stores along the avenue. A slightly rougher crew-those who had left carts and other street-front enterprises-milled about around the bar. By eight o’clock it would be a different crowd altogether, a touch more sophisticated and with a few extra marks in their pockets for the second page of the menu. Until then, however, beer, not wineglasses, sat atop the marble tables; paper napkins served in place of the cloth; and those immaculately bleached white coats remained on their hooks-the long, if slightly dingy, waiters’ aprons sufficient for the early clientele.

From the eagerness in his stride, Fichte was clearly hoping to escape the changing of the guard. By then, if all had gone well, Hoffner expected him to have little Lina on his arm for a walk in the Tiergarten, her coat too thin for the cold, a needed arm around her shoulder-better yet-around her waist. Hoffner saw the evening’s performance playing out in Fichte’s eyes as his young assistant stepped over to the door.

“You go on in,” said Hoffner, still lagging behind. “I’m going to have a quick smoke.” Before Fichte could answer, Hoffner had a cigarette in his hand. “Come on, Hans. She’ll want a minute or two alone with you. You have to give her that, don’t you?” Fichte’s confusion gave way to a look of reluctant appreciation. Maybe an old detective inspector had more to offer than Fichte realized, than any of the young guns back at headquarters realized? If not, at least Hoffner was feeling himself back in the game. Or vindicated. Or not.

Fichte shrugged with a nod, opened the door, and moved inside. Hoffner watched him go as he tongued the end of his cigarette, lit it, and stepped over to the window, just out of reach of the lights. Taking in a long draw, he peered in from the shadows.

He saw her almost at once, even before Fichte did, impossible to miss her by the side wall. She was seated alone, with a small glass of beer perched at the edge of her table. She could have been any number of girls-a younger version of this morning’s encounter, perhaps-but Hoffner knew better. This one had a long way to go before stepping up to those ranks, her reputation clearly still her own. Even so, it was a plain face that gazed out, small nose, full mouth, with a curling of brown-blond hair pulled back and parted at the side. Her shoulders, slouching forward just enough, gave her slight bosom some depth, and, with her coat draped over the back of her chair, her slender arms lay bare as they disappeared into her lap. She sat, neither charmed nor daunted by the affectation all around her. Fichte had chosen well: maybe he would be the one to save her? From the look of her, she might even save herself.

She took a sip of beer, licked her lower lip-the tongue lingering just an instant too long-and sat back. She caught sight of Fichte and raised an arm, and Hoffner realized that perhaps he had underestimated her. The face transformed with a smile. Her eyes, unremarkable to this moment, sparked at the sight of Fichte, not with an adolescent excitement, but with something far more self-possessed. It gave her entire face a brightness. It would have been difficult to call it beauty, but it was no less riveting. Hoffner watched as Fichte maneuvered his way through the tables, as he leaned down to kiss her cheek, and sat beside her. She offered him her beer. He looked around for a waiter. When none could be found, Fichte coyly accepted the glass and began to speak between sips.

There was something fascinating in the way she watched Fichte talk, something Hoffner had not expected: she was leaning back. There was no need to perch forward, no attempt to show her undying interest, no sudden laughter, no distractions to sate her vanity. That scene was playing itself out at too many of the other tables. Here, she was actually listening. When she finally spoke, it was with a genuine conviction that, to Hoffner, was as out of place as it was compelling. He found himself drawn in, watching her speak, her every word, closer and closer to the glass, until, with a start, he saw her staring back at him. He stood there, suddenly aware of the shadows no longer around him.

A piece of ash dropped from his cigarette: it glanced off his hand and he flicked it away. It was only then that he noticed Fichte signaling for him to join them. Hoffner wondered which of the two had spotted him first.

Hoffner took a last drag, then tossed the cigarette to the ground. It fizzed in the puddled pavement as he stepped over to the door and pushed his way through.

The din of chatter rose up at once as if personally welcoming him, an imagined “Nikolai!” drawing his attention to a swarm of bodies off to his right. Hoffner turned back and pointed his way past the matre d’ as he made his way over to the table and Fichte, who was standing. Hoffner waited for Fichte to present her, and then offered a short bow. “Frulein.” Before Lina could respond, Hoffner had lassoed a waiter and was ordering three glasses of Engelhardt’s. Fichte moved around to the other side of the table and allowed Hoffner to take his chair. The two men sat. “I’m sure your girl can do with a glass of her own,” said Hoffner. He placed his hat on the empty seat across from her.

Lina said, “You didn’t have to smoke outside, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” Her voice was low and inviting, and just as self-assured as Hoffner had imagined. “I wouldn’t have minded.”

“No,” said Hoffner, reaching in his pocket and retrieving the pack, “I don’t think you would have, Frulein.” He took a cigarette for himself, then offered one to Fichte. “The rain’s let up. I thought I’d take advantage of it.” He saw Fichte’s hesitation. “Come on, Hans. Better than that mll you’ve been smoking. Do us all some good.” Fichte looked at Lina, smiled sheepishly, and took the cigarette. “Can’t understand why he smokes them,” said Hoffner, striking a match and lighting Fichte’s. Not giving her time to answer, Hoffner said, “Must have some reason, eh, Frulein?” He lit his own and tossed the match into the ashtray.

Fichte cut in quickly. “I don’t usually smoke around Lina.”

“That’s a noble fellow,” said Hoffner. He picked at a piece of stray tobacco on his tongue.

“She says she doesn’t mind,” said Fichte. “Naturally, I can do what I like.”

“Well,” said Hoffner, “that’s very open-minded of you, Frulein.”

“Thank you, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” she said. “Hans tells me your case is getting more and more interesting. That must be exciting.”

The word “exciting” had never sounded so raw. Hoffner smiled. “Nikolai. Please. For such a close friend of Hans.”

Fichte perked up. “Thank you, Herr Krim. . 0A0; Hoff. . 0A0; Nikolai.”

“And you must call me Lina,” she said, her eyes fixed on him.

Hoffner felt her gaze as he tapped out a head of ash into the tray. “That’s very kind, Frulein Lina.”

“Not at all, Nikolai.”

Again, he peered at her. Hoffner wondered if Fichte knew what he was dealing with here.

The beers arrived. Fichte tossed back what remained of his first glass and handed the empty to the waiter. He then picked up his new glass and proposed a toast. “To. .” It was as much as he had prepared.

“To new friends,” said Lina.

“Yes,” said Fichte enthusiastically. “New friends.”

Hoffner raised his glass, then took a sip. He placed his glass back on the table and said, “So, you’ve never told me how the two of you met.”

It was all the prompting Fichte needed; with an occasional “Really, Hans-an ice-skating rink?” Hoffner had bought himself another few minutes to study Lina.

He now realized that the view from the window had not come close to doing the girl justice. Not that she was all that much more attractive. True, there were a pair of rather nice legs that had been lost under the table-her dress had risen to just above the knee and hinted at an even greater loveliness higher up the thigh-but it was nothing so mundane as a physical reappraisal that intrigued Hoffner. Lina had an energy, instantly perceptible, that told of a past and a future filled with daring and, above all, conquest, none of it garish or cheap, but intensely real, like the eyes that stared across at Hans and his stories of their recent present. The only mystery for Hoffner was why she had lighted upon his assistant, his well-meaning, young, very young, Hans as her escort.

“Hans exaggerates that part,” said Lina as she took his hand. “It was a little jump, and I almost fell.”

“She was magnificent, Nikolai,” said Fichte. “Truly.”

It was the first time Hoffner had heard Fichte sound comfortable using his name: remarkable thing, the touching of hands.

Hoffner took a long swig of beer. He stopped for breath, finished off the glass, and then placed it on the table. “It all sounds very romantic,” he said as he patted at his pockets for some coins. “Sadly. .”

“Oh, no,” said Fichte. “You’re not going yet. And you’re certainly not paying when you do.” It was clear Fichte was already feeling the effects of the alcohol. Before Hoffner could stop him, Fichte was on his feet. “We have to find you some company. We can’t share Lina, you know, if we’re going dancing.”

Fichte was lost to the melee of tables and waiters before Hoffner could put out a hand to stop him. Even so, Hoffner swatted at the air before sitting back.

“He knows you won’t stay,” said Lina. “But he wants to make the effort.”

Hoffner started looking for a waiter. “Another mouth to feed.”

“You don’t have to do that, Nikolai.”

The mention of his name stopped Hoffner. The sound of it now felt wrong, not that hearing it had ever stopped him in the past. A waiter appeared. “Four more glasses,” said Hoffner.

“Three,” said Lina.

“Three,” said Hoffner, “and a dish of ice cream, vanilla, for the lady.” He turned to her. “Do you like nuts?”

“We have no nuts, mein Herr,” said the waiter.

Hoffner continued to stare at Lina. “Then we don’t want any.” Lina smiled. Hoffner tried not to enjoy it as much as he did.

The man seemed confused. “But we don’t-”

Hoffner turned back to the waiter. “Just the ice cream, then,” he said, relieving the man of any further mental anguish. When the waiter had gone, Hoffner turned again to Lina. “Ah,” he said, and shook his head. “I should have asked for chocolate sauce. You do like chocolate sauce?”

“Yes. They wouldn’t have had any.”

Hoffner retrieved his cigarette from the ashtray. “No,” he said as he watched the line of smoke peel upward. “I’m surprised they had the ice cream.” He took a long pull on the cigarette. “You’re nineteen. Give or take.”

“Give or take.”

“Funny, you don’t seem nineteen.”

“No. I don’t.” She waited, then brought her wrist up toward him. “Hans gave me this. For my birthday.”

Hoffner leaned over and admired the cheap little bracelet, a thin silver plate chain. He made sure to keep his eyes on the trinket. He could feel her eyes on him. “Very handsome.” He sat back, took another pull, then crushed out the remaining cigarette. “He’ll make a good detective,” said Hoffner, continuing to play with the stub. He had no idea why he had volunteered the information when he didn’t believe it himself.

“He’ll like to hear that,” said Lina.

“Then you mustn’t tell him.”

She laughed: there was nothing coy or timid about it. Hoffner wanted to laugh, as well. Instead, he released the cigarette and brushed off his hands. “And it seems you’re fascinated with police investigations.”

“I wouldn’t say fascinated.”

“Excited, then.”

“Not really. Hans wanted me to ask you.”

Hoffner nodded slowly. “I see.” She had given in too quickly. “Clever boy, our Hans.” He took a sip of beer. Lina did the same.

“He thinks a great deal of you, you know,” she said.

“Of course he does.” Hoffner placed the glass back on the table. “I’m his detective inspector.”

“No. I mean a great deal.”

“He’ll get over it.” Hoffner felt something fast approaching from behind him. His sense of relief was equally palpable. “Aha,” he said. “What’s she look like?”

Lina immediately peered past him. Her eyes widened as she gave in to a grin and spoke under her breath. “You don’t want to know.”

“Then I’m sorry for you. You’ll have a tough time getting rid of her once I’m gone.”

Lina’s eyes told him that Fichte was almost upon them. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll get rid of her.” Hoffner had no doubt of it.

“Look who I’ve found,” came Fichte’s too-loud voice from behind as he drew up.

Hoffner turned. A short redhead, dyed almost to the roots, had an arm around Fichte’s waist; her other was reaching out for Hoffner. She was, by conservative estimates, a good 120 kilos, something of a miracle given the food situation in Berlin. And she was clearly proud of her heft. Her age was anybody’s guess.

“Fat Gerda!” barked the woman as she managed to slap a paw onto Hoffner’s shoulder. “That’s who he’s found for you, you lucky boy!”

The smell of alcohol was equally aggressive, a bit much even for the pre-eight-o’clock crowd. “Just my type,” said Hoffner as he stood.

“I knew it,” said Fichte, a lilt to his voice that told them he had had another pop at the bar during his search. Hoffner recalled the first time he had gone out drinking with the boy, the night after he had introduced Fichte to the “cattle yard” and his first abandoned baby. The stench had been enough to lead them directly to the flat; they had both needed a drink after that. By the third beer, Fichte had been singing, a remarkably quick drunk for such a big man. Hoffner had pinned it on the lungs. Better to think that everything stemmed from that one defect than to consider the larger Fichte picture.

“I’ve seen your wife, Nikolai,” said Fichte. “This one’s perfect!” He laughed loudly and Gerda joined in. Lina did her best to enjoy them from a distance.

“Can’t argue with that, now can I?” said Hoffner as he retrieved his hat and stood. His own Martha may not have been as trim as little Lina, but she was still a few fighting classes removed from Gerda. “That’s inductive reasoning at its finest, Hans,” he said. “You’re really showing me something here, tonight. Very impressive.”

Fichte flopped down onto the chair across from Lina. He looked more than dazed. “Hello, Lina,” he said.

“Hello, Hans,” she answered.

“Mine’s old,” said Gerda. Hoffner was praying she was referring to him. She was trying to find a seat for herself but was having trouble squeezing in behind Fichte. “I don’t like this Lina person,” she said to no one in particular. Gerda suddenly burst out laughing and bumped Fichte into the table. Forcing her way through, she lowered herself onto the chair: seated, she virtually lunged across at Lina. “I didn’t mean it,” said Gerda, her words as undulating as the thick flesh on her arms. “You know I didn’t mean it. You’re such a sweet little pretty thing for your young man. Even if he came to find me.” She did her best to shake out her hair, her massive chest jiggling with the movement. It was an odd blend of the coy and the vulgar. “He’s yours, you know,” she added. “Not mine. Yours.” She peered up at Hoffner, then took a playful swipe at him across the table. “That’s mine.”

Lina smacked Gerda across the face, a lithe, swift movement. A nail scraped and Gerda’s cheek bled.

For several seconds, Gerda remained motionless. Only when she sat back did she bring her hand to her face. She looked at her fingers, saw the blood, and her disbelief turned to rage. Again she lunged.

Almost without effort, Hoffner caught her wrist, twisted, and pinned her to the table. It was remarkable to see that much size incapable of movement. “Don’t,” was all he said.

Through it all, Lina didn’t so much as flinch. Fichte tried to follow the proceedings, but it was too much for him. No one at the surrounding tables showed the least bit of interest. In a calm, quiet voice, Hoffner said, “You might want to move over by Hans, Frulein.” Lina got up and stepped to Fichte’s side.

Still manipulating the wrist, Hoffner got Gerda to her feet and moved her around to the other side of the table. He was standing between the two women when he released her. He handed Gerda a napkin. “It’s not so bad, is it?” he said. Gerda tried to look past him to Lina, but Hoffner shifted his weight so as to block her view. “Is it?” he said again. Gerda looked up at him. She shook her head slowly. “No, I didn’t think so,” he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few coins. “No reason for you to come back, is there?”

It took Gerda a moment before she pocketed the money. Again she shook her head. Then, stepping slowly away, she continued to peer around Hoffner. “That’s not right, you know,” she said. “That’s not right at all.” At a safe distance, she looked at Hoffner. “I know Pimm.” She continued to move away, a finger wagging back at him. “Pimm doesn’t stand for that sort of thing.”

Hoffner knew the name well, a top boy with one of the larger syndicates: fencing, pimping. Gerda needed a friend like that, although she should have been a bit better with her geography. Pimm’s terrain was back near the Landsberger Allee. East. This was more Sass brothers’ territory. Still, he appreciated the effort. Hoffner reached into his coat pocket and produced his badge. He placed it on the table. Gerda’s expression changed instantly. “You tell Pimm I’ll keep that in mind,” he said.

Gerda looked as if she might say something. Instead, she turned and quickly moved off. Hoffner waited until she was a few more tables on before turning back. He kept his profile to Lina. “Not much of a dancer,” he said.

“No,” said Lina quietly.

Hoffner knew there would be nothing more by way of explanation, not that he needed one. He placed his hat on his head and retrieved the badge from the table. He then peered down at Fichte. “Probably best to take your walk a little early tonight, Hans. You could use the air.”

Fichte looked up. His eyes were anything but focused. He did his best with a nod.

Finally, Hoffner looked at Lina. He knew he would see nothing in the girl’s eyes to hint at what had prompted the sudden entertainment. She was, at that moment, completely unknowable. Hoffner nodded once. “Frulein,” he said.

She swayed slightly to stop him from going “We should do this right, sometime,” she said. She then placed a hand on Fichte’s shoulder. “You, me, and Hans.”

Hoffner held her gaze. “Good night, Frulein.” He then slapped a hand at Fichte’s arm. “Tomorrow morning at eight, Hans. Wouldn’t want to disappoint the KD.”

The ice cream arrived; Hoffner was already off in the crowd.

By eight, he was back at the block of flats on Friesen Strasse, following the echo of his own steps across the vast and empty stone courtyard and into the entryway marked D. He still had to remind himself it was D: they had lived in F for almost twelve years, up until a year ago when the larger place had come available. Martha had insisted he use his position as a Kripo detective to make sure they got it. Who was he to argue? Two or three families on the floor still refused to talk to him, though Martha seemed to find a kind of vindication in their bitterness. He had preferred F. Nicer carpeting on the stairs up.

The long walk south to Kreuzberg had done little to make sense of the minor drama at Josty’s. Hoffner wondered how much of it he had provoked himself: he knew entirely, but his ego was allowing him a little leeway. Why shouldn’t she want to impress him? The problem was, why was he so desperate to be impressed? He had managed to keep himself in check since Victor’s death, a poor attempt at gallantry in the name of a fallen comrade, but even Hoffner was having trouble these days convincing himself that lethargy was particularly noble. As he passed the third floor, he realized the point was moot. Fichte was probably off somewhere staking his claim, right now. It had been that kind of an evening. Then again, Hoffner remembered the tobacco. She might just be putting up a good fight. He made his way up to the fourth floor and let himself in.

The smell of boiled cabbage and some distant relative of meat greeted him at the door. It would taste better than it smelled; it always did with Martha. His youngest, Georgi-Georg to his friends, now that he had reached the advanced age of seven-was waiting for him in the front hall, his slippered feet dangling above the carpet, his long nightshirt lapping at his shins. His head, drooped to his chest, sprang instantly to life as Hoffner stepped through the doorway. Georgi held a piece of paper in his hands. He raced over and hugged his father around the waist. Just as quickly, he held the paper up to Hoffner’s face. “It’s two weeks from Sunday,” he said. “And the tickets are very reasonable.”

Hoffner took the paper. Very reasonable, he thought. Evidently, Georgi had gotten to Martha first.

It was an advertisement for an air show out at Johannisthal, a political maneuver masquerading as a father-and-son afternoon outing. The profile of a handsome young sky pilot filled much of the page, with tiny aeroplanes and zeppelins swarming about his head and chest. One actually seemed to be flying up his nose. To his credit, the young pilot was standing firm.

The Ebert government was being clever, thought Hoffner, taking everyone back to the gentler days. Hoffner had gone several times with his older boy, Sascha, when Georgi had been too little. The shows had stopped, for obvious reasons, and Georgi had spent the last three years reminding anyone who would listen of his considerable deprivation. It had not helped that Sascha had kept several posters of the Deutscher Rundflug-the monthlong rally across Germany-plastered above his bed. “You’re sure you want to go?” said Hoffner with feigned surprise. “It looks like it’s just some old Albatros D-threes, maybe a few Halberstadt C-types. But if that’s all right with you-”

“Papi!” said Georgi with a look of total incomprehension. He grabbed the paper back and began to scan it with ratlike intensity. His tight dark curls bobbed as he read. Again, he thrust it at Hoffner. “Six-cylinder, liquid-cooled in-line engine! A Fokker D-seven!”

“A D-seven, you say?” said Hoffner. “Well, then we really have no choice, do we?” He handed back the sheet and set off down the hall. Georgi seemed to dance his way behind.

The living and dining rooms were dark as father and son passed them along their way to the kitchen, twenty years of accrued furnishings-an amassed life-erased by the shadows, leaving only soulless outlines. Martha preferred it that way.

She was at the sink, cleaning up the last of the boys’ dinner, her own small plate of potatoes and meat just off to the side, when Hoffner stepped into the kitchen. Her hair was pulled up in a bun, a few stray wisps tickling at her neck. It was still a fine neck, white and soft, in strict contrast to the hands that ran through the steaming water: the one sign of her age-not in the face, not in the full, strong shape of her figure-only in the hands. They had become oddly rough.

A bowl of brown soup and a loaf of bread awaited him on the table. Hoffner tossed his coat onto an empty chair and sat. Georgi was right behind him.

“I thought I told you to get into bed,” said Martha without turning around.

Hoffner thought of something clever to say; instead he picked up his spoon and started in on the soup. It was already cold.

“Papi said we can go,” said Georgi, sidling up to her.

Martha shook out a plate and placed it on the rack. “I told you he would. You weren’t supposed to wait up for him.”

Georgi looked back at his father for help. Hoffner nodded sympathetically, but said nothing. It seemed to take the air out of the little man. Georgi’s shoulders slunk forward and he started slowly for the door. “I just wanted to tell you, that’s all,” he said with exaggerated dejection.

“Good night, Georgi,” said Martha.

“Good night,” he said. Just as he was at the door, he raced over to his father and hugged him tightly. He whispered in his ear. “I knew you would, Papi. I just wanted to show it to you, that’s all.”

Hoffner squeezed the little body into his own. The boy’s back was wonderfully bony. Hoffner wondered how many more of these embraces he would be allowed. He kissed Georgi on the neck then whispered back, “I’m glad you waited for me, too.”

Georgi was gone by the time Martha joined him at the table. Hoffner concentrated on his soup. “Where’s Sascha?” he asked.

“Was she worth the struggle?” said Martha, calmly focusing on peeling back the skin of one of her potatoes.

Hoffner looked up, mildly perplexed.

“Your hand, Nicki,” she said, still with the potato. “Glad to see you didn’t feel it.”

Hoffner looked at the back of his hand. Two thin scratch marks ran across the veins, undeniably a woman’s nails. They had begun to scab. He laughed quietly. “Fichte’s got a girl,” he said as he dabbed at them with a bit of saliva. “We went for a drink. He wanted to get a friend for me.” Hoffner went back to the soup. “I wasn’t inclined-this time.” Over the bowl, he saw the hint of a smile in her eyes.

“Pretty?” said Martha.

“Not the one with the nails.” When he saw the full smile, he added, “She’s all right. Too thin.”

“Do you want them for dinner sometime?”

“Not if we can help it.” He continued with the soup. “Where’s Sascha?”

Martha looked up from her food and peered over at the door.

Hoffner turned to see his older boy standing there. Sascha was in his school uniform-short pants and tie-his jet-black hair combed crisply, his expression quietly defiant. Had he been wearing the jacket, Hoffner might have mistaken him for an adolescent Kriminal-Oberkommissar Braun-a slightly rounder face, but an equally dismissive stare. As for the jacket, it had already been hung up in the bathroom. Martha was convinced that the steam-pipe air was keeping it somehow fresher. It had become a nightly ritual.

“Hello, Father.” The boy addressed him as if he were one of his school instructors. Probably Herr Zessner, thought Hoffner. He taught physics. Sascha hated physics.

“Hello there, Sascha.” Hoffner had given up trying to diffuse these first few moments, terrifying as they were. He turned back to his near-empty bowl and did his best to find a last few drops with his spoon. “We’re off to Johannisthal two weeks from Sunday,” he said. “You’re welcome to join us, if you like.” When Sascha failed to answer, Hoffner pulled off a wedge of the bread. The boy continued to stand in silence.

“You know he doesn’t like that anymore,” said Martha, her voice with the hint of a reprimand. Hoffner knew it was for Sascha’s benefit.

“Doesn’t like what?” said Hoffner, knowing exactly what she was referring to. “Air shows?”

It had been a slow process, this, the losing of a son. Hoffner would have loved to point to the most obvious moment for its origin-Martha on the ground, Sascha staring at him in disbelief-but, if he was being honest, he knew he needed to go back further than that. The choice to remain faithful to his wife had sapped Hoffner of something vital. Rather than simply narrowing the focus, it had eliminated the beam entirely: he had shut it all down. In an odd way, that moment of infinite regret had been the final dousing of the flame. Sascha had even forgiven him for it, but by then Hoffner had become unreachable. He might have convinced himself that it was to keep the temptations at bay. He did, for a while, but even Hoffner knew better than that. It had only been a matter of time before the boy had given up trying. Recent events had simply taken Sascha over the edge.

“He wants to be called Alexander,” said Martha. “He’s asked you several times.”

“That’s right,” said Hoffner, nodding as if he only now remembered. “I must be losing track with all these name changes around here. Georg, Alexander.” He turned to Sascha. “But yours has nothing to do with age. You’re simply ashamed of your Russian past.”

The boy held his ground. “I’m surprised you’re not, Father.” His voice sounded more like his mother’s than he had wanted; the sharpness in his tone, however, more than made up for the pitch.

Hoffner almost let himself get drawn in. Instead he turned back, took the wedge of bread, and dunked it in the tiny puddle of soup. “No, that’s true. We Bolsheviks do like to stay together.” He took a bite.

“Don’t make fun of him, Nikolai,” said Martha. “You don’t have to go to that school every day.”

Hoffner looked across at her, the first hint of frustration in his eyes. He swallowed. He could sense that Sascha, too, was unhappy that his mother had come to his defense. “Yes,” said Hoffner, his tone now more pointed as he mopped up the last of the soup, “I suppose giving in to them is the best choice.”

Sascha had reached the limits of his self-control. His cheeks flushed; his large eyes grew larger still. “You think you know, but you don’t,” he said with as much restraint as he could. “You think you can laugh about it, like you laugh about everything else. Well, I’m glad they killed them. I’m glad they killed those Reds. I’m a German. A German. I’m not like them. I’ll never be like them.”

Sascha saw his mother start toward him; with a look, he stopped her. He waited for his father to turn. When Hoffner continued to stare into his bowl, Sascha bolted from the room. Martha stood to go after him, but Hoffner quickly reached out and held her back. She turned to him. She said nothing.

The ring of the telephone startled them both.

It was a recent addition. Headquarters had been insisting for years that Hoffner have one installed: a detective inspector needed to be reached. Hoffner saw it otherwise: the one at the porter’s gate was sufficient; nothing could be that pressing. Prager, however, was not to be denied. So, with the new flat had come the new device. To Hoffner’s way of thinking, they might just as well have removed the building’s walls: anyone could break through now, so what difference did it make?

In the year they had had it, the telephone had rung twice: the first at a prearranged minute so that Hoffner could sing to Georgi on his birthday; the second for a misconnection. Neither time had the ring occurred later than four in the afternoon.

Hoffner let go of Martha’s arm, jarred if not slightly relieved. The look on her face had turned to panic. He gave her a reassuring shake of the head, stood, and headed out into the hall, she behind him, stopping at the living room door as he found a light and moved across the room to the telephone. She waited in the hall. Georgi was already at her side as Sascha appeared from behind the two of them.

Hoffner said, “Go back to your room, boys.” It was a tone of voice he rarely used. Georgi and Sascha quickly moved back down the hall and Hoffner picked up the receiver. “Hello?” It was Fichte. He sounded frantic. “Yes, it’s me,” said Hoffner.

“She’s missing,” came the rasped voice over the line.

“Calm down, Hans,” said Hoffner. “Who’s missing? Where are you?”

There was a pause. Fichte tried to control himself. “At headquarters. The morgue. No one’s here.”

It took Hoffner a moment to digest the information. “Headquarters? What are you doing at the morgue? Calm down.”

Another pause. “Lina wanted to see.”

“You took the girl-” He stopped himself. Again, he needed a moment. Then, in a strong, controlled voice, he said, “This is a police matter. Anyone on the line, please disengage.” The sound of the operator’s click brought him back to Fichte. Again, Hoffner spoke very deliberately. “You need to explain to me, Hans, why you took Lina to the morgue, and then you need to tell me who is missing.”

“We’d come before,” said Fichte, his panic mounting. “It was nothing. The guard let us look around.”

Hoffner had trouble believing what he was hearing. With a practiced calm, he said, “All right. And who is missing?”

There was a long pause on the line. Finally Fichte said, “No one’s here. No guard. And the body-”

“Which body, Hans?” Hoffner cut in. He could hear Lina in the background. “Not a name, Hans, just left or right.”

Another silence. It was clear Fichte was trying to orient himself. “Right,” he said. “Right is missing.”

“All right,” said Hoffner. “Send the girl home. She’s to say nothing. You understand?” A muted “Yes” crackled on the line. “Stay there. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He paused. “You’re not to do a thing.”

Hoffner placed the receiver in its cradle. He stood there staring at it for several seconds. Missing. What was Fichte-the thought turned his stomach. Hoffner looked at Martha. She was already holding his coat.

416

The first cabs began to appear up by the Hallesches Gate: at this hour, the great marble Peace Column at its center-a nod to a way of life the German people had yet to grasp-stood as the outermost edge of the city’s nightlife. The few cabs that did venture this far south raced around the bright-lit obelisk at speeds of almost forty-five kilometers an hour, all too eager to get back north and the possibility of a fare out to the rarefied air of Charlottenburg. Hoffner had no choice but to stand out in the middle of the roundabout, his badge held windshield high, before he finally flagged one down.

At the Alex, a trio of seasoned Soldaten had replaced the boy-soldiers from this afternoon; the night shift around headquarters evidently required a sterner face. Hoffner produced his badge, then his papers-a necessity in the city these days-and impatiently waited while they slowly pored over them. “New evidence, just in,” he said. “A murder case.” At once, all three looked up at him.

Hoffner always found this strangely amusing, if not slightly disturbing: hardened men, who in the last five years had witnessed more death than he had seen in his twenty with the Kripo, never failed to flinch at the mention of murder. Until a few weeks ago, he had seen it as a kind of vanity, the nobility of their own art-the defense of a nation’s honor-sneering down at the dirty business of pure killing. He wondered, however, how far the revolution had gone to shake that certitude.

“Good,” said the oldest of the three as he slapped the papers into Hoffner’s chest. “All is in order here. You may go in.”

The entrance atrium was empty, a cavernous corridor that ran the length of the building. An older sergeant-Fliegmann or Fliegland, Hoffner could never remember which-sat behind the now superfluous security desk at its center, the dim gaslight overhead just enough to give the newspaper in his hands the pretense of focus; no doubt Fichte and Lina had snuck by without too much of an effort.

“Good evening, Sergeant,” said Hoffner, momentarily startling the man.

FliegFlieg’s recovery was instantaneous. “Good evening, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” he said, laying the paper on the desk. “I wasn’t told you’d been called back in.”

“Lots of activity tonight?” said Hoffner as he signed the sheet. He noticed Fichte’s name was nowhere on the page.

The question seemed to confuse Der Flieger. “No, Herr Inspector. Quiet enough. I suppose those boys outside have something to do with that.” He waited, then took the offensive. “Is there someone you want me to contact for you?” He reached for the phone.

“A scarf, Sergeant,” said Hoffner as he started past the desk and toward the courtyard doors. “I’ll be sleeping on the floor tonight if I come home without it.”

FliegFlieg let go of the receiver with a nod. “Can’t have our detective inspectors sleeping on the floor, now can we?”

The sound of tobacco-laced laughter followed Hoffner out into the courtyard, which was now dotted in tiny pools of reflected moonlight; they gave the impression of countless cats’ eyes peering up at him as he made his way across the cobblestones. He quickly reached the door to the sub-basement, and was pulling it open, when the ring of the phone back at the sergeant’s desk stopped him: instinctively, Hoffner tried to make out what the man was saying, but it was too far off, the echo too thick under the dome. Hoffner let it pass and stepped through to the stairs. At once he found himself in near pitch blackness.

Odd, he thought as the door clicked shut behind him. Fichte would have left the lights on. Or maybe the boy had just been overly cautious? Better yet, maybe he had been setting a mood, although what kind of mood Fichte had learned to fashion in a morgue was anybody’s guess. Hoffner considered the unsettling, if mildly titillating, image as he traced his hands along the wall in search of the lights: the touch of cold steel, he thought. The smell of formaldehyde. Why not? Hoffner located the knob for the lamps and headed down.

Two floors on, he again found himself in virtual darkness. Luckily the light from the stairwell was spilling out just enough to give a sheen to the blackened glass of the morgue’s windows at the far end of the hall; the desk sat empty and there was no sign of Fichte. Hoffner moved down the corridor, his hand along the wall to guide him. To his surprise, he discovered that the doors were locked. He did his best to peer in through the windows, but could see nothing.

Hoffner never felt uneasy in moments like these; he never let the dark create what wasn’t there. Instead he focused on what was out of place, and that was the locked doors. Fichte had been here alone, or at least alone with Lina. He had clearly been inside the ice room to see that a body had gone missing, which meant that he had been beyond these doors. Yet Fichte had no keys for the morgue, no way to lock them. Hoffner again peered in through the glass. “Hans,” he said in an unconvincing whisper.

The sound instantly dissolved into the void beyond. The silence grew more acute and made the sudden ring of the telephone on the desk like a kick to the ribs. It snapped Hoffner’s head to the side as he waited for a second, then a third ring. He stepped over and slowly placed his hand on the receiver-the feel of the vibration in his palm-before picking up. Hoffner listened through the silence.

“Yes?” he finally said; it was more a question than an invitation.

Kriminal-Kommissar Hoffner?”

Hoffner did not recognize the voice. “Yes,” he repeated with greater conviction.

“Would you be so kind as to join us on the fourth floor. Zimmer vier-eins-sechs.

“Who is this?” said Hoffner.

“Room four-one-six,” the voice repeated. “Kriminal-Assistent Fichte is with us.” The line disengaged.

For the second time in the last hour, Hoffner found himself staring at a silent receiver. The fourth floor, he thought. The Polpo. Hoffner placed the phone back in its cradle and began to tap at it in the dark. Wonderful.

Locked doors and shadows notwithstanding, his current situation was now crystal clear. Even so, Hoffner felt a first twinge in his gut: this wasn’t what he needed. The deviations he sought-those fine quirks that he had come to recognize-populated a world that, for him, respected the inviolability of truth and falsehood. Naturally, the span between them was where most everything played itself out, but the boundaries themselves remained fixed, and thus tangible: deviation made sense only if there was something genuine to deviate from. That, however, had never been the case with the men of the Polpo: they saw no edges, no discernible absolutes. Even the way they had summoned him-“Zimmer vier-eins-sechs. . 0A0; Kriminal-Assistent Fichte is with us”-reeked of obfuscation and the dramatique. Hoffner pictured a group of university toffs in robes and cowls teaching each other solemn oaths and hand signs, secret societies for the adoration of bad beer and oak tables and girls they knew they would never have. He had seen such groups firsthand in his days at Heidelberg, their trips to the Schwarzwald in the dead of winter so as to run naked through the trees while proclaiming their own divinity, the none-too-subtle markings on their arms or chests or wherever they had chosen to burn the insignia into their flesh, all of it to make certain that their associations, though wrapped in mystery, were at least well enough on display to provoke envy. Hoffner had always felt little more than mild amusement when in their company. He had even been asked to join one of the more exclusive Geheimkreisen in his second year. When he had politely declined, he had been presented with looks of mild shock. He doubted a refusal to join the boys on the fourth floor would elicit a similar response.

Hoffner stood catching his breath on the final landing, the extra flights on either end of his usual three-floor climb having taxed him to his limits. He knew he was in poor condition; he just preferred not to be reminded of it. He mopped a handkerchief across the back of his neck and waited for his heart to dislodge from the base of his throat. No wonder the boys up here were always in such a foul mood.

There was little to distinguish the corridor from its counterpart on the third floor: the intervals between offices were identical; the wood creaked with equal regularity; and the smell of lavatory disinfectant and stale cigarettes lingered in the air. It was all too familiar, except for the little 4s that appeared on each of the office doors. A trivial detail, thought Hoffner, yet monumental: their stark angularity was so contemptuous as compared to the soft curves of the 3s below. In his twenty years with the Kripo, Hoffner had ventured up-or rather, had been summoned up-half a dozen times, always to the same office, always to the same clerk for the mundane exchange of files, yet even the clerk, in his role as bland bureaucrat, had maintained an air of impenetrability, as if he, too, drew strength from those dismissive 4s. There was no such thing as “mild amusement” on the fourth floor.

Room 416 looked to be like any other on the hall. Hoffner heard voices through the door: he knocked once, the din stopped, and a moment later the door opened to reveal Kriminal-Oberkommissar Braun.

“Good evening, Herr Inspector,” said Braun, still immaculately combed and pressed. In a strange twist, he, too, had lost his jacket; Hoffner wondered if there might be a steam pipe somewhere in the vicinity.

“Kriminal-Oberkommissar,” said Hoffner. Braun nodded once and ushered him in.

Two other men stood to the left by a long desk; a third was seated behind. The gaslight was keeping the office as bright as possible. Hans Fichte was by himself in a chair at the far end of the room, bits and pieces of him lost to the shadows. He sat up eagerly as Hoffner entered.

“Kriminal-Assistent,” said Hoffner with a look to keep Fichte where he was.

Fichte seemed slightly disappointed; he settled back into his chair. “Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” he replied quietly.

“Ah, here we are, Nikolai,” said the man from behind the desk. “Nice to see you again.”

Polpo Kriminaldirektor Gerhard Weigland stood and offered his hand. He had aged considerably since Hoffner last saw him: the hair was virtually gone except for a neat ring of curly white at the temples; the beard had grown long and full, stained a mucinous yellow around the chin and moustache from decades of cigarettes; and the face had thickened, pressing the eyes deep into the twin cavities above the gray-red cheeks. Never tall, Weigland seemed squatter still from the added weight. His hand, though, remained powerful. The knuckles drove up through the flesh as if the fingers intended to squeeze the life out of anything they touched.

Hoffner peered at the two other men, then stepped over and took the PKD’s hand. “Herr Kriminaldirektor,” said Hoffner.

“It’s been a long time, Nikolai,” said Weigland; he released and sat. “Only a floor above and-well, a long time.”

“Yes, Herr Kriminaldirektor,” said Hoffner, who remained standing at the edge of the desk.

“It seems your man was in the midst of giving a little tour,” said Weigland through a half-smile.

Hoffner said, “Hans is very enthusiastic, Herr Kriminaldirektor.

“As we discovered,” said Weigland with a laugh. The other men laughed, as well.

Hoffner waited. “I’m sure that’s not why we’re here, Herr Kriminaldirektor. After all, we were all Assistenten once.”

Weigland stared up with a smile that claimed to know Hoffner better than it did: everything about Weigland claimed to know more than it did. “Always right to it,” he said. “A lesson for us all, eh, Herr Oberkommissar?”

Braun, who was now at Weigland’s side, seemed to grow tauter still. “Indeed, Herr Direktor.

“We needed a bit more time with the Luxemburg body,” said Weigland in an equally casual tone. “You understand.”

“We?” said Hoffner, peering again at the two other men.

Weigland followed Hoffner’s gaze. “You know Kommissaren Tamshik and Hermannsohn?”

“No, Herr Kriminaldirektor.

“Ah,” said Weigland. “My mistake.” He made the introductions. “They’ve been brought in, now that it’s a political case.”

Ernst Tamshik had the look of the military about him, the way he kept his hands clasped tightly behind his back, the way his broad shoulders hitched high so as to keep his back ramrod straight. There might even have been something protective to him had it not been for the expression on his face: he was a bully, and a particularly brutal one, judging from the child’s sneer in his eyes, an ex-sergeant major, Hoffner guessed, who had reveled in the terrorizing of his young recruits. But, like all bullies, he had learned to play the innocent while under his mother’s watchful gaze. Hoffner had yet to figure out which of the two, Weigland or Braun, had assumed that role.

Walther Hermannsohn was far less graspable. He was slighter, though just as tall, and had no need for Tamshik’s stifled violence or Braun’s clipped affectation. He projected nothing and, for Hoffner, that made him the most dangerous man in the room.

“A political case?” said Hoffner. “That seems a bit premature, don’t you think, Herr Kriminaldirektor?”

Weigland was momentarily confused. “Premature? Why do you say that?”

Hoffner explained, “Luxemburg has the same markings as the other homicides. Why assume that it wasn’t simply bad luck for her and poor timing for us-or, rather, for you, Herr Kriminaldirektor?”

Weigland tried another unconvincing smile. He shifted slightly in his chair. “It’s just Direktor now, Nikolai. Direktor,Kommissar,Oberkommissar. We’ve dispensed with the Kriminal up here.”

Hoffner waited before answering. “That’s convenient.” Weigland showed no reaction. “Then, my mistake, Herr Direktor.

Weigland’s smile broadened. “No mistake, Nikolai. Just a bit of new information.”

Hoffner nodded once. “Is it also new Polpo policy to take Kripo bodies from the morgue in the middle of the night?”

Weigland was unprepared for the question. Tamshik, however, was not so reticent. He spoke with a clumsy arrogance. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

The look from Braun told Hoffner where the teat lay.

“If,” Braun said calmly, “this is a political case-as the Direktor has just said-then your confusion, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar, seems unwarranted.”

Hoffner continued to look at Weigland. “And the body would simply have found its way back to the morgue by tomorrow morning? Or would my confusion have begun then?”

Braun answered with no hint of condescension: “There are things here you can’t fully understand, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. Luxemburg’s been our case since she got back to Berlin in early November. A Kripo officer happens to find her body in mid-January and you think she’s no longer ours? You must see what little sense that makes.”

“Yes,” said Hoffner. “I’m beginning to see the lack of sense. Did you have a man waiting for her outside the prison gates, Herr Oberkommissar, or does the Polpo leave the distant edges of the empire to someone else?”

Braun said, “Frau Luxemburg was a threat no matter where she was, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. Breslau, Berlin, it makes no difference. That’s why she spent the war inside a cell. The last few months should have made that obvious, even to you.”

“I see.” Hoffner saw how pleased Braun was with his answer. “Funny,” said Hoffner, “but I thought the last few months were all about how the generals and politicians were divvying up what the Kaiser had left behind when he ran off to Holland. I wasn’t aware that one little crippled woman had played so important a role. Unless the game was charades.”

Braun’s jaw tightened. “And I wasn’t aware that officers in the Kripo had sympathies for such extremists.”

“Just for pawns, Herr Oberkommissar,” said Hoffner. Braun said nothing. “May I see the body?”

Braun said, “And what would be the reason for that?”

Hoffner waited. Braun’s expression told him nothing. Hoffner turned to Weigland. “I assume the body will not be coming back to us tomorrow.”

“No,” said Braun.

Hoffner continued to speak to Weigland: “I didn’t know the fourth floor had storage and examination facilities, Herr Direktor.

“A recent addition,” said Braun.

Hoffner kept his gaze on Weigland. “Can I assume the markings on the back will go untouched?”

Braun said, “Again, I’m afraid we can’t promise that, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. But we’ll do our best. For your case, of course.”

Hoffner finally turned to Braun. “Of course,” said Hoffner. The room became silent as the two men stared at each other.

“Why not simply take her this afternoon?” The voice came from behind them. Hoffner turned. It was Fichte from the corner; he showed no fear at all. “I mean, if it was your case, Herr Oberkommissar,” Fichte continued. “Why not take the body then?”

Hoffner stared at his young Assistent. It was the first time he had felt pride in him.

Braun had also redirected his attention. “A courtesy, Herr Kriminal-Assistent,” he said coolly. “We do, after all, work in the same building.”

“I see,” said Hoffner, retaking the reins. “A courtesy that runs out at, what, seven-thirty, eight o’clock? Is that about the time Frau Luxemburg made her way up to the fourth floor? And, forgive my confusion, Herr Oberkommissar, but how did you know Herr Kriminal-Assistent Fichte was down in the morgue if you already had the body?”

For the first time, Braun hesitated. “There were tools we needed-”

“Tools?” Hoffner countered. “I see. And what exactly were you planning to do with our body, Herr Oberkommissar?”

“I find it strange,” said Braun, “that you should have such an interest in this one body when you have yet to make sense of the other five. Surely the pattern should be clear enough, by now?”

“Clear as day,” said Hoffner, “if we could be certain that those bodies wouldn’t go missing in the middle of the night, Herr Oberkommissar. Will our ice room be empty in the next week, in the next two weeks? I’m just asking so as to minimize any confusion.”

Weigland suddenly thumped his hand on the desk. “Let’s have a walk, Nikolai,” he said amiably. “You and I.” He stood and stepped out from behind the desk. “A walk would be good, yes?”

The suggestion was as inappropriate as it was unexpected. Hoffner felt like the class idiot about to be ushered from the room. Tamshik seemed to be enjoying the moment immensely.

Hoffner said in a quiet tone, “If that’s what you’d like, Herr Direktor.

“Absolutely,” said Weigland as he put a hand on Hoffner’s shoulder and started to move him toward the door. “There should be a pot of coffee at the end of the hall. A coffee would be nice, don’t you think?” Tamshik had the door open. “See if Herr Assistent Fichte would like something, as well,” said Weigland as he passed Tamshik.

Hoffner found himself out in the corridor, the door closed behind him. Weigland kept his hand on Hoffner’s shoulder: it helped to maintain the surreal quality to the little jaunt. “Your boys are what, six and ten now, Nikolai?” said Weigland as they slowly made their way down the hall.

“Seven and fifteen, Herr Direktor.

“That’s right. Seven and fifteen. Very nice.” Weigland continued to walk. “I lost a grandson in the war, you know. Not much older.”

“Yes. I was sorry to hear, Herr Direktor.

“Yes.” They walked a bit more before Weigland released Hoffner’s shoulder. “This business with Luxemburg,” he said. “Best to let it work itself out, don’t you think? She’s not crucial to your case, and I’m sure whatever Herr Braun feels is of such vital importance is. .” Weigland seemed to lose the thought.

“Of such vital importance?” said Hoffner.

Weigland laughed to himself. He patted another knowing hand on Hoffner’s shoulder. “It’s that mouth of yours that kept you out of the Polpo, you know.”

“It might have been that I never filed an application, Herr Direktor.

Weigland nodded as if having been caught out. “I suppose that might have had something to do with it, yes.”

They reached the end of the corridor and stepped into a kitchen, of sorts: table, icebox, sink. A kettle of coffee sat on a small iron stove. Weigland found two cups and placed them on the table. The two sat and Weigland poured. “Your father would have made an excellent Polpo officer,” he said as he set the kettle on the table.

Hoffner was unsure where Weigland was going with this. He answered, nonetheless. “He always thought so, Herr Direktor.

“But then there was all that business with your mother, which made it impossible.” Weigland took a sip. He kept his eyes on the cup as he placed it on the table. “Jewish converts weren’t exactly popular at the time.”

Hoffner watched Weigland for a moment; the man was so obvious in his baiting. Hoffner brought the cup to his lips; he said nothing. This was not a topic he discussed.

Weigland looked up. “You never had any trouble with that, did you? The Jewish issue, I mean. Even if you are technically one of them.”

Hoffner placed his cup on the table. “I was raised a Christian, Herr Direktor.

“Lutheran?”

“No idea.”

Again, Weigland laughed. “That sounds like your father.” Hoffner nodded. “It was your mother’s idea, I think?” said Weigland. “For his career.”

“I imagine it was.”

Again, Weigland focused on his cup. “We came up at the same time, you know, your father and I.” He continued to stare at the cup until, with a little snap of his head, he looked up at Hoffner. “I had no idea, of course. None of us did. Not until it came out.”

Hoffner took another sip. He had no interest in Weigland’s excuses. Hoffner placed his cup back on the table and said, “So, you want me to let this one go.”

Weigland nudged a bowl of sugar cubes Hoffner’s way. “Go on. Take one. They’re real.” Weigland clawed out three and dropped them into his cup. “We pulled them out of a shipment Pimm was smuggling in from Denmark. He would’ve made a fortune on the black market.”

Hoffner picked out a cube and slipped it into his cup. “I didn’t know the syndicates were Polpo jurisdiction.”

“Neither did Pimm.” Weigland took a fourth cube and popped it in his mouth. “Look, Nikolai,” he said, “you’re making a good name for yourself in the Kripo. You solve this one and the papers will turn you into a nice little celebrity. You’d probably make chief inspector.”

“This one, but without Luxemburg.”

Weigland sucked for a moment on the cube. “Why would you want to drag yourself into all of that?” He shook his head. “Honestly, I have no idea why she had, as you say, the bad luck to run into your maniac. But for you, she’s just one more body. To the rest of Germany, she’s Red Rosa, the little Jewess who tried to bring Lenin’s revolution to Berlin. Your case will get lost in all of that. Braun’s right. You don’t know how these things work. You’re a very capable detective, Nikolai. So why not do what you do well, and leave this other piece to us.”

Hoffner reached over and took two more cubes; he slipped them into his pocket for Georgi. “And if Herr Braun needs another body from the morgue?”

“I’m sure he thought he was doing all of us a favor. Think about it. If your man doesn’t come back in tonight, no one’s the wiser.”

“You really think I wouldn’t have noticed?”

“Fine,” Weigland conceded, “I’m sure you’re just that good.” He waited, then said more emphatically, “This is a touchy business, Nikolai. Ebert’s still not on firm ground. You don’t want to make the same kind of mistake your father did.”

And, like a slap to the face, Hoffner understood. It required every ounce of restraint to answer calmly. “And what mistake was that, Herr Direktor?”

There was nothing comforting in Weigland’s tone: “Understand the situation, Nikolai. Luxemburg, a Jew. Your mother, a Jew. And a Russian, to boot. Times haven’t changed all that much.”

Hoffner nodded slowly. He thought to correct Weigland: Luxemburg had been a Pole. Instead, he pushed his cup across the table and stood. “Thank you for the coffee, Herr Direktor.

Weigland reached out and grabbed Hoffner’s forearm; the grip was as impressive as Hoffner had imagined it would be. “People make mistakes, Nikolai, and the rest of their lives are filled searching for penance.” Weigland continued to squeeze Hoffner’s arm. “Understand that, and do what I’m asking you to do.”

Hoffner felt the blood pulsing in his hand. He twisted his arm slightly and Weigland released it. “Technically, Herr Direktor, I’m not sure I’m in a position to give or receive absolution.” Not waiting for a response, Hoffner turned and walked back down the hall. He opened the door to the office and poked his head in. “We’re done here, Hans.” He turned to the rest of the room. “Gentlemen.” None of the three said a word.

Unsure for a moment, Fichte stood and moved across to the door. He then turned back with a little bow. “Oberkommissar,Kommissare.

Hoffner pulled the door shut behind him, and the two headed back down the stairs. They walked in silence until they reached the courtyard, where Fichte finally managed to get something out. “I’m-sorry for all that, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“You’ve nothing to be sorry about,” said Hoffner.

“I shouldn’t have been trying to impress Lina.”

“No. That was stupid. Don’t do that again.” Hoffner began to button his coat. “As for the rest, you were fine, Hans. You handled yourself very well.”

Fichte’s concern gave way to genuine appreciation. “Thank you, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

They passed through the door to the atrium. FliegFlieg was dozing; Hoffner didn’t bother to sign out. Out in the drizzle, the soldiers barely gave them a second glance.

When they had moved out of earshot, Hoffner said, “You didn’t mention anything about today’s discovery, did you?” They continued to walk. “Nothing about the woman in the Rosenthaler station?”

“No, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” Fichte was doing his best to keep up. “Absolutely not. Nothing.”

“Good.” They reached the middle of the square. Hoffner stopped and turned to Fichte. “Go home, Hans. Take a cold bath. We start in at eight tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” Fichte was about to head off when he said, “The PKD, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. You know him well, don’t you?”

Hoffner stared at his young Assistent. “Good night, Hans.”

Five minutes later, Hoffner watched as the Peace Column flew past his window, the cab racing him south to Kreuzberg.

The scarf, he thought. I forgot the damn scarf.

TWO

MECHLIN RSEAU

The wail of a siren reached up through the bathroom window and momentarily drowned out the street sounds of early morning. Hoffner tapped his cigarette into the basin, retrieved his razor, and set to work on the stubble just under his chin.

The fires were still burning out in Treptow, where, up until a few days ago, a “unit” of university students had been fighting with epic navet. The last of them had fallen on Tuesday to a roving band of Garde-Kavallerie-Schtzen-Division men who had pulled the three boys out into Weichsel Square and beaten them to death. On a whim, the right-wing thugs-only the uniforms made them soldiers-had then lit up the place. According to the papers, the fire brigades had thus far recovered the remains of two children who had been burned alive. Hoffner listened as the scream of the siren faded to nothing.

“And he still won’t admit it?” said Martha from the bedroom. “Even after all this time.”

Hoffner waited while another siren passed. “Of course not,” he said. For some reason he was having trouble with the angle this morning: his neck was sore. He did what he could, then unplugged the drain. He was wiping off the last of the shaving soap when Martha brushed by him with a pile of clean towels. She placed them in a cupboard by the tub. Hoffner tossed his into the hamper.

“You can use them more than once, you know,” said Martha.

Hoffner picked at a piece of raw skin on his cheek. “I thought I had.”

She retrieved the towel and hung it on a rack. “Did he mean it as a threat, do you think?”

Hoffner continued his examination. “He’s never been that clever.” He splashed some cold water on his face.

“Then why bring it up?”

“Make things right,” he said. “I don’t know. He’s an old man.” Hoffner dried off, put on his shirt, and started in on his tie as Martha knelt down to rub a damp cloth over the tub. He said, “You know, I think he was actually asking for my forgiveness.”

“For something he claims he never did?” She shook her head and pushed herself up. Hoffner said nothing. “You shouldn’t work with those people, Nicki. Especially now.”

“Not my choice.”

Nudging him to the side, she wrung out the cloth in the sink. “Sa-” She caught herself. “Alexander has a match this afternoon. Four o’clock.” She hung the cloth next to the towel. “You should be there.”

The morning had been progressing so nicely, thought Hoffner, talk of Weigland notwithstanding. Now he felt a knot in the pit of his stomach: why was it that she could never understand he would be the last person Sascha would want to see at a match?

“I’ll try,” he said.

“Try hard, Nicki.”

She moved past him and into the hall. Hoffner was left alone to sort out the mess he had made of his tie.

Hans Fichte was waiting for him outside his office when Hoffner got to headquarters. The boy’s face was bloated from last night’s alcohol, and his inhaler seemed to be doing double duty. Fichte was in the midst of a good suck when Hoffner walked up.

“Glad to see you’re here early,” said Hoffner, busying himself with his coat so as to give Fichte a moment to recover. He stepped into the office, tossed his hat onto the rack, and settled in behind the desk. “Come in, Hans. Close the door.” Fichte did as he was told. “You’re not a drinker, Hans. Try to remember that. Take a seat.”

Fichte moved a stack of papers from a chair. “Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” He sat.

“Your girl get home all right?”

“Yes. Thank you for asking, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Good.” Hoffner watched Fichte’s expression; the boy had no idea what he had signed on for with this Lina. Hoffner wondered if he had been any less thickheaded at Fichte’s age. He hoped not. With a smile, Hoffner leaned back against the wall, his elbows on the chair’s armrests, his hands clasped at his chest, and said easily, “So. What exactly do you think we learned last night?”

Fichte thought for a moment and then said, “That I shouldn’t bring Lina-”

“Yes,” Hoffner cut in impatiently. “We’ve been through all that. What about from upstairs?”

This took greater concentration. “That-this is a political case and we shouldn’t overstep our bounds?”

“Exactly right,” said Hoffner. Fichte’s surprise was instantaneous. “Something wrong?” said Hoffner coyly.

“Well”-Fichte showed a bit more fire-“I didn’t think you-we-would back down so easily.” He waited for a reaction. When Hoffner said nothing, Fichte added, “It is our case, after all.”

“It is, isn’t it.” Hoffner sat staring across at Fichte.

Uncomfortable with the silence, Fichte said, “I’m not sure I understand, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner sat forward. “You need to ask yourself, Hans: Is Luxemburg an element of our case?”

“Of course,” said Fichte.

“According to the Polpo?”

“I suppose not, no.”

The response provoked several quick taps of Hoffner’s fingers on the desk. “And so their focus will be-” He waited for Fichte to complete the thought.

“Luxemburg.”

“And ours?”

Fichte was anxious not to stumble, having come this far. “Everything else. .?” he said tentatively.

“Exactly. For the time being, we’re no longer concerned with Frau Luxemburg, with her forced, angular ruts, or with her second carver. You understand?”

“Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. I do.”

“Good. Does this mean she’s no longer an element of the case?”

Without hesitation, Fichte said, “No, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar, it does not.”

“Excellent, Hans.” Again, Hoffner smiled. “Maybe a drink for you, now and then, isn’t such a bad idea. Full marks this morning.” Fichte looked pleased, if slightly embarrassed. “All right,” said Hoffner. “So what do we do now?”

“We-look at everything else.”

When nothing by way of detail followed, Hoffner explained, “The morgue, Hans. I need you to go down and retrieve that bottle of preserving grease. The one from yesterday’s victim. No one’s to see you leave with it, you understand? And then I want you to meet me outside in the square. Is all of that possible?”

“Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Good.”

The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry sits on what was once the Prussian Royal Estate of Dahlem in the southwest section of town. It stretches over a thousand acres of prime riding land, and was the gift of one of those unremarkable Junker princes who, recognizing the need for “something useful in this city of ours,” ceded it to a growing Berlin. Naturally he had wanted a racecourse, or perhaps a garden “for young ladies to stroll about at their leisure,” but in the end prudence had won out. He had been happy enough to let someone else make the decision, especially when they had come to him for a little cash for the project. “Land is the greatest treasure,” he had said: it was up to the Prussian Ministry to come up with anything else. As it turned out, one member of the Ministry had voted for the racecourse; it happened to be the prince’s cousin. The rest had opted for a different kind of “useful.” The doors to the Institute had opened in October of 1912, and since then the place had been home to some of the more innovative breakthroughs in German chemical engineering and physics. Many attributed its success to the man at the top. The Direktor, however, took little credit. He had always enjoyed horse racing himself and sometimes wondered if they had all not somehow missed out on a wonderful opportunity.

Getting to the Institute from Alexanderplatz requires two transfers, first on the No. 3 to Potsdamer Platz, then on the Nord-End 51 to Shmargendorf Depot, and finally on the No. 22A, which stops directly in front of the university’s central library. Students who fall asleep on the bus after a late night slumming it “up east” find themselves out in Grunewald before they know it, at which point most of them have no choice but to spend the night in the park and curse fate for their misadventure. Hoffner and Fichte took a cab.

“I thought about university, at one point,” said Fichte as they moved across the plaza toward the Institute’s entrance. It was a massive building of five floors, with an ersatz Greek front of four thick columns and pediment tacked onto the faade; odder still was the circular tower that seemed to be standing sentry duty at its far right. Its roof resembled a vast Schutzi helmet-made of Thuringian slate-along with its very own imperial prong rising to the sky: an unflinching Teuton at the gates of the Temple Athena, thought Hoffner. So much for chemistry. “Not much of a student, though,” Fichte continued. “More what my father wanted me to do, I suppose. Luckily the war came along and, well, you know the rest.”

Hoffner nodded, not having been listening, and began to mount the steps. He had to remind himself that yammering enthusiasm was a part of the Fichte-away-from-the-office days. He watched as the boy raced by to open the door for him.

According to the wood-carved listing in the entry hall, Herr Professor Doktor Uwe Kroll was to be found on the third floor. Hoffner remembered roughly where Kroll’s office was; even so, it took them a good ten minutes to locate Kroll in the lab across from his office.

Kroll was wearing a white lab coat, and sat staring intently at a slide beneath his microscope when the two men stepped into the room. There was nothing at all to distinguish Kroll: he projected the perfect image of the scientist, except without the eyeglasses. Fichte had always associated myopia with science. He estimated Kroll to be in his late forties.

“That was quick, Nikolai,” said Kroll, still perched in concentration. “I didn’t expect you for another half-hour.”

“We took a cab.”

“Ah,” said Kroll, looking up. “The deep pockets of the Kriminalpolizei.

Hoffner introduced Fichte.

Kroll said, “You should know, Herr Kriminal-Assistent, that your Detective Inspector would have made a pretty fair chemist himself. Didn’t like the symmetry, though, wasn’t that it, Nikolai? Too much coherence.” Kroll held out his hand. “All right, let’s have a look at it, this great mysterious goop of yours that’s too complex to be seen by my esteemed colleagues at police headquarters.”

Fichte produced the bottle and handed it to Kroll, who brought it up to the light and watched as the contents oozed slowly from side to side. Kroll then brought it to his lap, unscrewed the lid, and sniffed. “You said on the telephone that it was used to preserve flesh. Are you sure it wasn’t used as an inhibitor?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Hoffner.

“As something to keep the elements of decay-animals, moisture, that sort of thing-from getting to the skin. Rather than as an agent that works with the skin. You see what I’m saying?”

“A repellent,” said Hoffner.

“Exactly. That would make my work much easier. On the other hand, if it is something that actually interacts with the flesh and creates a reaction, then it becomes far more complicated.”

“And your guess is?”

Kroll looked over at Fichte with a grin. “And now you see where the two of us go our separate ways, Herr Kriminal-Assistent. No guesses, Nikolai. I can let you know in a few days.” When Hoffner nodded, Kroll placed the jar on his table and said, “And am I right in thinking you’ll be the one to get in touch with me?”

“Yes.”

“‘Yes,’” repeated Kroll knowingly. “Must be interesting times at Kripo headquarters, these days.”

Hoffner waited before answering. “Yes.”

“‘Yes,’” Kroll repeated again. “And should anyone come calling from the Alex, I know nothing about this little jar. Is that right?”

“Is that a guess, Uwe?” Without giving Kroll a chance to answer, Hoffner added, “You see, Hans? Even a chemist can show the makings of a pretty fair detective.”

Out on the plaza, the rain had returned as freezing drizzle; it slapped at the face like tiny pieces of glass, but did little to dampen Fichte’s enthusiasm.

“You saw what he did?” said Fichte eagerly. “When he opened the bottle?”

Reluctantly, Hoffner said, “Yes, Hans. I saw. He sniffed at it.” Hoffner pulled his collar up to his neck: how difficult was it to remember a scarf?

“You see,” said Fichte, his coat still unbuttoned. “I have an instinct for these things.”

“An instinct. That must be it. Then tell me, Nostradamus, where are we heading next?”

“KaDeWe’s.” Fichte spoke with absolute certainty. He brushed a bit of moisture from his nose. “To see about the gloves.” Hoffner nearly stopped in his tracks as Fichte continued, “I checked on the body this morning-number five, in the morgue. The gloves were missing. The Polpo doesn’t know about them, so I assumed you’d taken them. KaDeWe is the best place in town for lace.”

And just like that, thought Hoffner, Fichte was actually becoming a detective.

A darker beige and a powdered blue,” said the man behind the counter. He stared across at the woman who looked to be incapable of making a decision. She pulled the glove snug onto her hand and gazed at it in the mirror. She flexed her fingers and then reangled her head. All the while, the man stood with a sliver of smile sewn onto his lips. After nearly half a minute he glanced furtively at Hoffner, who had edged closer to the glass. “Just another minute, mein Herr,” he said impatiently, but with no change in his expression. “Thank you, mein Herr.

In his finely pressed suit, the man looked like the perfect twin of every other clerk on the floor, or perhaps the perfect “light” twin, as they seemed to come in three distinct shades: blond, brunette, and gray. The creases in his trousers were another nod to his perfection, as was the slip of blue handkerchief that peeped out from his breast pocket. The delicacy of his hands was also something remarkable, pale and soft as they graced the waves of satin.

“You will find none more exquisite in the city, Madame,” he said, equally transfixed by the gloves. “Feel them against your skin. Lovely.”

It was clear from Fichte’s expression that he had never been inside Kaufhaus des Westens, or KaDeWe, as it had come to be known: the high temple of capitalism, undaunted by threats from either socialists or shortages. Utterly self-assured, the place was alive with consumption, and Fichte seemed unable to take it all in fast enough. There was the endless sea of scarves and blouses, soaps and colognes, each department with its own distinct color and feel. Even the size of the clerks seemed to change from one area to the next: long, elegant men to clothe the customer, squatter ones to perfume her, thick-necked boys for her sporting equipment. And somewhere in the distant reaches, men’s ties and shirts filled the glass-topped rows; they, however, were lost behind a wall of ever-moving flesh. Above it all, the din from countless conversations crested in an orchestral echo that, to Fichte’s ear, sounded as if it were tuning. He had played the violin as a boy, poorly, but had always enjoyed that collective search for pitch.

Looking up, he followed a network of wires that crisscrossed the vaulted space; the lines were only a stepladder’s climb from him, but they seemed to soar high above as they rose to a squadron of desks on the mezzanine level: this was where all transactions were consummated; money was never kept at the counters. In a constant whir of tramlike efficiency, tiny boxes whizzed overhead, carrying receipts and payments back and forth. This had been the way at KaDeWe since its opening; modern mechanisms had yet to infiltrate. Fichte had to wonder if a pluck on one of the cables might produce a perfect A-flat.

“Oh, well,” said the woman as she removed the glove. “Not today.” She thanked the clerk and moved off. The man nodded politely, replaced the two sets of gloves beneath the glass, and then turned to Hoffner and Fichte. He needed only a glance to take stock of the two men: Fichte was still gazing upward. It was enough for the clerk to know that his frustrations would continue.

“And now, mein Herr,” he said to Hoffner with icy civility. “How can we be of assistance today?”

Hoffner pulled from his pocket a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. He opened it and placed the contents on the counter. “I’m wondering,” he said, “where I might get a pair like these for my wife.” The voice and attitude were unlike anything Fichte had ever seen or heard coming from Hoffner before. There was something almost apologetic, even puny, to him. It was an astonishing transformation. The wonder of KaDeWe instantly faded to the background.

“For your wife,” said the man, as he glanced indifferently at the muddied gloves. “Yes, mein Herr.

“The dog got into the bureau,” said Hoffner sheepishly. “Made a complete mess of them. All my fault.”

“Yes,” repeated the man. He took in a long breath, then picked up one of the gloves. Almost at once his demeanor changed. He quickly brought the glove up to his face and began to examine it closely.

“Is there-something wrong?” said Hoffner.

The man looked across at him. “Oh, no, no, no, mein Herr,” he said, now the model of fawning servility. “It’s just-I couldn’t tell the remarkable quality, what with all the staining.”

“I see,” said Hoffner with a bland smile.

The clerk continued to pick his way through the lace. “Wonderful,” he said. “May I ask where mein Herr originally purchased them?”

“A gift,” said Hoffner. “From an aunt, I believe.”

“I see,” said the man. He placed the glove on the counter and pointed behind him to two large volumes. “May I?” he said.

Hoffner nodded his assent.

The man pulled the second of the books from the shelf and, placing it on the counter, began to leaf through. It was clear he knew exactly what he was looking for. “It’s an extremely intricate pattern, mein Herr,” he said as he continued to flip through the pages. “Quite rare. We don’t carry it ourselves, but we’d be happy to order it for you. Ah, yes,” he said, stopping on a page. “Here it is.” He flipped the book around so that Hoffner could see the drawing. “Mechlin Rseau de Bruges,” said the man as he watched Hoffner scan the page. The clerk then picked up the glove and began to illustrate for Fichte. “It’s like the Brussels mesh,” he said as he dusted off the palm. “But here you see the four threads are plaited only twice, instead of four times, on the two sides, while the two threads are twisted twice, instead of once, on the four sides.” The clerk stared at the glove with almost spiritual devotion; it was as if Hoffner and Fichte had disappeared. “Marvelous craftsmanship.”

Fichte had no idea what the man was saying; he nodded nonetheless.

“It’s Belgian?” said Hoffner, looking up from the book.

“Yes, mein Herr. And made only in Bruges. As I said, we can order it for you.”

“From this firm, here,” said Hoffner, pointing to a name on the page.

“Edgar Troimpel et Fils. Yes, mein Herr.

“Do you make such orders quite often?” said Hoffner.

“All the time, mein Herr.

“To this particular firm in Belgium?”

The man seemed momentarily confused. “Well-no, mein Herr, but our couriers are excellent.”

“No, of course,” said Hoffner. “I’m just wondering if you’ve placed an order with them in, say, the last few months?”

Again, the clerk seemed slightly put off. “Not that I recall, mein Herr. Not with the war. But that shouldn’t be a problem at all now. They know us quite well. Since before the war.”

Hoffner knew he had hit the point of retreat. Clerks like this wanted to be coddled, not prodded. Still, Hoffner needed a little more information. He smiled and took a final, harmless swipe. “Of course,” he said. “I imagine KaDeWe is the only store in Berlin they work with.”

As if on cue, the man’s face tightened. “No, mein Herr.” His words were now clipped. “I’m sure Wertheim’s or one of the lesser stores has contacts with the firm. I can’t address the quality of their service-”

“No, of course not,” said Hoffner with a penitent smile. “I was only inquiring.” He decided to throw the man a bone. “Rest assured that when I order them, I will order only from the best and most respected. KaDeWe.”

The man softened as he beamed. “That’s very kind of you, mein Herr, and may I say, I think a wise choice. Shall I get the order form?”

“I’ll need two pairs of the gloves.” Hoffner saw the Reichsmarks dancing in the man’s eyes. “The second for my sister. Unfortunately, I haven’t brought her size with me. I didn’t want to get her hopes up if I didn’t know I could find them. You understand.”

“Absolutely, mein Herr.

“You are here until-”

“Six o’clock, mein Herr.

“Then I will be back before then.” Hoffner retrieved the package.

“Excellent, mein Herr.

“Come, Reiner,” Hoffner said to Fichte with sudden determination. “We mustn’t keep your bowel doctor waiting.”

Three minutes later, Hoffner ordered two coffees before making his way over to a table and Fichte, who had settled in by one of the caf’s outdoor heaters: the long, iron-encased lamp was working at full capacity to create a pocket of toasted air. Ten or so other lamps littered the space under the wide awning; even so, most of the clientele had opted for seats inside. Hoffner, on the other hand, liked being out on the street; he liked the occasional spray of rain that seemed to defy all logic by attacking from the side and not from above; most of all, he liked that Fichte was getting the brunt of it. Across the avenue, KaDeWe loomed like an enormous troll.

“All right,” said Fichte. “So, now that we’re sitting down, why the performance, riveting as it was, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar?” For the first time, the title seemed to carry less than its usual reverence: Hoffner liked the change. He tossed his hat onto an empty chair.

“Riveting?” he said. “You’re too kind.”

“Yes. My bowels and I are great aficionados.”

Hoffner laughed a nice full laugh. “Your expression was priceless.”

Fichte bowed his head once submissively. “I’m glad we could be so amusing.”

“Very. Actually, Victor once had his-” Hoffner stopped himself. He saw the anticipation in Fichte’s eyes. There was nothing threatening in it; still, Hoffner felt a moment’s betrayal. He waited, then explained, “The Polpo, Hans.” Hoffner took a napkin and began to wipe off the mud that had splattered onto his pant leg. “If I bring out my badge, our clerk can tell anyone nosing about that two Kripomen have been in there asking about a pair of gloves. We don’t need that kind of attention.”

“But the Polpo wasn’t interested in the gloves. If they were, they would have taken them.”

“True.” Hoffner was struggling with a particularly resilient stain. “Except they weren’t interested because they didn’t know about them.” Hoffner finished with the napkin and tossed it next to his hat. “I’ve had the gloves with me since we brought the body in yesterday.”

“You’ve had the gloves?” This was new information to Fichte. “Why?”

“Last night wasn’t the first time someone’s gone through our evidence.” The coffees arrived. “Don’t look so surprised, Hans.” Hoffner took a sip; he had expected better from a place like this, especially in this part of town: he could taste the chicory. “It just happened to be the first time they were caught.”

Fichte waited for the waiter to move off. “And you knew it was the Polpo?”

“No. I thought maybe the KD was getting anxious. I even thought you might have been putting in some extra hours, bizarre as that might sound.” Fichte ignored the comment. “Either one would have been preferable.” Fichte let this all sink in as Hoffner suffered through a few more sips. “It means,” said Hoffner, “that you’ll have to be just as careful this afternoon.” Hoffner looked for a sugar bowl. There was none to be found.

“This afternoon? What are we doing this afternoon?”

We aren’t doing anything.” Hoffner settled on a spoonful of cinnamon: for some reason, cinnamon was making it through to Berlin in truckloads. “You are hunting down all the places in town that do business with Monsieur Edgar Troimpel.”

“All?” said Fichte.

“Relax, Hans. There can’t be more than ten in the entire city that handle this kind of lace.” Hoffner tried another sip; the combination of cinnamon and chicory was truly dreadful. “And I don’t want any of them thinking that someone from the Kripo has been asking them questions. Comprends?”

Fichte sat slightly amazed. “You want me to do this on my own?” Before Hoffner could answer, Fichte said, “I mean, of course I can do it on my own. I just want to make sure that’s what you meant.”

“Surprised, Hans? I would have thought your instinct would have seen this coming a long way off.”

Again, Fichte let the comment pass. “And what exactly will the Herr Kriminal-Kommissar be doing while I’m racing around town?”

Hoffner stood and placed a few coins on the table. “Mechlin Rseau. Write it down, Reiner.” He then picked up his hat, ducked under the awning, and stepped out into the rain.

IM SUDENDE

Her last known address was a matter of record; it took Hoffner less than two hours to find it. Even so, Luxemburg had spent too many years in and out of prison to make anything completely verifiable: five out of the last seven, from what he had read. There was the flat on Cranachstrasse that she had shared with a Leo Jogiches, but the lease there had run out in June of 1911. She had reappeared later that year in police postal records for the South End section of town, but, given the war and recent events, it was anybody’s guess how often she had called Number 2 on the tree-lined Lindenstrasse her home. Probably better that way: less chance that someone might be taking an interest in Hoffner’s unannounced visit.

The building was typical for this part of town, five or six stories, a flat on each floor, comfortable bourgeois living. Hoffner had imagined Red Rosa in something grittier. In fact, he remembered how he and Martha had thought about this part of town for themselves, but had found it too expensive. Maybe he had chosen the wrong profession, he thought. Hoffner mounted the steps and rang the porter’s bell.

Characteristically efficient, the man had wasted no time in attending to the nameplate for the top-floor flat. A lone L and u were all that remained of the torn strip of paper.

The door opened and an older woman appeared from the shadows. She was painfully thin, and the wisps of her gray, bunned hair seemed to create a small halo above her head. She looked gentle enough, though the last weeks had evidently taken their toll. “Yes?” she said tentatively.

“So sorry to trouble you, Madame, but I was hoping to take a look at the top-floor flat. You are the landlady?”

“My husband is the porter. That flat is not available.” She started to close the door, when Hoffner reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his badge. He kept it close to his body as he showed it to her. Her discomfort grew. She stared at the badge, then up at Hoffner. For some reason, she brought her hand up to her neck. It seemed to calm her. “My husband isn’t here,” she said. “He said you wouldn’t be back for another few days.”

Hoffner showed no sign of surprise. “Other policemen were here this morning?” he said as he returned the badge to his pocket.

The woman looked confused. “No. A few days ago. I told them Frau Luxemburg hasn’t been here in weeks. We-” She stopped. “May I see your badge again?”

Hoffner reached into his pocket. “Of course,” he said, and handed it to her. She examined it closely. “Would it be better if I came inside?” he said. “Out of the rain?”

She seemed torn between apprehension and decorum. She quickly found what she was looking for and handed the badge back to Hoffner. “Forgive me,” she said. “Of course. Please come in.”

The hall had a few touches to liven it up-a small table by the stairs, a lamp with a colored glass shade-but it remained a rather bleak introduction to the building. Behind her, the door to her own flat stood ajar.

“So you say Frau Luxemburg hasn’t been here in several weeks,” said Hoffner.

“She was living closer in to town-near to where her newspaper was published, I think.” The hand returned to her neck. “I don’t know. I don’t know the address.” Her discomfort grew. “I told this all to the other men.”

“Yes,” said Hoffner calmly. “But it’s always good to hear it again. Make sure you haven’t remembered something new in the meantime.” This seemed to make sense to her. “Did the men take a look upstairs?” Again she nodded. “I’ll need to do that, as well.”

Luxemburg’s flat was as large as his own, although the decor tended to stifle the space under a thick, middle-class charm: dark velvet curtains and oriental rugs followed him from room to room, as did endless rows of photographs and books that were placed along the shelves and bureaus; pillows of every size, color, and origin seemed to be lounging on whatever surface was available-twin settees, chairs, window seats, even by the fireplace; and the smell of dried wood hung in the air. This, thought Hoffner, had been a home for gatherings, a place of deep warmth. It emanated most vividly from the faces in the pictures, a few of which he recognized-Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring-but most told of a life unseen by the newspapers: laughter, a kiss, things incompatible with the iron stare of socialist zeal. He noticed, too, that Luxemburg had had a taste for things Japanese, a silk screen in her bedroom, a series of candid photos in kimono and jaunty parasol. Even so, it felt odd seeing her like this. Not that Hoffner was new to spending hours rummaging through the lives of any number of victims, but this was his first taste of one so public. It made even a cursory investigation seem somehow indiscreet.

He moved from dining room to parlor, then back to the bedroom, unsure what it was that he had come to see. He looked in her closet: he noticed that a suitcase’s worth of clothing was missing; the rest hung neatly in rows. He leafed through several stacks of papers and books on her desk-from what he could tell, the bound drafts of speeches she had never delivered-and then made his way to the kitchen. The cabinets were reasonably well stocked; a teacup sat in the sink. The decision to live closer into town had obviously been a last-minute one.

The porter’s wife remained by the front door, waiting nervously as Hoffner made his way from room to room. She said nothing; she could barely bring herself to look inside. As he passed by her for a second time, Hoffner thought that perhaps the prospect of entering the house of the dead-the newspapers had said as much-was too much for her. On closer examination, however, he saw it was something far less primal: this was where the end of her Germany had been plotted, where revolution and destruction and terror had first been conceived, and as much as she wanted to believe that Frau Luxemburg’s absence over the last weeks had mitigated her own responsibility, she could not. Hoffner sensed how much the flat’s untouched gentility served only to compound her guilt.

He was about to say something when he suddenly realized what it was that was out of place: nothing. The rooms were exactly as they had been the day Luxemburg had left them. And yet, if the Polpo had been here only a few days ago, there should have been some trace of their visit: at least the papers should have gone missing. Hoffner spoke as he walked toward her: “How long were the policemen here the other day?”

The sound of his voice momentarily startled the woman. She peered in through the doorway. “I don’t know. My husband-”

“Five minutes?” he cut in bluntly as he drew up to her. “Ten? An hour? You were here, weren’t you?”

The woman began to nod nervously. “Yes. Of course I was here, but my husband let them in.”

Hoffner kept at her: “Did he stay with the men while they were up here?”

“Of course.”

“To lock the door after them.”

“Yes.”

“Did they take anything?”

She looked confused. “The men?”

“Yes,” said Hoffner. “Did they take anything?”

The woman became more flustered. “I don’t-no. They took nothing.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Yes, yes.” The nodding became more insistent. “I would have seen. My husband would have seen.”

“So how long was he up here?”

The nodding became a shaking of the head. “My husband? I don’t know. Five minutes?” Her eyes went wide. “Yes, five minutes. No more than that. Why is this of any importance?”

“And you haven’t been up to the rooms since?”

Once again she began to shake her head vigorously. Her answers became clipped. “No. Of course not. Why should I come-”

“And neither has your husband? To straighten up, remove anything?”

“No.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Yes. Of course. Why would he come up to this flat?” She had reached her limit; her words spilled out of their own accord. “We did what we were told to do. We took the name away. We’ve been to the post office and to the local precinct to tell them that she no longer lives here. Why would we come up to these rooms? We’re to wait until her family writes us about the furnishings, the clothing, everything else. Until then, we’re to touch nothing.”

The orders had been precise, thought Hoffner: the woman and her husband had followed them to the letter. Hoffner knew why, but he asked anyway. “You were told,” he said, his tone less strident.

“Yes.”

“Who told you?”

She hesitated. “The men who came.” There was a hint of defiance in her voice, as if their very mention exonerated her. “They told us.”

It was clear that even the name frightened her. Hoffner decided to make things easier. “The Polpo,” he said.

With a short, swift nod, the woman said, “Yes.”

“And they’ll be back in a few days.”

“Yes. A few days. I don’t know.”

Hoffner knew it was best to let it go. He could see the conversation still spinning in her eyes. He waited, then said quietly, “I see.” He then turned back into the flat and let his eyes wander from space to space.

Five minutes, he thought. What could they have wanted with only five minutes? And why days before her disappearance? That made no sense. And why nothing since then? More than that, why announce that they’d be back? Not like the Polpo, at all.

Hoffner felt suddenly ashamed of the way he had treated the woman. She had been hiding nothing, except perhaps her own fear, and even that had been too much for her. He considered an apology, but knew that would only embarrass her. Instead, he turned and, with a warm smile, slowly reached out for her hand. Uncertain for a moment, she let him take it; he cupped it in his own and said, “Thank you, Madame.” His tone was once again reassuring. “You’ve been very helpful.” Still uneasy, she nodded. “Extremely helpful.” There was a genuine tenderness in the way he spoke to her. “Especially given how difficult it is these days to know everything that goes on inside a building. Not like the old days.” Again she nodded. He said, “Who could expect you to know everything that goes on?”

The woman tried to find the words. “That’s right,” she said, convincing herself as much as agreeing with him. “I can’t know everything.”

“How could you?” Hoffner said kindly. “So I want to thank you for being so perceptive, even when it’s not your job to know everything that goes on inside these walls.” For the first time, she smiled. “Even before all of this, Madame,” he said with greater emphasis. “That wasn’t for you to know, either. Or for you to do anything about.” He paused and then squeezed her hand. “You understand?”

She stared up at him. For a moment it looked as if she might say something. Instead she pulled a handkerchief from her dress pocket and turned her head away.

Downstairs, she insisted he stay for a cup of coffee-a real coffee, she said. Hoffner thanked her, but instead headed for the front door.

Twenty minutes on, the dense, sweet smell of adolescent exertion filtered through as Hoffner made his way along the corridors of Sascha’s school. The walls were dotted in a row of saluting wooden pegs, half of them buried under the hanging clumps of boys’ athletic gear. Hoffner had forgotten how quiet the place could be in the late afternoon; its stillness and scent walked with him like old friends. Even the memories of untold torments within its walls-those simple cruelties that all boys endure, yet which seem so uniquely pointed at the time-blurred into a larger sense of belonging. What was here remained fixed, his-for good or ill-and even Hoffner could take solace in that. Martha was convinced that they had sent Sascha here for the fine education, the family ties-even if it was out of the way-but Hoffner knew otherwise: survive this and survive anything. Already, Sascha was doing a far better job at it than his father ever had.

As he approached the Sports Halle doors, Hoffner heard the familiar clink of foil on foil, along with the occasional cheer and applause for a touch. He checked his watch: he was over forty minutes late. He had gone to Luxemburg’s flat because of its proximity to the school. He now knew that had been a mistake. What Hoffner was still debating was how conscious a mistake it had been.

One or two spectators-seated along the hall’s risers-peered over as the groan from the doors’ hinges announced his arrival. Hoffner ignored the stares and instead scanned the line of boys sitting in full gear off to the side; Sascha was the second one in. It was clear he had already fenced: his hair was matted in sweat, and his cheeks were flushed. He sat staring at the bout in progress. Even so, Hoffner could tell that his son had seen him come in: Sascha’s eyes were too intent on the action as Hoffner continued over to the stands. He found a seat in the front row, sat, and, for a few minutes, allowed himself to slip into the easy rhythm of the match.

It was the footwork he had always enjoyed most. The rest-mano di ferro, braccio di gomma (iron hand, rubber arm)-had never really been his strength. What had set him apart was his uncanny ability to keep just enough space between himself and his opponents: close enough for the quick touch; nimble enough to make that closeness disappear instantly. Over the years, Hoffner had often wondered how much of that talent he had taken with him beyond the fencing strip.

A hit. The boys on the bench stamped their feet; they shouted out for their teammate. Hoffner applauded politely with the rest of the crowd, one of whom was clapping loudly enough to draw his attention. Instinctively, Hoffner glanced over his shoulder. What he saw nearly made him blanch: there, staring directly down at him from three rows behind, sat Polpo Kommissar Ernst Tamshik. Neither man showed the least reaction. Tamshik stopped clapping. The two exchanged a cold nod, and Hoffner turned back to the match.

For the next several minutes, Hoffner did his best to follow the movements on the strip, but his mind was racing to images of Luxemburg’s flat, the porter’s wife-he was sure he had been careful there. He pieced through the details of last night’s conversation, anything that might have brought the Polpo to Sascha’s school. A message? Was Weigland’s little chat insufficient? And here: why?

Hoffner forced himself to refocus on the boys, both clearly too green to do much damage. As if divinely inspired, the smaller of the two suddenly tripped on the matting and unwittingly managed something resembling a hit. For a moment the director stood motionless, unsure what to do. Then, with a look of genuine relief, he raised the flag and awarded a point to the boy. It gave him the bout, and gave Sascha’s side the match. There was another chorus of foot-stamping-along with a mighty cheer and the requisite handshakes-before the two teams dispersed to the waiting crowd.

Hoffner decided to follow protocol: without a thought for Tamshik, he headed over to Sascha. The boy was packing up his gear when Hoffner approached. “The squad looks strong,” said Hoffner.

Sascha remained in a crouch; he was busy fitting his foil into its canvas bag. “Not really,” he said. “The other school was weak.”

“Still,” said Hoffner. “A victory’s a victory. Always worse to lose to the weak ones.”

Sascha pulled the bag together and stood. “I suppose.” He looked directly at his father. Up until this moment, Hoffner had never realized how tall Sascha had grown. They were standing nearly eye to eye.

“So,” said Hoffner. “You won your bout?”

“Yes. Fifteen to two.”

“Impressive.”

“I’m second on the team now, Father.”

“Yes. Your mother told me. Excellent.”

This only seemed to make things worse. Sascha said, “It means I fence second, Father.” Sascha knew his father already understood this. At fifteen, however, he was still impatient with the subtlety of his jabs. “That means early, Father,” he said. “Did Mother fail to tell you that?”

Sascha might still have believed that, with enough goading, he could provoke a response. Somewhere along the way, however, Hoffner had seen his son lose sight of that hope and instead settle for cruelty. Given the setting, it seemed only fitting; besides, Hoffner knew he deserved it. “She didn’t mention it, no.”

Sascha looked as if he had something else to say. Instead he brought the bag up to his shoulder and waited; father and son quickly slipped into silence, which Hoffner took as his cue to glance back for Tamshik: he saw him standing with a small boy, smaller even than the recent victor on the strip. Nodding over, Hoffner said, “Do you know that boy?”

Sascha looked over. “Why?” Hoffner repeated the question. “Krieger,” Sascha said grudgingly. “Reinhold Krieger. Hasn’t even made it into a junior match yet. Terrible. Why?”

“Let’s go over.”

Sascha let out a forced breath. “I have to get out of my gear, Father, and I’m meeting-”

“Come on, Alexander,” Hoffner said, and started to walk. “Let’s go say hello.” It might have been the surprise at hearing his full name, but Sascha gave in without another word. When they were within earshot, Hoffner called over, “Herr Tamshik?”

Tamshik looked up. He did what he could with a smile and said, “Herr Hoffner. What a coincidence.”

“Yes.” Neither man believed it. Hoffner motioned to Sascha. “This is my son Alexander. Second year.”

Sascha snapped his head with an efficient bow.

“An excellent fencer,” said Tamshik. “You must have been sorry to miss it.”

Hoffner wondered how long it took a man to develop so acute a sense of viciousness. Tamshik made it seem effortless; perhaps he had simply been born with it. “Yes,” said Hoffner. “I was.”

“You were a fencer, as well? As a boy?” said Tamshik.

Hoffner did his best to hide his surprise; Tamshik had evidently done his homework. “I was.”

“Easy to tell. Something like that gets passed on. The flair.” Tamshik nodded to the other boy. “This is my nephew. Reinhold Krieger. First year. My sister’s son.”

Hoffner could hardly have imagined a less likely duo. Tamshik’s physical power, apparent in his every gesture, seemed capable of crushing the boy simply by its proximity. Reinhold was tiny. He tried his best to mimic Sascha, but on one so small and awkward, the quick drop of the chin gave the impression of a marionette fighting against its twisted strings. Hoffner knew the boy would be hopeless as a fencer. He could only guess at whose insistence he had signed on for his imminent torture.

“Reinhold is small,” said Tamshik, staring down at the boy without the least thought for his feelings. “And quite weak. But he has an agile mind. I think the one can help the other, at least on the fencing strip. Isn’t that right, Reinhold?”

“Yes, Uncle.” To his credit, the boy seemed equally dedicated to the ideal of improvement.

“And a strong will,” said Tamshik. “Which the boy has.” He looked at Hoffner. “Something he shares with your Alexander.”

Hoffner nodded. He was not quite sure how to answer. “Alexander is very dedicated,” he said.

“That much is clear.” He turned to Sascha. “Your footwork is most impressive, young Hoffner.”

“Thank you, mein Herr.

“Herr Kommissar,” Hoffner corrected.

“Herr Kommissar,” said Sascha.

“Not at all,” said Tamshik. “A pleasure to give such a compliment.”

Reinhold spoke up: “If I could watch or train with someone like you, Hoffner, I’m sure I would become much better.”

Hoffner senior wondered how many versions of the script Tamshik had worked on before coming up with this one. At least Reinhold was remembering his lines. That notwithstanding, the prospect of a direct link between his own son and a Polpo surrogate-no matter how junior-hardly sat well with Hoffner, especially after last night. He was about to make some excuse, when Sascha spoke up.

“All right,” said Sascha casually. “If you want. You can watch.”

The answer stunned Hoffner.

“You mean it?” said Reinhold, equally dumbfounded.

“Why not?” said Sascha. “Maybe you’ll pick up a thing or two. I don’t know.”

“Thank you, Hoffner,” said Reinhold eagerly. “Thank you, indeed. I’ll certainly try. I’ll give it my best effort.” He was back on script.

“That’s very good of you,” said Tamshik to Sascha. He turned to Hoffner. “You have a fine boy there.”

“Yes,” said Hoffner, still mystified by Sascha’s response. “I do.”

Almost at once, Tamshik found a reason to break up the little gathering: mission accomplished, Hoffner imagined. The good-byes were brief. Out in the corridor, as father and son headed for the changing rooms, Hoffner said quietly, “Do you mind telling me what that was all about?”

“What what was all about?”

“The sudden generosity of Herr Alexander Hoffner.”

“The what?” Sascha said coolly.

Hoffner spoke more deliberately: “Little Krieger? Your new training partner?”

“I said he could watch.”

“Yes, I heard. You don’t have five minutes for your own brother, who asks about it every day, but for Krieger, suddenly he could ‘pick up a thing or two’?”

“I said he could watch,” Sascha repeated.

Hoffner heard the first strain of irritation in his son’s voice. “You know what I’m saying.”

Sascha stopped as they reached the entryway. He looked at his father: the boy was well beyond irritation. “Are you joking?” he said defiantly. When Hoffner failed to answer, Sascha said, “I did it because I thought that’s what you wanted me to do, Father.”

It was the last thing Hoffner had expected to hear. “What I wanted you to do?”

“You are joking.” When Hoffner again said nothing, Sascha said, “What did you think, Father? That I actually cared about some first-year stmper? We went over so you could make good with your Kripo friend. I thought you’d be happy.”

Hoffner had no idea what to answer. He was trying to figure out which was worse: the fact that his son thought that he had been using him, or Sascha’s conviction that going along had been his only way to please his father. Neither left Hoffner with much to say. “He’s not Kripo,” said Hoffner. “He’s Polpo.”

The word seemed to spark an immediate interest. “The fellows who got rid of the Reds?”

“Among others. Yes.”

“And he’s a friend of yours?”

The sudden level of enthusiasm troubled Hoffner. “No. I just wanted to know what he was doing here.”

As quickly as it had come, Sascha’s fascination vanished. “And that’s the reason you came today?” he said with renewed venom.

It took Hoffner a moment to follow the boy’s train of thought. “No, of course not,” he said, trying to dismiss the absurdity. “I had no idea he’d be here.”

Sascha stared at his father. He then said, “I have to go.” He started for the door.

Hoffner moved to block his path. “I can wait. Take you home.” The silence returned. “If you like.”

Sascha’s eyes had gone cold. He said, “Today’s Friday, Father. There’s a concert. After that, I’m at Kroll’s house for the night. Mother knows all about it.”

Hoffner nodded as if he had just now remembered: he had never been told. “I saw his father today,” he said for some reason. When Sascha continued to stare at him blankly, Hoffner said almost apologetically, “You know you don’t have to help with that Krieger boy, now. No reason for you to waste your time on some stmper.” The word sounded so forced on his tongue.

In a strangely detached tone, Sascha said, “No, I think I’d like to, Father. Who knows? Could be fun.” He brought the bag back up to his shoulder. “But I really do have to go now. Kroll’s waiting. I’ll see you tomorrow. Thank you for coming, Father.”

Before Hoffner could answer, Sascha had sidestepped his way to the door and was pushing his way through. Hoffner was left to face the corridor alone.

Idiot, he thought as he began to walk. Pushed him right into Tamshik’s hands, didn’t I? Sometimes Hoffner wondered if it might not have been better never to have met Martha at all.

ASCOMYCETE 4

It was Wednesday when he finally got back to headquarters. The weekend had disappeared into a Schwarzschild black hole of family commitments: Martha’s sisters on Saturday, his mother on Sunday. Sascha had been present for both events and had worn his potential Tamshik-connection like a light summer cardigan: casually draped over his shoulder in a posture of smug defiance. Hoffner had sat through the long afternoons hoping for a ring of the telephone. It had never come. Monday and Tuesday had found him at the Reichstadt Court giving expert testimony and presentation of evidence for three separate cases. By himself, Hoffner had sent two men to the gallows. The third, a minor trafficker in Pimm’s organization, had gotten off with a slap on the wrist. Evidently, Weigland enjoyed his sugar cubes more than he was letting on.

In the meantime, Fichte had found nothing among the various stores that dealt with Monsieur Edgar Troimpel et Fils; not that Hoffner had been expecting anything. The trade lines between the former Central and Entente powers were just now beginning to resurface: French cheese was finding its way to Salzburg, Umbrian wine to Cologne. Given that everyone’s focus was on Paris and the peace talks, the lace market remained slightly less pressing. On the helpful side, Hoffner’s fawning friend at KaDeWe-Herr Taubmann-had been kind enough to take a stab at when the gloves had been made: kind enough once Hoffner had ordered a single pair for himself. They had cost him nearly half a week’s salary. He would, of course, cancel the order in a few day’s time. Still, the money was out of pocket until then, but the information had been worth it.

Herr Taubmann had estimated that, given the lower-than-usual quality of the dye, the gloves had been produced in the last six months: the war had forced everyone to cut corners, which meant that the gloves had been purchased no earlier than the summer of 1918. The question of where was equally limited: before the war, Troimpel et Fils had sold in Berlin, Milan, London, and Paris, and, of course, Brussels and Bruges, but given Belgium’s fate during the first few weeks of the war, export to friend or foe had been out of the question. A pair or two might have been brought back to Berlin by a soldier on leave, but the chances of an officer’s gift-and a rather pricey one at that-ending up on the hands of, at best, a middle-class girl were beyond remote.

The gloves had been purchased in Belgium, that much was clear. And, given the girl’s unique characteristics when compared with those of the other victims-her age, her clothes, the preserving grease-Hoffner was guessing that she, too, had originated elsewhere. He had sent out a wire to both the Brussels and Bruges police on Monday before leaving for the courts.

On the unlikely chance that he was wrong, however, Hoffner had sent Fichte out this morning to the Missing and Displaced Persons Office in Hessiche Strasse. For some reason, the powers that be had decided to set up the bureau directly across the street from the morgue: someone’s idea of efficiency, no doubt. There was still the possibility that a photo or description of the girl had come in sometime in the last six weeks: a slim one, thought Hoffner, but at least it was giving Fichte a chance to familiarize himself with one of the more depressing offices in town, and one of the busiest since the revolution.

Hoffner picked up the telephone and dialed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. The KWI operator was infamous for misdirecting calls, and Hoffner spent a good ten minutes waiting for her to find the right extension. He was still adrift in static when a messenger appeared at his door, holding a small envelope. Hoffner ushered the boy into his office just as Kroll was picking up the line.

“Uwe Kroll here.”

Hoffner took the envelope, then motioned for the boy to wait. “Uwe, hello. Any news?” There was an unexpected silence on the other end. “It’s Nikolai.”

“Yes,” said Kroll. “I know who it is.” Again, Kroll seemed content to leave it at that.

“Is this a bad time?” Hoffner said skeptically.

“You’re calling about the material.”

Hoffner stated the obvious: “Yes.”

Kroll paused. “You’re going to need to come down to the Institute, Nikolai. All right?”

There was something odd in Kroll’s voice. Hoffner had been bringing him goops and oozes to analyze for years, and not one of them had ever provoked more than a playful curiosity. This, however, had the ring of seriousness to it. Hoffner considered pressing for more, but knew better. “All right,” he said. “An hour?”

“Fine,” said Kroll. “I’ll see you then.”

Hoffner hung up and he turned to the boy. “From the wire room?”

“No, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“No?. . Interesting.” Hoffner peered at his own name written across the front of the envelope. There was no return address, no office number, just the name. The boy started to go. “Wait,” said Hoffner. The boy planted himself by the door as Hoffner opened the envelope. The note was brief, and to the point. It read: You should go back to the flat, Detective Inspector.

It was signed “K” and nothing else.

Hoffner flipped the card over and scanned it more closely. There was nothing distinctive to it: a card to be found in any stationers in Berlin. He rubbed his finger across the ink. Luxemburg’s flat, he thought. He felt the little ridges of raised cloth. Someone other than the landlady knew he had been there.

“How are you, Franz?” said Hoffner, his eyes still on the card.

The boy seemed genuinely pleased at the recognition. “Very well, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner had always held a soft spot for these runners, the boy messengers who were as old a tradition at the Alex as any he could recall. The installation of telephones-along with the recent child labor laws-had helped to thin their numbers, but for boys with no hope of schooling beyond the age of nine or ten, this was one of the few chances they had to get themselves off the streets. There were even a few beds up in the attic where the most promising, and most desperate, spent their nights.

Hoffner gazed over. He knew this boy well; he had worked with him before: always the same placid stare. Hoffner imagined that Franz could have blended in to any background. The boy saw Hoffner staring at him; his expression remained unchanged. Hoffner found that rather impressive. Going on a year, guessed Hoffner, maybe longer. A few more months, and Franz might find himself assisting a junior clerk, or even in filing, if none of the syndicates had lured him away by then. “So, tell me, Franz-who received the note?”

“The security desk, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“From whom?”

The boy was momentarily at a loss. “I don’t know, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. I could find out.”

“Yes, why don’t you do that.” Before the boy was through the door, Hoffner stopped him again. “Just to the security desk and back. And not too many questions. If they don’t remember who brought it in, they don’t remember. All right?”

“Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Good.” Hoffner nodded him out and then sat back. He again turned to the note.

There was nothing aggressive in its tone, nothing leading, or mocking. It was a simple suggestion. Though neat, the handwriting was clearly that of a man. The s was too compressed, and the K too severe, to have come from a woman’s pen. More than that, the ink was thick, the point heavy, not like the delicate line produced by a woman’s narrower nib. There was also nothing of the pathological in the script. Hoffner had seen too many messages from maniacs not to be able to discern the subtle shadings in the angle and height of the letters. The language was also wrong for that. No, this had come from an educated man-no doubt a secretive one, from his method of delivery-but aside from that, Hoffner had little to go on. The phrase “Detective Inspector” struck him as odd. There might even have been something encouraging in that.

Hoffner stood and moved over to the map. He located Luxemburg’s flat and stared at the little street for nearly a minute. He then looked up at the area where his pins were sprouting: over six kilometers away. There was no connection. He was about to return to his desk when he realized that he had yet to put a pin into the spot along the Landwehr Canal where Luxemburg’s body had been discovered. He picked one up from the box on the shelf and held it in his fingers as he traced the canal’s winding path. It cut across most of the city: impossible, naturally, to determine where the body had gone in. What, then, was the point of marking where it had come out, he thought. He continued to stare. Maybe that was the point.

The boy reappeared, slightly out of breath. He stood waiting at the door until Hoffner motioned him in. “They think a man with a beard, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“They think?”

“It was busy, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. The letter was dropped at the desk. The Sergeant thinks he saw a man with a beard around the time it came in.”

“Nothing else?” said Hoffner.

“No, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner nodded slowly, then said, “All right, Franz. You can go.”

The boy bobbed his head in a quick bow, and was almost out the door, when Hoffner again stopped him. “Wait.” Hoffner reached into his pocket and pulled out a pfennig. He held it out to the boy. The men of the Kripo were strictly forbidden to give taschgeld to the boys, but Hoffner had never seen the harm in a little pocket money. Franz hesitated; he, too, knew the rules. Hoffner brought his finger up to his lips as if to say it would be their secret. Again the boy hesitated; he then took the coin and, just as quickly, was gone.

Hoffner turned back to the map and dropped the pin into its box. Another time, he thought. He checked his watch and, placing the card in his pocket, grabbed his coat and headed for the stairs.

This time, Kroll was in his office when Hoffner knocked. A quick “Come” ushered him in: Kroll looked up from behind his desk and immediately stood. From the abruptness of the movement, he seemed oddly tense. “Hello, Nikolai,” he said as he stepped out to extend a hand. It was all far more formal than Hoffner had expected. Not sure why, and not wanting to break the mood, Hoffner took his hand.

“Uwe.”

No less forced, Kroll said, “We saw your Alexander, Friday. Charming boy, Nikolai. Really. He’s grown into quite a young man.”

For a fleeting moment, Hoffner wondered if the tone on the telephone, and now here, had something to do with Sascha’s visit to the Krolls. Had something been said? Was there a reason for the two fathers to talk? That would be unpleasant. Worse than that, Hoffner couldn’t for the life of him remember Kroll’s boy’s name. There was no way to return the compliment and move on quickly. “Thank you,” said Hoffner. “Yes. Sascha couldn’t stop talking about the lovely evening he had.”

“Good, good. Johannes really enjoys the time they spend together.”

“Johannes,” said Hoffner, doing his best not to show his relief. “Yes. I haven’t seen him in years. Also a wonderful boy.”

“Yes. . Thank you.”

The two men stared at each other for several seconds. Finally, in a moment of sudden recollection, Hoffner blurted out, “The Deutscher Rundflug. The four of us went to the opening to see Knig fly. My old partner.”

“Yes,” said Kroll, remembering eagerly.

Hoffner had no inkling why they had slipped into this bizarre little scene. He had known Uwe for far too long. Nonetheless, he continued to watch as his friend nodded uncomfortably: it quickly became apparent that Kroll’s behavior had nothing to do with either of the boys. Finally, Hoffner said, “The material, Uwe. Is there something I should know?”

Kroll stopped nodding. “The material,” he repeated distractedly. “Yes.” He pointed to a chair and headed back behind his desk. “Why don’t you have a seat, Nikolai.”

Hoffner sat. Kroll sat, his mood more serious. “About the material. I ran a few tests.” He seemed unsure how to explain what he had found. “It’s military.”

This was the one thing Hoffner had hoped not to hear. “Military,” he repeated.

“Yes. Used during the war and, not surprisingly, developed here, at the Institute. There are files that are very”-Kroll tried to find the right word-“selective. I haven’t been able to look at all of them, but I’ve made an appointment for us to go up and see the Direktor. I’ve told him who you are, the work you do. He’s agreed to talk with us, but with the understanding that any information will remain strictly. .” Again Kroll had trouble finishing the thought.

“Selective,” said Hoffner.

“Yes. Exactly.” Kroll stood and motioned to the door. “Shall we?”

Hoffner hesitated. “You mean now?”

“Yes.” Kroll was already out from behind the desk. “He’s expecting us. Please.”

The glass on the fifth floor office had the word DIREKTOR stenciled across it: Kroll knocked, then stepped through to an anteroom fitted with desk, chairs, and several filing cabinets. A plump woman, with her hair pulled back in the tightest bun Hoffner had ever seen, was seated behind the desk: he was amazed that the skin had yet to tear on her forehead. She stood.

“Good afternoon, Frau Griebner,” said Kroll, with a quick click of the heels: his anxiety had mutated into a strict Germanic decorum.

“Good afternoon, Herr Doktor Kroll.” She offered an equally perfect nod: her manner was as efficient as her hair. She took no notice of Hoffner. “I will tell the Herr Direktor you are here.” She stepped out from behind her desk and disappeared through a second door. Almost immediately she returned. “The Herr Direktor will see you now, Herr Doktor.” Hoffner followed Kroll into the office.

The room was large and filled with lamps, though the light seemed inclined to shine on only a few select areas. The rest of the space lay in half-shadows, less the result of poor positioning than of an ominous afternoon sky that hovered outside the four vast windows. The gloom seemed to be drawing the light out through the glass: Hoffner wondered if closing the drapes might, in fact, have helped to brighten the place up.

The Direktor had done his best to construct a small preserve of light for himself across the room. He got to his feet. “Herr Doktor Kroll,” he said. “Hello, hello.” He came out into the shadows to greet them. The Direktor was much younger than Hoffner had expected, a man of perhaps forty with a somewhat unruly moustache beneath a wide nose and basset hound eyes. Even more unexpected was the remarkable smile that seemed so out of place in the impressive, though dour surroundings.

“Herr Direktor,” said Kroll. “Allow me to present Herr Kriminal-Kommissar Nikolai Hoffner. Herr Hoffner, this is Herr Professor Doktor Albert Einstein.”

Hoffner recalled Kroll having mentioned Einstein once or twice, over the years. The man had come up with some theory that Kroll had described as either ludicrous or genius. Hoffner couldn’t remember which. The three shook hands and retreated to the desk. Einstein did his best to expand the pocket of light; even so, Hoffner and Kroll were forced to lean in over the edge of the desk in order to escape the shadows.

Einstein reached down and opened the bottom drawer. He pulled out a thin file with the word RESTRICTED in bold type across its front. There was also a long paragraph describing the penalties for disseminating the material, written in much smaller print below. “This is for a criminal case?” said Einstein.

“Yes, Herr Direktor,” said Hoffner.

Einstein nodded. “I’ve always been fascinated by criminal cases. They’re like little puzzles. Quite a bit like what we spend our time on.”

“Except no one ends up dead, Herr Direktor.

Again Einstein nodded. “How little you know about science, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” He paused, then added, “Anyway, you wanted to hear about something that was meant to be helpful on the battlefield.” He slid the dossier over to Hoffner. “It was called Ascomycete 4. One wonders what happened to numbers one through three.” Einstein was the only one to enjoy the joke.

Hoffner took the folder and opened it. Kroll quickly interrupted: “That’s all very technical stuff, Nikolai. Formulations and so on.” Kroll reached over and flipped to the last few pages. “The gist of the thing is at the back. This bit here.” Again, Hoffner began to read, and again Kroll cut in. “It was developed for trench fatalities,” said Kroll. “And, on occasion, no-man’s-land retrievals.”

Hoffner looked up. Evidently there would be no need for reading. “For men already dead,” said Hoffner, inviting more of the lesson.

“Yes,” said Kroll. “During the beginning of the war-and later on, during the worst of the fighting-it was impossible to transport the dead back to the field hospitals in order to prepare them for burial. Too many bodies were rotting on the front. Not only was contagion an issue, but morale, as well. Men needed to know that if they went down, at least an entire corpse would be returned to their families. The military decided that it needed something to keep the bodies as fresh as possible so that, during those periods of isolation, they could minimize the distraction and disease produced by the corpses, and also treat the dead with as much decency as possible. So they came to the Institute.”

“And”-Hoffner scanned the front page-“to Doktors Meinhof and Klingman.”

“Two very capable chemists,” said Kroll. “They came up with the solution. Meinhof is now in Vienna, at the Bielefeld Institute. Klingman passed away about a year ago.”

“So how did you know it was this”-again Hoffner read-“Ascomycete 4 from the sample I gave you?”

“Actually,” said Kroll, “it didn’t take me that long. Once I separated out the components, there were trace elements of an unguent I’d seen only once before. It was in a sample that I’d been asked to analyze during the war.”

“A military request?” said Hoffner.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“You made the connection and it brought you to the restricted files.”

Now Einstein was impressed. “You’re very good at this, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“No, Herr Direktor,” said Hoffner, “just impatient.” He turned to Kroll. “And the components were the same?”

“Identical.”

Hoffner flipped to the back of the file; he scanned a few of the paragraphs. Kroll had been right to give him the condensed version. “And this compound,” said Hoffner. “It’s now available outside the military?”

“That’s where the difficulty lies,” said Kroll. “All of this is still under lock and key here at the Institute. More than that, the research was discontinued in the middle of 1917. They stopped producing it. I won’t ask you where you got your sample.”

“Stopped?” said Hoffner. “Why?”

“Because they discovered that too much of it, if inhaled, acted as a very potent hallucinatory stimulant.”

This seemed to perk Einstein up a bit. “Not a bad little side effect, eh, Kriminal-Kommissar?”

Kroll continued: “Once the men on the line discovered its other use-well, how can you blame them, really? The General Staff did its best to restrict access-select doctors were the only ones who could get hold of the stuff-but then it no longer served the purpose for which it had been designed.”

“For a time,” added Einstein, “it actually became more popular than morphine. You can only imagine the embarrassment Meinhof and Klingman went through.”

“I’m sure,” said Hoffner as he tried to digest all of the information.

Einstein said to Kroll, “You know, it just now occurs to me that that was probably the same problem you were looking into when they gave you the original unguent to analyze. The hallucinogenic side effects.”

Kroll nodded, considering it for the first time himself. “That’s probably true, Herr Direktor. I never thought of that.”

“Yes,” said Hoffner, interrupting the riveting sidebar. “But would they have destroyed the stock they still had?”

Einstein said, “Oh, I doubt that. Too much potential as a weapon, don’t you think? The chance to develop it into a hallucinatory gas, that sort of thing.”

Unfortunately, Hoffner knew Einstein was right. “And would one slathering keep a body fresh indefinitely?”

“That was another problem,” said Kroll. “It had to be reapplied quite frequently. Hence the large quantities and the hallucinations.”

“How frequently?” said Hoffner.

Very frequently,” said Kroll. “At least two or three times a day.”

“So, how much of the stuff would one need to keep a body fresh for, say, six weeks?”

“Six weeks?” Kroll said incredulously. “Not possible. You’re talking liters and liters. Vast amounts.”

Hoffner was pleased to hear it. “So nothing your average officer would have been able to ferret away?”

“Impossible,” said Kroll with complete certainty. “It was designed to insulate the flesh for two, maybe three days, and that with constant supervision. And even that became impractical. Too many bodies to manage. The whole thing proved to be a disaster.”

Hoffner sat back and again let the information settle. At least the lone army psychopath was no longer a possibility, not that the alternative was all that much more appealing. “And you’re sure that what I gave you is this same compound?”

“Absolutely. The chemical makeup is unique. It’s like a signature. Meinhof and Klingman might just as well have attached their thumbprints to it. It’s Ascomycete 4, Nikolai. No question.”

The three men sat in silence for nearly half a minute. Hoffner could tell that Einstein wanted to ask a few questions of his own, but was choosing not to venture out of his own realm. Maybe the positioning of the light was more than just bad happenstance. Insulation could be so very comforting.

Hoffner spoke to Einstein: “I could demand all the relevant files, Herr Direktor. This is, after all, a Kripo investigation.”

“Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar, you could, but then I would have to get in touch with the Office of the General Staff-” Einstein stopped himself. “There is still an Office of the General Staff, isn’t there?”

“Yes, Herr Direktor,” said Hoffner.

“Good,” said Einstein, mildly relieved. “One doesn’t always know these days, what with the revolution. Anyway, given the peculiarity of this case, I’m not sure you’d want them to hear that you’re looking into it, just yet.” The knowing smile returned. “I could be wrong, but that’s up to you, of course.”

Hoffner nodded. “Point well taken, Herr Direktor.

Again, the room grew quiet. Einstein said, “I imagine this only complicates your case, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Yes, Herr Direktor,” said Hoffner. “It does.”

Einstein nodded coyly. “That’s not always such a bad thing.”

“I know, Herr Direktor. But right now it doesn’t make things any easier.”

The air outside was pleasantly dry as Hoffner lit a cigarette and stepped onto the plaza. It made the cold all the more piercing and gave the smoke a certain crispness as it raced down into his lungs.

Kroll had been nice enough to run through the remaining files with him, but there had really been nothing more to see. The names of the officers on the General Staff had been omitted, as had any firms that had been used to transport or produce the compound in any large quantities. It was all just science, and that, as Kroll had pointed out, was probably of little use to the Kripo.

“Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner turned around. To his complete surprise, he saw Hans Fichte heading toward him. Hoffner tried to remember if he had left a note for Fichte back at the Alex. He knew he hadn’t, which made Fichte’s appearance all the more puzzling.

Fichte was eating something out of a brown bag. He tossed both it and the bag into a dustbin, and quickly made his way over. “Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” he repeated.

“Hans. What are you doing here?”

“They told me you were with the Direktor. I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“Or interrupt your lunch.”

“That, too.”

Hoffner stared at Fichte. “So. . Are you going to explain how you found me here, or do I have to guess?”

Fichte’s face brightened. “A wire came in for you back at the Alex. It was marked ‘urgent.’ On the off chance, I checked the switchboard logs to see if you had made any telephone calls today. There was the one to Herr Doktor Kroll late this morning, so. .” Fichte left it at that.

Hoffner reached into his coat pocket, pulled out his cigarettes, and offered one to Fichte. “Nicely done, Hans.” Fichte took the cigarette; Hoffner used his own to light it, and they began to walk. “So what’s so urgent?”

Fichte coughed several times, unaccustomed to the quality of the tobacco. “Two things. First, a wire came in from Bruges. They’re putting through a call to you at one o’clock this afternoon. I didn’t want you to miss it.”

The Belgians were also full of surprises, thought Hoffner: he had been hoping to hear from them by next Monday at the earliest. “So, nothing at Missing Persons?” The two continued across the plaza.

“Pleasant little spot,” said Fichte. “They actually laughed when I mentioned Brussels. They’re dealing with close to twelve hundred Berliners who’ve gone missing since November. I had no idea.”

“Then let’s hope our girl isn’t from Berlin.” Fichte nodded and Hoffner continued, “You said two things.”

There was a hesitation as Fichte reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folded newspaper. “I trust you haven’t seen this.” He handed the paper to Hoffner. “This afternoon’s edition.”

It was a copy of the BZ. Hoffner took it and scanned the front page.

“Page four, at the bottom,” said Fichte.

Hoffner flipped it open. It took him no time to find it. When he did, he stopped and stared in disbelief. Fichte could see the anger rising in his eyes. “That son of a bitch,” was all Hoffner could get out.

It took them forty minutes to get back to the Alex, enough time for Hoffner to cool off. Even so, he headed straight for the KD’s office as Fichte trailed behind.

Without knocking, Hoffner pushed open the door. Luckily, Prager was alone: he looked up calmly as Hoffner bore down on him. “Something I can do for you, Nikolai?”

Hoffner planted the article in front of him. “Have you seen this, Herr Kriminaldirektor?”

Prager continued to look up at Hoffner; he then slowly picked up the paper and began to read. The telltale chewing of the inner cheek told Hoffner that he had not.

After nearly a minute, Prager said, “I love how they say ‘sources in the Kripo.’ That always gives it such a nice ring of truth.”

“And we have no idea how this got out,” said Hoffner.

Prager shook his head as he reread several of the passages. “It’s obviously from someone who knows something about the case,” he said, still scanning. “At least two victims. A vague reference to something on the back, though no mention of a knife.” He looked up at Hoffner. “This reads more like a teaser. I’m guessing they’ve got more information than they’re letting on.”

“Agreed,” said Hoffner. “You know we had a nice little chat with Weigland last week.”

“Yes,” said Prager, with just a hint of reproach. “Kriminal-Oberkommissar Braun stopped in to ask me to make sure you understood the parameters of the case.” With mock sincerity, Prager said, “You do understand the parameters of the case, don’t you, Nikolai?”

“It’s just Oberkommissar now,” said Hoffner. “That’s the way they like it upstairs.”

“Well, we’re not upstairs, are we?” Prager handed the paper back to Hoffner. “The Polpo likes its turf, Nikolai, but there’s no reason they would do this. Just consider yourself lucky there wasn’t any mention of Luxemburg.”

“Yes, I’m feeling very lucky.” Hoffner knew Prager was right: the Polpo had nothing to gain by it. No one wanted the hysteria this might produce. Still, Hoffner had his doubts. “They’ve got Luxemburg,” he said. “Of course she wouldn’t be mentioned.”

Prager disagreed. “This isn’t the way they’d go about it. Also, there are too many other possibilities-a family member of one of the victims, someone downstairs. Any one of them could have let this out. It’s the BZ, Nikolai. This story didn’t come cheap.” Prager turned to Fichte. “So, Herr Kriminal-Assistent, what do you think? Is this the Polpo?”

Fichte stood motionless. The KD had never asked his opinion on anything. “Well,” Fichte said with as much certainty as he could find, “any leak might lead back to Luxemburg, Herr Kriminaldirektor. I don’t think they’d want that.”

Prager smiled and turned to Hoffner. “That’s a very good point, Herr Kriminal-Assistent. Don’t you think, Nikolai?”

Hoffner said, “You know I’m going to look into this personally, Edmund. And I’m going to want a note sent out to every Kripo office. A general reminder on discretion.”

Prager knew there would be no fighting Hoffner on this one. “Fine. Just don’t let it get in the way.”

“It won’t.”

Fichte cut in. “The telephone call, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. We should get back to the office.”

Hoffner turned to Fichte. He tried not to sound too cavalier. “Have you been paying attention, Hans? We’re not going back to the office.”

The switchboard operator stared defiantly at Hoffner, who stood hovering above her. This, he knew, was the surest way to keep the lines of communication as restricted as possible. Fichte agreed: Thursday’s late-night encounter had opened him up to an entirely new world at the Alex. And while Fichte had been strangely intrigued by it at the outset, Hoffner had quickly set him straight: these were uncharted men, the source of speculation and derision from a distance, but far more treacherous up close. Whatever arguments there were to the contrary, Hoffner made it clear that the Polpo never merited the benefit of the doubt. Fichte now understood that.

Electricity had come back to the Alex sometime on Monday. The lights from perhaps ten unattended calls flashed in frantic patterns across the board; Hoffner continued to keep the woman from answering them: she was doing little to hide her disapproval. Fichte stood by the door.

“This is highly unusual, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” she said as the board begged for attention. “I really need to take care of these. I can easily forward the call to your office when it comes in.”

Hoffner nodded. “Yes, I know, Frulein. I just feel more comfortable receiving it here.”

“The international line is no difficulty, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Well, I don’t want to tie up any more of your wires than are necessary, Frulein.”

The woman insisted, “You wouldn’t be tying up-”

“Let’s just wait for the call, shall we?” Hoffner checked his watch. It was coming up on one o’clock. At eight seconds to, the international line began to flash. Hoffner nodded and the operator made the connection. She confirmed the caller and then handed the earpiece to Hoffner. Without any hesitation, she retrieved a second earpiece and sat back.

“Could you wait outside, Frulein?” said Hoffner.

The woman looked up in disbelief “Excuse me, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar?”

“This won’t take more than a few minutes, Frulein.”

The woman spoke as if to a child. “I can’t leave my post, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. All of these calls-”

“Can wait.” Hoffner’s tone made sure she understood. “Time for a coffee break, wouldn’t you say, Frulein?” Hoffner nodded to Fichte to open the door. The woman’s gaze grew more hostile until, with a practiced civility, she slowly stood, nodded to both men, and headed for the door.

At the door, she turned back to Hoffner bitterly. “This will be reflected in my report to the Kriminaldirektor, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Yes, I’m sure it will, Frulein Telephonistin.

Fichte shut the door, and Hoffner brought the receiver up to his ear. “Detective Inspector Nikolai Hoffner here,” he said in French.

“One moment, Monsieur.” Hoffner waited through the silence. He nodded to Fichte to stay by the door.

“Inspector Hoffner?” The voice was distant but audible. “This is Chief Inspector van Acker, Bruges police.”

“Chief Inspector. I appreciate the speed of your response.”

“Not at all,” said van Acker. “I do need to ask, is this the same Inspector Hoffner who published a piece titled “The Odor of Death” in Die Polizei, eight, maybe nine years ago?”

For a moment, Hoffner thought he had misheard; he had a hard time believing that anyone still remembered the article, less so that it’s “fame” had ever extended beyond a five-block radius of the Alex. “Yes,” said Hoffner, not quite convinced. “You know it?”

“Of course,” said van Acker. “Pretty standard reading here, Inspector. In Brussels, as well.”

“Really?”

“Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have set up the telephone call except, well, I thought it might be my only chance to talk with you in person.”

“Really, I’m-flattered,” said Hoffner. Fichte looked over. Hoffner shook him off.

“Nice little feather in my cap,” said van Acker. “Anyway, about your wire, Inspector. I’m not sure how helpful we can be, but we might have a little something.”

“You’ve got a missing girl, then?”

“Your description was a bit vague, but the time frame is about right for a case we’ve been looking into. May I ask how you knew to contact us?”

Hoffner told him about the gloves.

“It might also be Brussels,” said van Acker.

“Yes. I’ve got a call in.”

“Of course. The problem is, I’m not sure the girl we’ve got in mind could have afforded a pair of Troimpel gloves.”

“And why is that?”

“She was an attendant at one of the area hospitals. A scrub girl.”

That seemed a poor excuse. “And Belgian scrub girls aren’t capable of saving their money, Chief Inspector? I find that hard to believe.”

“Well, not for gloves, no. And especially not for these gloves, Inspector.”

“And no well-off boyfriends?” said Hoffner.

“Not this girl,” said van Acker. “There’s something of a stigma attached to-” He stopped. “Look, to be honest, it’s more of an asylum than a hospital. These are girls who can’t get work elsewhere. They also don’t usually spend much time away from home, for rather obvious reasons. And this girl had no family. You understand.”

Sadly, Hoffner did. Insanity as infection, he thought, with its equally despicable maxim: that only the most pitiful, vile, and unprepossessing would be willing to risk contamination by cleaning up the filth produced by a group of lunatics. Berlin’s own Herzberge Asylum was proof that such idiocy was still thriving well beyond the narrow minds of the provinces. Hoffner had often walked along its dingy halls not sure which of the two groups-the patients or the menial staff-deserved to be under lock and key, although with the latter, he did recognize that malice, and not madness, was more often the dominant pathology.

“I see,” said Hoffner. “Then perhaps this isn’t the girl.”

“Not to be blunt, but did she have the look of a-” At least van Acker was trying to be delicate. “-well, of one of these types.”

“Hard to tell, Chief Inspector. The face was. . gnawed away at.”

“Of course,” said van Acker. “To be expected, I suppose. Any other distinguishing features?” He was doing his best to go through the motions, making sure to touch on everything. “Your wire didn’t specify anything beyond height, weight, coloring. We do have a description of a marking on the left leg and another on the back. Anything there?”

The mention of the leg gave Hoffner a moment’s hope. “Where on the leg?” he said.

“Mid-shin, according to her application file. A scar from childhood.”

Somehow, Hoffner had known it would be too low. “There wasn’t enough of it left to check.”

“Naturally,” said van Acker, moving on. “And nothing on the upper back? There’s supposed to be a very recognizable birthmark there. A strawberry-colored splatter, as if someone threw a bit of paint at her. You’d have seen it immediately.”

Van Acker was picking all the most interesting spots. “The back is more problematic,” said Hoffner. “It’s been”-he did his best to find the least troubling word-“disfigured. The entire area between the shoulder blades. It’s impossible to tell what would have been there.”

Hoffner expected to hear a summary “oh well” and then an equally quick wrap-up to the conversation, but the line remained strangely quiet. When van Acker did speak, his tone was far more pointed: “Disfigured?” he said. “What kind of disfigurement?”

The change in tone momentarily threw Hoffner: for the first time in the conversation, van Acker sounded as if he was actually investigating something. Hoffner chose his words carefully. “Just some knife work, Chief Inspector. We’re dealing with something of an artist here.”

Van Acker continued to press. “How do you mean?”

Hoffner remained cautious. “We didn’t find a birthmark.”

When van Acker next spoke, the hesitation in his voice was undeniable: “It’s-not a pattern, is it?”

The word jumped at Hoffner. He took his time in answering. “Yes,” he said. “A pattern.”

Van Acker was now fully committed. “Could you describe it, Inspector?”

Again Hoffner waited. He gazed over at Fichte. These were rare moments: the possibility of a piece falling into place, no matter how disturbing its implications. And, as always, Hoffner forced himself not to look beyond it. He also knew not to give anything away. The information had to come to him. “A few lines, Chief Inspector,” he said. “Not much more.” When the line remained quiet, Hoffner continued, “Suffice it to say someone decided to make a pretty nice mess of it.”

“I see.” Van Acker’s voice was strangely cold; what he said next was no less chilling. “These wouldn’t be ruts, would they, Inspector, with a central strip running down the middle? That’s not the pattern you’re describing, is it?”

Fichte moved closer in when he saw the sudden reaction on Hoffner’s face. Hoffner shook his head as he put up a hand to stop him. With great reserve, Hoffner said, “And why do you ask that, Chief Inspector?”

There was a long silence before van Acker answered: “You wouldn’t need to ask if you’d seen them.”

Fichte was having trouble keeping up as the two men mounted the stairs back to Hoffner’s office: he had yet to hear a word about the conversation with the man from Bruges. Instead he had been told to stand by the door for nearly ten minutes while Hoffner had sat at the switchboard taking notes and asking questions.

Once inside his office, Hoffner told Fichte to shut the door and take a seat. Hoffner began flipping through the pages he had just written, matching them against a second notebook that he now took from inside his desk drawer. Still scanning, Hoffner said, “According to van Acker, the man we’ve been looking for is a Paul Wouters.”

Fichte tried to minimize his reaction. “This Wouters left the same trail in Bruges?”

“He did,” said Hoffner as he jotted down a few words in the first notebook.

“He won’t be easy to trace.”

“Oh, I think he will.” Hoffner looked up from the pages. “He’s been in the Sint-Walburga Insane Asylum, just outside of Bruges, for the past two years.”

Fichte needed a moment. “When did he escape?”

“He didn’t. He’s still there.”

Once again, Fichte was at a loss. “I don’t understand.”

Hoffner nodded and went back to the pages. He began to cross-reference every detail van Acker had been able to give him, most of it from memory: texture of the ruts, quality of the blade, intervals between the killings. As it turned out, van Acker had been the lead inspector on the case, and his recall was remarkable. It was why he had taken such an interest in the girl’s case, and why he had been eager to follow up even the most obscure requests from as far away as Berlin.

The girl had been one of Wouters’s night attendants. There had been rumors of something more than mopping up and scrubbing between them, but nothing had ever been found. In fact, the doctors who had petitioned and won to keep Wouters from the gallows-a lab rat for them to study-had insisted that such intimacy might be an indication of a positive response to the treatment. The intimacy, they reasoned, would have amounted to little more than adolescent groping-about right for the mental age of both-and so they saw no harm in it: as long as offspring could be avoided, or terminated prior to development, the doctors felt it would be beneficial to Wouters’s eventual recovery. Van Acker, of course, had been the sole voice of reason-he had wanted Wouters dead from the moment they had taken him-but science had prevailed. The fact that Wouters had been brutally killing women prior to having received this extraordinary treatment seemed an inconsequential detail to everyone but van Acker. The doctors reminded him that those women-Wouters’s victims-had been older. “Much older, Monsieur Le Chef Inspecteur. That was his purpose in the killings. His desire. The age. Because of his history. This girl poses no such threat.” Somehow, van Acker had been unable to locate pimping in the Hippocratic oath. Having done nothing to stop them, however, he alone now felt responsible for her fate.

The one aspect of the case about which van Acker had been hazy was the placement of the bodies. The Bruges police had caught Wouters in mid-etching, kneeling over his third victim; they had failed to look for a pattern in the discoveries because there had never been enough of a body count to create one.

“At least now we have a name for the girl,” said Hoffner as he continued to flip through the pages. “She was called Mary Koop. She worked at Sint-Walburga. She disappeared about two months ago.”

Fichte said, “So, if Wouters is still in the asylum, what are we dealing with here?”

Hoffner nodded as he scanned his scrawl. “That was the first question I asked myself.”

Fichte decided to take a stab. “Maybe it was someone who read about the case? Someone who was imitating him? Like that fellow who took up where Chertonski left off.”

Hoffner looked up. “Chertonski?” he said in mild disbelief. “You can’t be serious. That was knocking over old women’s flats, Hans, not killing them, and certainly not leaving them with pieces of artwork chiseled into their backs.”

Fichte seemed to shrink ever so slightly into his coat. “No-of course not. You’re right, Herr Kriminal-”

Hoffner put up a hand to stop him. “Whatever it is, Hans, I was trying to say it’s the wrong question.” Hoffner was about to explain, when he stopped. His hand became a single finger as he listened intently; he glanced over at the door and then motioned Fichte over. Fichte stood and, with a nod from Hoffner, quickly opened the door.

There, poised in a knocking position, stood Detective Sergeant Ludwig Groener.

“Herr Kriminal-Bezirkssekretr,” said Hoffner. “Can we help you with something?” On instinct, Fichte took a step back.

Groener stood motionless. He held a stack of papers in his hand as he peered at Fichte, then Hoffner. He remained outside the office. “Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” he said. “You received a telephone call from abroad. There was no entry in the log.”

Hoffner nodded in agreement. “If there was no entry, how do you know I received it?”

Groener had no answer. Instead he took aim at Fichte. “As his Assistent, Herr Fichte, it’s your job to fill in all appropriate logs. You know this, of course.”

“Of course, Herr Kriminal-Bezirkssekretr,” said Fichte. “When the Herr Kriminal-Kommissar receives a call. Absolutely. I’ll make a note of that.”

The two men stared at each other for several seconds. Realizing that Fichte was going to be of no help, Groener again turned to Hoffner. “It’s my job to know when calls come in, and the like, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“And to listen at the doors of detective inspectors’ offices?” said Hoffner. “Do you find that equally exciting?”

For an instant Groener looked as if he had gotten a whiff of his own breath. Then, just as quickly, he resumed the taut stare of bureaucratic efficiency. “The telephone call from Belgium, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. Have your man make a note of it in the log at the switchboard.” Groener turned and started to go.

Hoffner stopped him by saying, “Would you like me to give him a detailed account of what was said, Herr Groener? Or is the notation of information you already have sufficient?”

Groener kept his back to Hoffner. He turned his head slightly and said, “What was discussed is your business, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. It’s your case.”

“Yes, Herr Kriminal-Bezirkssekretr,” Hoffner said coldly. “It is.”

Groener offered a clipped nod and then retreated down the hall.

Fichte waited until Groener had moved out of sight before turning back to Hoffner. “God, he makes the place stink.”

“Close the door, Hans.” With a plaintive look from Fichte, Hoffner said, “All right, wave it out a few times.” Fichte opened and closed the door with gusto, and then shut it before returning to his seat. Hoffner said, “So, who else knew about the wire?”

“It was on your desk when I got back from Missing Persons. I assume just one of the boys and the wire operator. That’s it.”

“Evidently not.” Hoffner sat, thinking to himself: Why would anyone else have been looking for it in the first place?

“Why the wrong question?” said Fichte, resuming their previous conversation.

It took Hoffner a moment to refocus; he looked over at Fichte. “Because right now it doesn’t matter who’s doing the killing, or why. What matters is how he got to Berlin.”

Fichte’s all-too-predictable “I don’t understand” was out before Hoffner could explain.

“Look at what we have.” Hoffner settled back in his chair as he spoke: “You’d think the piece out of place would be Wouters-everything in the Bruges case is the same, everything points to him, except he’s locked away in an asylum seven hundred kilometers from here, a fact that is both frightening and astounding-but it’s not. That’s not the piece that doesn’t fit. Imitator or not-it doesn’t matter which-the killings are taking place here by someone who knows the Bruges case. By someone who must have been in Bruges. But not because he can make a few markings on a woman’s back. No, the reason he must have been in Bruges is that, unless he was there, how else would he have been able to bring the girl from Bruges to Berlin? Given her mental state, she clearly couldn’t have made it on her own. So how did anyone get from Bruges to Berlin over two months ago? The only transports would have been military. No one else could have crossed the lines, even after the armistice. How? And how does he bring a girl with him?”

Fichte needed a moment to absorb the information. “So the fact that it’s not Wouters doesn’t trouble you.”

“Of course it troubles me, Hans.” Hoffner’s tone was thick with frustration. “It horrifies me. But right now, it’s not the most inconsistent piece of information we have.”

“It’s a shame Kroll didn’t have anything for us on the grease. That might have been helpful.”

Hoffner nodded slowly. He had decided to keep this recent discovery from Fichte: until he knew what it all meant-and now, with the information from Bruges, he had no idea when that might be-Hoffner needed to keep everything as focused as possible. As much as he wanted to trust Fichte with it, he knew that would be unwise: the appearance of the Polpo had made that abundantly clear, not to mention the leak. The less Fichte knew, the safer it would be for everyone involved. “Yes,” said Hoffner. “We’ll have to wait on that.”

Fichte tried another tack: “Was the Wouters case well reported in Belgium? I mean, during the war, would they have spent a lot of time with it in the newspapers? That could be of use.”

Hoffner had been thinking the same thing. “Excellent question, Hans. You’ll have to ask the Chief Inspector when you see him.”

Fichte’s confusion returned, and Hoffner explained: “We need to know what they have in Bruges, and we need it quickly. More than that, we need to hear what Mr. Wouters has to say, and whom he might have said it to.” Fichte remained silent. Hoffner tried to lead him. “There is another way to get from Bruges to Berlin, Hans, also controlled by the military, although a bit quicker than a train.” When Fichte continued to stare back at him, Hoffner said, “You’ve never been in an aeroplane, have you, Hans?” Hoffner watched as the blood drained from Fichte’s face. “Not so bad, really. Just remember to turn your head away from the wind.” Hoffner smiled at Fichte’s blank stare. “Trust me,” he said. “You’ll know when.”

THE PACT

Victor Knig, Hoffner’s onetime partner, had spent the last hour of his life circling over a vast stretch of lake hidden beneath fog in the autumn of 1915. Knig had not realized it, but had he flown just another twenty kilometers east, he would have seen the lights of a village and been able to land his Fokker E-I in any number of open fields. At the time, the “Eindecker” had been a relatively new aeroplane, renowned for its synchronous Spandau machine gun-that clever little gear which allowed it to stop firing when the propeller blade was moving directly in front of it-but Knig had been flying in empty sky: what he had needed was light, not a miracle gun. With his fuel dangerously low, and the sun dipping out of the horizon, Knig had chanced a drop dive into the cloud cover. Thinking he was coasting just above the water, and only a few hundred meters from open land, he had hit the lake head-on at full speed. The impact had left nothing of the aeroplane to recover, let alone any traces of Captain Victor Knig of the German Second Aircraft Battalion.

It was an odd mistake for so experienced a flyer to have made. Knig had been flying since 1909, and had placed third in the Rundflug in both 1912 and 1913. It was why the Air Corps had overlooked his rather advanced age of thirty-eight on the application: a sky pilot with five years of flying under his belt was prime material. It was for those reasons that his squadron had assumed he had been hit somewhere over France. None of them had even considered the possibility of those final tormenting minutes that Knig had had to endure. Far from enemy fire, alone and blind, he had been done in by nothing more than the dark. It was probably better that no one had known. Victor had been a terribly proud man.

Next to Hoffner, Tobias Mueller had been struck hardest by Knig’s death. Mueller had been a brash twenty-four-year-old with a genius for flight, and Knig’s closest comrade in the squadron. Hoffner had met him once during one of their leaves: they had liked each other instantly.

Mueller had been something of a celebrity during the war. He had brought down eighteen French fighters in just over two years before being sent home in 1917: it had not been his decision. He had lost part of his right foot, along with a few fingers, in a crash landing, and now walked with a considerable limp. He had insisted he could still fight; the Air Corps, however, had seen it otherwise. Even so, Mueller had been too good with a stick to let go: he had been flying supplies in and out of Berlin for the past two years. True to form, it had taken Mueller no time to discover that a good deal of money could be made by a pilot willing to fly any number of other items in and out of Germany. He had been caught only once, luckily by the civilian police, and since the black market was Kripo jurisdiction, his case had landed on the third floor at the Alex. Hoffner had been the one to make it all go away, and Mueller had never forgotten him for that. The monthly supply of cigars and cigarettes was a particularly welcome treat.

For now, Mueller was favoring the aerodrome at Tempelhof as his base of operations. It was little more than four or five buildings scattered across a stretch of wide-open grassland, and was still considered second-rate when compared to the airfields at Johannisthal-the site from which the Rundflug fliers had set off and returned during those wild, prewar days of summer-but it did have the advantage of being closer in to town. It was the preferred stop of the supply runners for that reason, more so because no one really paid it much attention. Planes could come and go as they pleased. On occasion, a little something for the station guard was advised, but aside from that, sky pilots had the run of the place. It also meant that Tempelhof was always in need of a good overhaul.

Hoffner and Fichte were finding that out for themselves firsthand as they slogged their way across a field that was more like a mass of dense pudding than a runway. It was clear why boots were a staple of the aviator outfit.

Hoffner was the first into the hangar. It would have been difficult to call the domed tent a building, as it was nothing more than a tarp hung over several very long poles. Ten or so aeroplanes of every color and design stood in a row along the side wall, half of them stripped for parts in aid of the other five. Mueller was pilfering something from one of the stray engines when he looked around at the sound of footsteps. He was wearing a pair of coveralls, streaked in oil and grease from collar to foot. His boots, however, were immaculate. He started toward them.

Still far enough away not to be heard, Fichte said quietly, “I’m getting into an aeroplane with a cripple? Wonderful.”

Under his breath, Hoffner answered, “I won’t tell him about your lungs, and you don’t mention the limp. Fair enough?”

Mueller drew up to them, and, wiping the grease onto a cloth from his remaining fingers, he extended his hand. Without hesitation, Hoffner took it. “Hello, Toby,” he said.

“Nikolai,” said Mueller. “Nice to see you.”

“This is Hans Fichte. Your passenger.”

Mueller extended his hand to Fichte, who tried a smile and took Mueller’s hand. Fichte squeezed gently and felt the gaps in the grip. “It’s an odd sensation,” said Mueller, “but you get used to it.” Fichte nodded awkwardly. Mueller smiled. “I was talking about flying. You never get used to the hand.” Mueller laughed. Again Fichte nodded, as he pulled his hand away.

“How soon until you can go?” said Hoffner.

“The sky’s clear enough, for now. Up to you. Everything’s ready on my end.” Mueller nodded over to a biplane along the row, one with a tapered undercarriage and a high skid under the back fin. From the little Hoffner recalled, it could have been anything from a Siemens-Schuckert D-IV to an English Sopwith Snipe. Hoffner was putting nothing past Mueller, these days. Mueller had been talking about getting his hands on a Bentley engine for weeks: the 230-horsepower B.R.2, if memory served. It was a bit tougher to handle, but the power was unmatched, over 300 kph in a dive, according to Mueller. Hoffner had trouble even conceiving of those speeds. The chances, however, of one having “fallen” into Mueller’s lap during his travels was just too good. Hoffner knew Georgi would have been able to spot it instantly.

Mueller turned to Fichte. “We can fly above the rain, but you’ll need something warmer than what you’ve got on. There are some things back in the office you can try.” Fichte nodded.

“So I can leave him with you, Toby?” said Hoffner. “I need you there for a day, two at the most. You can work that?”

Mueller said, “Bruges is as good a place as any to find castor oil.”

Seeing Fichte’s expression, Hoffner said, “To grease the cylinders, Hans. An old sky pilot’s trick.”

Mueller headed for the office as Hoffner lagged behind with Fichte so as to give the boy some last-minute instructions. “Get what you can and wire me, Hans.” Not that Hoffner was thrilled to be sending Fichte off like this-there had been only time enough for Fichte to throw an extra pair of socks and some shaving equipment into a satchel-but given the leak, Hoffner had no interest in having the Bruges story come out before getting the information firsthand. Fichte would have to make do. “And mark the wire ‘restricted.’ I’ll have a boy waiting at the desk, day and night. Send it whenever you can.”

Fichte said, “You don’t think it would be better for both of us to go?”

Hoffner had explained this twice on the ride over. He tried to be encouraging. “Of course it would, Hans, but then who’s going to find that leak?” Hoffner paused. “You’re from the big city. Use it to your advantage.”

Mueller had reached the office. He turned back. “All right, boys, we’ve got about three and a half hours of light left. We need to be in the air in ten minutes if we’re going to get as far as Kln by tonight, and I want to get as far as Kln by tonight.” He stepped into the office and headed for a locker. “Now,” he said to himself in a loud voice, “let’s see if we’ve got anything big enough for Herr Kripo in here.”

Hoffner patted Fichte on the shoulder and started for the field. “Safe trip, Hans.” Almost at the opening flap, he added, “And try not to fall out.” Hoffner was gone by the time Fichte turned around to answer.

The Ullstein Building is the site from which most of Berlin’s popular news is processed and packaged for daily consumption. Having stood its ground for the past forty years, the building had survived relatively unscathed during the weeks of revolution. In the distant past, its editors had made it through Bismarck’s right-wing barrages, and later the left’s equally vicious attacks for the paper’s support of the war. The men of Ullstein had even found ways to defuse the ever-recurring anti-Semitic assaults. Leopold Ullstein, the publisher and founder-along with his five sons-had done a remarkable thing for Berlin by giving her workingmen newspapers written just for them; Ullstein senior had even sat on the city council in thanks for his services. But Jews were Jews, and there was always something so threatening in that, and so, whenever things got a bit slow, the Ullstein papers were the inevitable target. According to the current editors, however, if they had managed to weather those storms, a few shots from some disgruntled soldiers weren’t going to stall the presses.

Since November the real intrigue had been taking place elsewhere-at the offices of the Social Democrats’ Vorwrts a few blocks away, and at the ever-relocating rooms of Die Rote Fahne, Luxemburg’s “authentic” rag of the people. Ullstein’s Die Berliner Zeitung am Mittag (the BZ) and its Morgenpost, on the other hand, had chugged along quite nicely, and had left the rabble-rousing, and all its attendant mayhem, to the less stable publications. The Morgenpost had continued to report on the life of Berlin in full detail; the BZ had offered her up in little vignettes.

For fifteen years now, the BZ had been the city’s boulevard paper-to be picked up, read, and discarded-with stories that had just enough meat on them to keep the reader hooked for a tram ride or a morning coffee. It gave a snapshot of the city: eclectic, pulsating, and immediate. The only in-depth reporting the BZ ever did was the Monday sports section-horse races, motorcycle rallies, sailing, boxing, football, handball: the pages were always thick with the sweat of the middle class. It also liked to titillate and shock-murder was its biggest seller-which was why most of the men of the Kripo were familiar with its offices.

Hoffner pushed his way through the swinging doors and into the BZ’s editorial department. The sound of typewriter keys striking metal cylinders, and the constant clatter of the newswire machines, gave the impression that the fourth floor was under attack from a legion of angry, pellet-throwing elves. Even the ringing of the telephones took on a sirenlike wail, as if a miniature ambulance corps were shuttling unseen from one side of the room to the other. The BZ staff seemed oblivious to the noise; they remained focused on the news. The one or two who did look over as Hoffner made his way through knew exactly where he was heading. When the Kripo came, they came looking for Gottlob Kvatsch. It was probably why Kvatsch insisted that his desk remain on the back wall: he liked the view it presented. He also liked to keep his distance. Ullstein was beginning to hire too many of its own kind. Kvatsch might not have been able to avoid working for Jews; he just had no desire to work side by side with them. He had moved his desk three times during the last year. None of his co-workers had shown the least concern.

Kvatsch saw Hoffner long before Hoffner had made his way past the “cooking tips” and “affordable fashions” desks. Kvatsch quickly began to fold up the few notebooks that were spread out in front of him, and was placing the last of them inside a drawer when Hoffner pulled up. Keeping his gaze on the desk, Kvatsch found something to busy himself with: he began to rearrange the pens on his blotter. Hoffner stood quietly for a few moments and enjoyed the performance.

Kvatsch was wearing a weathered suit, the kind found on any of those Saturday wagons in the Rosenthaler Platz or near the Hackescher-Markt. The tie was also secondhand. The shirt, however, was crisp and white: Kvatsch chose his creature comforts carefully. To the men of the Kripo, he had always reminded them of a slightly bedraggled detective sergeant, one whose time had never come, yet who continued to wear the once-impressive suit in the hopes of being noticed. There was the story that Kvatsch had actually applied to the Kripo and been dismissed years ago, but Hoffner guessed it was more of a cautionary tale for young recruits than the reason for Kvatsch’s persistent choice in attire. Even so, they all knew what Kvatsch liked to be called around the BZ: he was “the Detective.” Maybe, then, the clothes were a deliberate choice, thought Hoffner, even as the word “pathetic” ran through his mind.

“Hello, Kvatsch.” Hoffner spoke with just the right tinge of contempt.

“Herr Detective Inspector.” Kvatsch was still intent on his pens. “What a surprise.”

“‘Sources in the Kripo.’ That’s very impressive. I’d like to know which ones.”

Kvatsch looked up. His face always had a nice sheen to it, as if his wide pores were the source of the oil used to comb back his hair. And he was always pursing his thick lips, afraid, perhaps, that his teeth might slip out without constant supervision. Kvatsch reached into his jacket pocket and produced a pack of very expensive cigarettes: he was making clear his own connections. He took one and laid the pack on the desk. “I’d offer you one, Herr Inspector, but I know you don’t smoke.” Kvatsch lit up and settled back comfortably into his chair. His lips continued to purse around the butt of the cigarette.

“Let’s save ourselves some time, Kvatsch. Just tell me where you got it.”

“Please, Inspector. Have a seat.” He indicated a space in front of his desk, then took in a long drag. There was no chair in front of his desk. “Are you confirming the story?”

Hoffner smiled. “I’m just trying to find out who’s been passing false information on to our friends in the press.”

“False information?” echoed Kvatsch. “Is that why you’re here? It worries you that much that someone might be misleading me?”

Hoffner kept his smile. “The name, Kvatsch. I’d hate to have to bring you down to the Alex.”

Kvatsch nodded slowly, as if he were about to submit. His eyes, however, had the look of a little boy’s with a secret. “Haven’t you heard, Inspector? The socialists have introduced something quite wonderful. It’s called “freedom of the press.” The Americans have been doing it for years.”

“Really?” Hoffner gently moved the pens out of the way so that he could take a seat on the lip of the desk. His proximity seemed to straighten Kvatsch up in his chair. “They also have libel laws. Little things like that. We don’t, so we get to use other methods.” Without the least bit of threat, Hoffner reached over and pulled a cigarette from Kvatsch’s pack. He took Kvatsch’s cigarette and lit his own.

Kvatsch showed no reaction. “Would you like a cigarette, Detective Inspector?”

“No thanks.” Hoffner took a drag on his own, and then crushed out Kvatsch’s in the ashtray. “You know, Kvatsch, I don’t think the socialists had you in mind when they started parading out all of these freedoms.”

“Must be up to four or five by now, if you’re this keen for my source, Inspector. And here I thought it was just your run-of-the-mill little murder. Not even front-page material. Tell me, is it true about the knife markings? I think that’s the part that’s going to sell the most papers.”

“We both know it’s going to take me no time to find this out. You can either do yourself a favor, or you can do what you always do. End up a few steps behind, kicking yourself for having been so stupid.” Hoffner enjoyed the momentary flash in Kvatsch’s eyes. “These socialists are an unpredictable bunch. It’s another week before the Assembly votes get tabulated. Who knows where we might be then? Between you and me, Kvatsch, I don’t think this is the time not to have a friend in the Kripo, do you?” Hoffner stood. He crushed out his cigarette. “Just something to think about.”

“I’ll do that,” Kvatsch said icily.

“Good.” Hoffner reached over and took the pack from the desk. He was turning to go when he stopped and said, “Oh, by the way. Nice suit. Just your style, Detective.” Hoffner pocketed the cigarettes and headed for the door.

Fichte had vomited twice, once during a barrel roll, the other just after they had touched down in a field on the outskirts of Kln. To be fair, that last one had been due more to relief than to motion; still, it had brought Fichte in under the limit. Mueller had been banking on at least three such episodes, but Fichte had survived the nosedive and the spinout without so much as a burp. Mueller had been duly impressed. Tonight the drinks were on him.

“You see,” said Mueller as he watched Fichte dry-heave a last string of saliva onto the ground. “I told you you’d get used to it.” He rapped him on the back. “We just need to get you something to settle that stomach.”

Fichte nodded as he stared, hunched over, into his own spew. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his mouth. Oddly enough, he had never felt more exhilarated. He spat, stood, and peered up into the dusking sky.

It was all so unreal, he thought. Thirty kilometers out of Berlin, and the clouds had lifted; the sky had opened, and Fichte had known what it was to be in flight. Mueller had tried explaining it to him over the din of the engine and wind, but Fichte had heard only pieces-nondimensional coefficients, lift-drag ratios-none of which had made even the slightest bit of sense to him. For Fichte, flight was a matter of faith, and with it had come a feeling of such profound solitude-stripped of any hint of loneliness-as to make it completely serene. He could still feel the wind slapping at his face, his hand as he had held it out, its enormity stretching out over houses and fields and rivers, all of them cradled in the thickness of his fingers and palm. There was a vastness to the world at those speeds and at that height, a totality that could easily have provoked a feeling of utter insignificance, but Fichte had felt no less vast. Up there, he had known why Mueller had continued to take to the sky: not for the thrill or for the ego, but for the connection with that totality, a sensation of perfect wholeness only imagined from the ground looking up. At two thousand feet-in an open box made of metal and wood-it was forever in his grasp.

Fichte spat again and placed the handkerchief in his pocket. “A couple of shots of whiskey should do it,” he said.

Mueller laughed. “Oh, I think that can be arranged.”

Mueller knew most of the best spots in and around Kln. In fact, Mueller knew most of the best spots anywhere west of Berlin. He was also not averse to using his disabilities to his advantage. The girls in Kln were known to drop their prices, and various other bits, for a cripple, now and then. Mueller told Fichte he would see what they could do for a cripple’s friend. Fichte thought about mentioning his lungs, but he reckoned the trade-off wasn’t worth the few marks he would save: better to have Mueller thinking him a robust young detective than the jackass who had sucked in on the gas at the wrong time. Of course, it never occurred to Fichte that Mueller might already be wondering why his passenger had managed to miss out on all the fun at the trenches. Mueller was praying that Fichte’s quick departure from the Kaiser’s service had had nothing to do with a certain very delicate area: that was a wound no one liked to talk about. Fichte’s hesitation over the girls had gotten Mueller thinking that maybe the prices were not going to be the real problem tonight.

All such concerns, however, were quickly put to rest five hours later, when Mueller, Fichte, and two willing young ladies stepped into the attic loft that Mueller had found for them over one of the seedier bars in town. It was one room, but Fichte hardly seemed to mind. He had been sustaining a very nice drunk since his third beer, and immediately pulled down his pants the moment the four of them were alone. Mueller laughed at the sudden appearance of Fichte’s shortish but exceptionally thick erection. Mueller tossed his own girl onto the room’s one bed and dove in after her. He then turned to Fichte as the bedded girl began to pull off his clothes.

“What is it with you cops and instant nudity?” said Mueller, slapping at the girl’s hands as she tried to undress him. “Pants down. Service, please. Where’s the romance?” Mueller howled with laughter as the girl found what she had been searching for.

Fichte stood there, chortling quietly to himself as his girl took hold of her prize.

Mueller said, “Nikolai’s the same way, you know. No shame, no patience.”

Hoffner’s name seemed to slap some life into Fichte. He turned to Mueller as he pushed the girl’s face from his crotch. “The Kriminal-Kommissar?” said Fichte, tripping over the last few syllables. He immediately snapped his head back at the girl, who was trying to reacquire her target. “Hey there!” he said. “Hold on a bit.” She laughed and continued to probe. Fichte shrugged and looked back at Mueller. “Herr Hoffner?”

Mueller was having his own trouble concentrating on the conversation. “I could tell you stories,” he said in a throaty tone.

“Really?” said Fichte, teetering as he spoke. “Like what?”

The girl had mounted Mueller and was now riding him with vigor. When he spoke, his words issued in a tom-tom cadence. “Ask him about the pact.”

“About the what?” said Fichte. Fichte’s girl pushed him down onto a chair. She took his hands and strapped them onto her thighs. She, too, began to drive down onto him.

“The pact,” said Mueller, becoming winded. “Just ask.”

The girl on top of Fichte grabbed his face, focused it on her own, and said, “You want to talk, or you want to fuck?”

It took Fichte a moment to find her eyes. She was really quite pretty, he thought. And she had nice big tits. Bigger than Lina’s.

“Fuck, please,” he said.

She grabbed his head and thrust it into her chest. She then began to ride him with even greater abandon. Fichte was glad he had brought his inhaler. He would need a few good sucks before round two.

CHUCHYA

Hoffner had lain awake for most of the night. He was a periodic insomniac, and, except for the fact that he actually enjoyed the long hours of intense thought, he might have attributed it to some sort of cosmic payback for a waking life of chosen isolation. For some reason, though, dead-of-night focus on a case always left him feeling refreshed in the morning. It was dreaming that exhausted him.

He had come to the conclusion-sometime around 4:00 a.m.-that the note from K might be the only piece of recent information that could lead him forward. Everything else seemed to be generating lateral movement: the grease had introduced the possibility of a military connection; the gloves had raised a whole series of problems-the girl’s transport, the girl herself, and the fact that Wouters was in a different country. Hoffner had considered the “second carver” theory-the smooth versus the jagged and angular strokes-but that hardly explained who the first carver might be, what with Wouters safely locked away in Sint-Walburga. And, of course, there was Luxemburg, which had brought in the Polpo and which, to Hoffner’s way of thinking, was somehow linked to the leak.

That left him with the note from K, which, on the surface, seemed equally cloudy. The small hours, however, did more than just concentrate Hoffner’s mind; they allowed his instincts to come to the fore: by the time Martha had begun to show signs of life at five-thirty, Hoffner knew with absolute certainty that the note was unrelated to everything else. He just had no notion why.

Finding out, however, would have to wait. He slipped out of bed, dressed, and grabbed a quick breakfast-yesterday’s cold potatoes and coffee-and was out the door before the rest of the house knew he had been home. At this hour, cabs were easy pickings and Hoffner was at the Alex by half past six.

Little Franz was standing over a washbasin in one of the attic alcoves when Hoffner pulled up next to him. It was now a quarter to seven, and the light had just begun to creep through the porthole window directly above them. Hoffner had ducked his way under the beams and past the three beds-two of which were still occupied-all without drawing attention. He now waited for Franz to turn off the tap.

“Up nice and early,” said Hoffner when the splashing finally stopped.

The boy nearly jumped. He stood there as water dripped down his cheeks and onto the floor. He had that same concave, pale little chest that Georgi had, but his biceps were already beginning to show genuine muscle: this was a boy who had learned to survive. Hoffner knew that any comparison with his own son was strictly of his own making. Hoffner reached over for the paper-thin towel hanging from a hook, and held it out to him.

Franz took the towel. “Yes. Good morning, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” He continued to stare at Hoffner.

“Don’t let yourself catch cold, Franz.” Immediately the boy went to work on his hair and face. “I’ve a favor to ask you.” Franz nodded from under the towel and continued with the fury that was a ten-year-old boy drying himself. “You might want to leave a little skin on your face,” said Hoffner.

Franz looked up. His hair was shooting off in all directions, but his face had that lovely pink-and-white hue. “Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner placed the towel on its hook as Franz began to do what he could with a hairbrush. “You remember Herr Kvatsch? At the BZ?” The boy had tailed Kvatsch during a case last year; he had proved himself exceptionally good at getting the names of the people Kvatsch saw during the day.

Franz nodded. “The one with the teeth,” he said. “Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” Franz had managed something of a part; he placed the brush by the basin.

“Good. I’m going to need you to find out who he’s been talking to.” Hoffner knew Kvatsch was lazy: the man would eventually contact his source. Hoffner only hoped it would be quicker than the last time: then, Franz had spent the better part of a week in Kvatsch’s shadows. “It’s five pfennigs a name,” said Hoffner. The boy’s eyes lit up: it had been two, the last go-round. As then, Hoffner had no reason to worry that Franz might pad the list in order to make a few extra coins; the boy took too much pride in his work. It was why Hoffner had known Franz would be at his washbasin at a quarter to seven in the morning.

Franz reached over for his shirt. He slipped his arms through and began to button it. “Today, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar?”

“Today.” Hoffner watched as Franz crammed his shirttail into his pants. Once again Hoffner had to remind himself that this was no ordinary ten-year-old, the boy’s gawkiness notwithstanding: no doubt Franz was already proficient with a blackjack, maybe even a knife. “One other thing,” said Hoffner. He nodded back over his shoulder to the two sleeping boys. “Which one of them do you trust?”

Franz peered past Hoffner and pointed toward the boy in the far bed. “Sascha. He’s all right.”

Hoffner turned to the sleeping boy. From this angle, he might have been his own Sascha, a few years removed. Again, it was best not to think about it. “I need him by the wire room, all day and all night, if necessary. Anything comes in for me, he’s to hold it and find me. Can he do that?” Franz nodded. “Good. Tell him I’ll telephone the switchboard at eleven to see if anything’s come in.” Hoffner waited for another nod; he then headed for the door. He was figuring that Fichte and Toby would be landing in Bruges sometime around ten if they could manage to get themselves out of bed in the next hour. Then again, Hoffner had spent his own weekend with Victor and Toby, that trip to the Tyrol, most of which he now recalled as a smoke-filled, boozy blur. Hoffner stopped and turned back to Franz. “Better make it noon.”

The morning commuters were long gone by the time Hoffner arrived in the South End: Lindenstrasse was virtually empty. Even so, he stood on the corner for perhaps ten minutes, gazing from his newspaper to the few passersby, none of whom seemed the least interested in Luxemburg’s building. Satisfied, Hoffner tossed the paper into a trash bin and headed for Number 2.

This time the landlady let him in without so much as a question. Breakfast was in the offing, but Hoffner politely refused and asked if anyone else had come to the flat since his own visit: the woman recalled no one.

Luxemburg’s rooms were untouched, except for a few very subtle changes: the teacup had been rinsed and returned to its shelf; several of the pictures had been straightened on the wall; and the smell of dried wood had been aired out, although the windows were once again shut tight. K, as it turned out, was more than just a secretive man; he was a neat one. Hoffner found that in keeping with the tone of the note.

The purpose for the return visit, however, was a bit more difficult to pinpoint. In fact, it took Hoffner nearly twenty minutes to find what K had sent him back for. When Hoffner did find it, he realized it was in the most obvious, and therefore least likely, place to have been searched. Sitting atop her desk-and side by side with the unread speeches-was a stack of books and papers held together by a rough piece of cord. K had been clever: the stack had been placed in such a way as to seem a part of the speeches. Hoffner now saw it otherwise. He stepped over, sat in Rosa’s chair, and began to loosen the knot.

Within half a minute he was flipping through one of her private diaries, February through May 1914. The other volumes chronicled her life in equally short and arbitrary installments: July 1911 through January 1912; November 1915 through July 1916; and an entire book devoted to August 1914. The beginning of the war had marked the end of the International; with German workers voting to fight against their French and English brothers, Luxemburg’s dream of a Universal Socialism had come crashing down. It had been the great disaster of her life-”workers of the world” choosing country over one another-and had thus inspired pages and pages of grief-stricken prose, all with the requisite hair-pulling of a Greek tragedy. Hoffner quickly moved through them.

The more startling discovery was the collection of loose letters slotted into each of the books. Hoffner estimated several hundred from a first glance-through: it was clear that they had been hastily included, the addressees and dates even more haphazard. There were more than thirty names, with dates reaching as far back as 1894, the most recent from only a few months ago. The one constant was the writer. They were all from Rosa.

How, then, thought Hoffner, had K amassed nearly two hundred of Rosa’s private letters in just over a week? The answer-and K’s identity-obviously lay with the recipients, but Hoffner knew any attempt to contact Luxemburg’s coterie would elicit only blank stares and denials: the remaining Spartacists-her band of left left-wingers-would never give up one of their own to the Kripo.

He also knew there would be nothing in the stack to tell him who K was; even so, Hoffner needed to make sure. He went to work on the names.

Of those who had received letters, only three had a K in either initial. The first was Karl Liebknecht, and unless he had risen from the dead, it was highly unlikely that he had been the one to show up at the Alex last week. Hoffner eliminated Liebknecht.

The second was a Konstantin Zetkin-Kostia, in the letters-a boy fifteen years her junior, the son of Luxemburg’s good friend Clara, and, from what Hoffner could make out, Rosa’s lover for a short period of time. That, however, hardly distinguished him from any number of the other correspondents: Paul Levi, her lawyer; Leo Jogiches, her mentor; and Hans Diefenbach, her doctor-who had actually married Rosa during her last stint in prison, but who had died at the Russian front before reaping the benefits-had all kept in contact with her both before and after the affairs; all, of course, except for Diefenbach, although there were a few diary entries in which Luxemburg had carried on some lively conversations with him postmortem.

What made it clear that she would never have allowed Zetkin to compile her letters was the fact that the boy simply didn’t have the smarts to do it. Zetkin was a classic Luftmensch, all air and no substance, and although Rosa had tried to mold him into something artistic, the journals made it clear that he had been a lost cause. Hoffner quickly recognized that Kostia Zetkin was not his K.

That left Karl Kautsky. Most of the letters were addressed to his wife, Luise, but even Hoffner had heard of the very public falling-out between Luxemburg and her onetime comrade. It was generally agreed that squabbles among socialists made for the most entertaining reading in town: vitriol and sarcasm never had quite the same shrillness elsewhere, and the newspapers knew it, even if most of their readers never understood the finer points. In fact, no one understood the finer points; they were meaningless, anyway. The comedy was in the personal swipes, and Luxemburg had given Berlin a tour de thtre with her dismantling of Kautsky. Suffice it to say Kautsky had not been the one to lead Hoffner to the flat.

K had left nothing in the letters that could be tied to himself; he was too clever for that. He had signed the note for a reason, but for now, his identity would have to wait.

Hoffner sat back. He noticed a decanter of brandy on a nearby shelf, and, reaching over, brought it to the desk. There was a glass among the papers, and he poured himself a drink. He imagined that K had brought him here to see the real Luxemburg-stripped of the caricature of fanaticism-and while the pages did paint a more flesh-and-blood picture, Rosa remained distant. There were moments of raw emotion, but they came across too self-consciously: pain was never simply pain-it was acute, or frantic, or unbearable-beauty never less than triumphant. There was a morality to socialism that seeped into everything. It was as if she had been unable to separate herself from the woman who shouted down to the crowds, even when writing for herself. A few lines would hint at more, but then, just as quickly, the exclamation points would return-the heightened sense of purpose-and the other Rosa would slip quietly away.

Hoffner refilled his glass and realized that the room had been cast in much the same way. During his first visit he had seen it as a place for gatherings, warmth: now that seemed contrived, as well. The pillows and photographs were placed too perfectly to be inviting. There was an earnestness to the intimacy, which made it all the more suspect.

Glass in hand, Hoffner stood and moved across to one of the bookshelves. He scanned the titles and pulled out a volume of Pushkin: maybe he would find more of her in how she read than in how she wrote? But here, too, her marginalia lived in the extremes: Pushkin was either a genius or a fool. The same held true for Marx and Korolenko, a special diatribe reserved for a collection of essays by a man named Plekhanov. No matter where, her words, like herself, were intended for display. There seemed to be no private Rosa in any of it.

Hoffner finished his drink and began to squeeze the book back into place. He was having trouble getting it in when he heard the sound of something falling behind the row. He peered in through the gap, but it was too dark. Pulling a handful of books from the shelf, he found a thin volume lying flat on its back: it was little more than a pamphlet. He placed the stack on the desk and retrieved the book.

At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him. It had been years since he had seen it, a standard edition of Mrike’s poetry. Not that it was so momentous a find: every first-year university student could recite a few passages from memory. But it seemed odd to find it here, in and among the weighty tomes. Then again, it really hadn’t been with them, tucked safely behind. Hoffner pulled over a chair and opened the leather cover.

The pages were almost clean-a mark here and there, or a word-but nothing like the constant commentary he had seen elsewhere. And yet it was clear from the ragged corners that Rosa had spent a good deal of time with the book. Hoffner leafed through, allowing the pages to lead him. They came to a stop on a poem called “Seclusion.” He needed to read only the first line to understand why:

Oh, world, let me be.

The rest was equally telling:

Tempt me not with gifts of love.Let this solitary heart haveYour delight, your pain.

What I grieve, I know not.It is an unknown ache;Forever through tears shall I seeThe sun’s love-light.

Often, I am barely consciousAnd the bright pleasures breakThrough the depths, thus pressingBlissfully into my breast.

Oh, world, let me be.Tempt me not with gifts of love.Let this solitary heart haveYour delight, your pain.

The one place where she had made a mark was next to the word “conscious”-no exclamation point, nothing to explain, just a simple dash to draw her eye each time she turned to the page. She had been fully aware of her own isolation and had kept it hidden away. Evidently, even K had not been privy to it.

There was something powerfully real about this single page. It gave no greater insight to the source of her solitude, but it made her far more human. Perhaps better than most, Hoffner understood her plea.

He caught sight of his watch, and nearly blanched when he saw the time. It was quarter to two. He had been with her for over five hours and had let the time slip by. K had brought him back for her theories and ramblings, but it was only here at the end that Hoffner had found something he could understand. This Rosa was far more compelling than he had imagined.

Nonetheless, she would have to wait: he needed to get in touch with the wire room. Looking around for something to hold the papers, Hoffner spotted a bag that was tucked in between the chair and desk. Evidently K had thought of everything. Hoffner shuffled the diaries and papers into a single stack and slid them in. He repositioned the chair and picked up the Mrike. He was about to place it back behind the row when he stopped. He stared at the weathered cover.

Oh, world, let me be, he thought.

He slipped the book into his pocket and headed for the door.

Downstairs, a strident “Yes” greeted his knocking. Hoffner spoke up and the door opened instantly: the woman’s smile seemed to grow broader with each subsequent unveiling.

“Madame,” said Hoffner. “I was hoping I might use your telephone.”

At once, she stepped back. “Of course, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. Please.”

The woman brought him into her sitting room, which was the same layout as upstairs, although Rosa had shown better taste when it had come to the furnishings. This was a mishmash of styles. Hoffner wondered how many departing tenants had arrived at their new homes only to discover a missing chair or table. No doubt a few of Rosa’s things would soon be relocating a few flights south.

Hoffner put in the call; the woman retreated through a swinging door to give him his privacy.

The wire room had received nothing. According to the new boy, little Franz had not been back since this morning. Herr Kriminal-Bezirkssekretr Groener, on the other hand, had passed by several times to ask Sascha what he was waiting for. Hoffner told the boy to ignore Groener and to remain by his post.

Hoffner hung up just as the woman was returning with a tray of food. Hoffner said, “Very kind of you, Madame, but I really must. .” The look of disappointment on her face bordered on the tragic. “Well, maybe just a sausage.”

She brightened up at once and placed the tray on a nearby table. She then sat and waited for Hoffner to join her: evidently, this was going to be a formal sitting. Hoffner obliged, and she started to spoon out three short, wrinkled pieces of meat from a can and onto a plate for him. When she was done, she poured out a glass of something pale yellow. Hoffner thought it better not to ask.

He took a spoonful and slid the first of the pieces into his mouth. It was army surplus, probably two months old, and had a leathery texture that tasted liked dried tobacco. Hoffner smiled and swallowed. The woman beamed. She was very proud of her husband’s scavenging, and probably had no idea that she was feeding contraband to a police officer. “You knew Frau Luxemburg well?” he said.

The woman watched him with a mother’s joy as he ate. “As well as any of the tenants.”

“You knew her friends?”

Her lips puckered at the thought of them. “No. I didn’t know any of those people.” The word “those” carried a particularly sneering tone.

“Gentleman friends?” He shoveled a second piece of the meat into his mouth, and did his best to swallow it whole. “One reads the papers, hears things.”

The woman gave a tight smile. “I don’t interest myself in such things.”

Really, thought Hoffner. He had noticed several of the more notorious papers-the popular rags-in a rack by the sofa when he had been on the phone. He now looked over again and scanned them for their dates: all late December. It had been about that time that most of the papers had begun to chronicle the seedier side of Rosa’s life, all of it, no doubt, with lies meant to discredit her: “Judah is reaching out for the crown!” “We are ruled by Levi and the devil Luxemburg!” had been the most popular slogans around town. Hoffner knew there was only one reason his hostess would have saved them.

The woman saw where he was looking. For a moment she looked as if she had been caught. Then, just as quickly, the tight smile returned. “I don’t read them. They’re-my husband’s. As I said, I don’t look at such trash.”

Hoffner smiled with her. “Even if you might have been the one to give them the information for their stories.”

The woman’s face went white. “Herr Kriminal-Kommissar! I would never-”

Hoffner raised a pacifying hand. “I don’t really care, Madame. I hope they paid you well. But I would hate to flip through one of those rags and find the mention of one of Frau Luxemburg’s special friends. Say, a bearded man who might have had keys to the flat?” The woman’s eyes went wide as she listened. Her entire body stiffened as she tried to find a response. “So there was someone?” said Hoffner. He turned his attention to the last piece of meat; he was trying to scoop it up, but was having trouble getting it onto his spoon. The woman’s eyes darted nervously as she followed his progress. When Hoffner finally landed it, he looked back at her. “There was someone?” he repeated. She stared at him; she nodded once. “Did he have a name?” said Hoffner. He popped the meat into his mouth.

The woman’s hand seemed eager for her neck, but she managed to keep it in her lap. “Most of them had beards.” A light desperation had crept into her voice. “They always had beards. Filthy people. They would stream in and out. I never knew which was which.” She suddenly remembered something. “There was an umbrella,” she said. “Yes. An umbrella. The man-her special one-he always carried an umbrella with him.”

An umbrella, thought Hoffner. Very helpful. That simply meant K was no idiot; after all, he was living in Berlin in the winter. “But no name.” She tried to find it, but shook her head. Hoffner nodded and stood. “Well, if you think of it.”

As before, she suddenly brightened up. “He was a Jew,” she said, as if she had just recalled the crucial piece in the puzzle.

The comment should not have surprised Hoffner, but it did. Nonetheless, he showed no reaction. “A Jew,” he said.

“Oh yes.” She was so pleased for remembering. “You can always tell Jews. This man was definitely one of them.”

“I see.” There were any number of things Hoffner thought to say, but he said none of them. Instead he stood quietly until he knew he had no choice but to speak: “Well. I have work to get back to. Thank you for the luncheon, Madame.”

She stood. “Not at all, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. If I can be of any further help.”

Hoffner tried to match her smile. He didn’t really try all that hard.

At first sight, Sint-Walburga was not nearly as chilling as Fichte had thought it would be. Van Acker had taken the scenic route, which, on a clear, sunlit day, gave the asylum the look of a country villa, if only through half-squinting, hungover eyes: Fichte had yet to put anything solid in his stomach-Mueller, of course, had had a full breakfast before taking off-and, except for several tall glasses of water, Fichte had done his best not to stir things up. For some reason, this morning’s flight from Kln had helped to relieve his anguish. The ups and downs and turns of the road out to the asylum, however, were beginning to take their toll: there was a distinct sloshing feeling. Fichte kept his head facing out the window.

Walburga was three stories high, set atop a small hill, and with enough surrounding woods to make it seem almost cozy. Closer in, however, the illusion vanished. The iron bars across each window and doorway came into view as the automobile made its final turn out of the trees. Chips pockmarked the thick walls, and water damage veined the stones in thin green streaks, as if a spider, infected by the disease within, had let loose with its own demented weaving.

Van Acker pulled the car up to the main gate. He beeped his horn once and waited for a guard to saunter across the gravel courtyard. The man fit perfectly into his surroundings: his face was scarred, and his uniform had the same weathered look as the walls. The sight of the gun in his belt was little comfort. He reached the gate and spoke to van Acker through the bars. “No one said you’d be coming up today, Chief Inspector.” His voice was a perfect monotone.

Van Acker nodded dismissively. “No one’s been answering your telephone. I’ve been trying since noon.”

It was difficult to know whether the guard had understood; his expression and posture remained unchanged. Had the eyes not been open, Fichte might have thought the man asleep on his feet.

With a sudden jerk, the guard reached for the lock on the gate. “Yuh,” he said in the same lifeless tone. “Telephone’s out.” He released the chain and slowly walked the gate open. Fichte expected van Acker to pull up by the main door, but he continued around to a small archway off to the right. At some point it might have been the delivery entrance; now it was Walburga’s only access. Fichte noticed several automobiles parked behind the building.

“How’s your French, Detective?” said van Acker in German as the two men stepped up to the doorway. He pulled the cord for the bell.

Hoffner had omitted Fichte’s “in training” status when he told the Belgian who was coming. In fact, he had even given Fichte a promotion, figuring Fichte could use all the help he could get. Back in Bruges, van Acker had been duly impressed by so young a detective inspector. Per Hoffner’s instructions-and given his head this morning-Fichte had kept as quiet as possible during the ride up from town. “It’s all right,” said Fichte without much conviction.

They heard footsteps through the door. Van Acker said, “I’ll translate. Make sure there’s no confusion.”

A second guard opened the door and ushered them into a tiny vestibule. It was lit by a single bulb and was in no better state of repair than the outside walls. A large iron door waited directly across from them. Van Acker was forced to suffer through a repeat performance of the conversation at the gate before being permitted to sign the registry. “Everyone who comes in or goes out,” he said as he handed the pen to Fichte. “Staff and visitors alike.” Fichte finished signing just as the guard was unlocking the iron door that led into the asylum proper. “Don’t be fooled by the surroundings,” said van Acker. “They take this all very seriously.”

The scrape of the bolt in the lock behind them was enough to tell Fichte how seriously Sint-Walburga took its inmates. Van Acker led them down a narrow corridor and into an open hall. It might have been any country house entrance hall-vaulted ceiling, fireplace, chairs and sofas-except that its windows had all been bricked over, leaving it devoid of any natural light. What light there was came from a collection of overworked lamps, placed at odd intervals along the walls, that did little more than create a stark, yellow pall within the space. That, however, was not the hall’s most disconcerting feature. The grand staircase, which still sported remnants of a once-magnificent carpet, was encased in a cage of thick bars that ran along the banisters and up to the second floor. There was barely enough room to squeeze an arm through; even so, they had taken every precaution: a second iron door stood at the bottom of the steps where the banisters met. Shadows from the bars spilled out into the hall and seemed to trap the single guard on duty in his own phantom cage. He gave a perfunctory nod to the two men; he knew they were not heading up.

For Fichte, however, the sounds coming from above made the rest seem almost inviting. At first he thought it was the mewling of dogs; he quickly realized, however, that these were human voices. Some murmured in whispers, others in incoherent wails. The one constant was an unrelenting desperation. One voice suddenly broke through, its anguish enough to prompt Fichte’s own sense of despair. Almost at once, a door bolted shut, and the voice again retreated into the amorphous mass of sound.

“The patients are on the top two floors,” said van Acker, as if relegating them to the upper reaches could in any way mitigate their presence throughout the building. Fichte did his best to nod. “The Superintendent keeps himself down here.”

All but one of the doors off the hall had been barred over. Van Acker led them over to it and knocked once before letting himself in. He told Fichte to wait outside. Fichte agreed, glad to have put some distance between himself and the stairs. He watched as van Acker made his way across the office and began to speak quickly in French to the man seated behind the far desk.

Fichte had lied. He barely understood a word. He could pick out the mannerisms of a greeting, or small talk, but he was completely at sea until he heard van Acker mention the name Wouters. Fichte did, however, recognize the look of confusion on van Acker’s face the moment the Superintendent began to reply. Confusion turned to shock. Fichte needed no French to know that something was wrong.

When the man finished speaking, van Acker slowly turned back to the door. He hesitated and then motioned for Fichte to join them. “Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” he said. “Could you join us?”

It took Fichte a moment to remember his “promotion.” He stepped into the office. It was clear that van Acker was on edge: the introductions were brief.

The room fell silent as van Acker seemed unsure what he wanted to say. Finally he turned to Fichte and, almost under his breath, said, “Wouters is dead.” He did nothing to hide his own disbelief and regret. “It seems he hung himself two nights ago.”

Fichte remained surprisingly calm; he let the information settle. He then said, “I’ll need to send a wire.”

Hoffner got lucky. At this hour, most of the city’s cabs were already back in central Berlin, picking their spots for the rush hour. The sky had opened up, and, had it not been for the sudden appearance of a black Tonneau Mercedes dropping off a fare-and his own quick sprint to flag it down-Hoffner would have been left to slog his way through the downpour to the nearest bus stop. Even so, he received a nice dousing of his pants for his efforts. It was an acceptable trade-off: his shoes would have gotten soaked through, anyway. Once safely inside, he thought about a nap, but that was not to be. He was having trouble shaking Luxemburg.

On the edge of downtown, he told the driver to head up toward Friedrichstrasse. The man disagreed. “You want to avoid die Mitte this time of day, mein Herr. Faster if we hook over south of the Hallesches Gate.”

“Just try Friedrichstrasse,” Hoffner said. “All right?”

The man shrugged. “Your time, your money.”

As promised, the traffic slowed once they hit the middle of town. The spray from the wheels of the cars rapped mercilessly at the cab’s windows and repeatedly dissolved the outside world into a swirl of melting pictures. Hoffner rolled down his window when they hit Friedrichstrasse, so as to minimize the distortion. He checked his watch; it was about time for tea. Positioning himself back on the seat so as to avoid the splatter, he peered out.

He spotted her at Schuckert’s, just beyond Leipziger Strasse. She had ducked in under the awning, and was waiting for the worst of it to pass. Her coat was too thin for the weather, and she held her arms across her chest for added warmth.

“Pull over!” shouted Hoffner over the patter of the rain.

The driver turned abruptly for the curb. Several horn squawks accompanied the maneuver. “I told you it would be bad.”

Hoffner paid and hopped out. He placed the papers under his coat and darted over to the restaurant. It was not until he had removed his hat that Lina recognized him. She tried to hide her pleasure in a look of surprise, but her face was not yet sophisticated enough to carry it off. Hoffner shook out his hat as he approached. “I thought it might be you,” he said, deciding to play out the charade.

“Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” said Lina. “What a nice surprise.”

“You look absolutely frozen, Frulein Lina. Let me buy you a coffee.”

She hesitated before answering: “I can’t bring them inside unless I’m selling.” She glanced down at her basket of flowers, then back at Hoffner. “And the tea hour is my best time, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Not in this weather, it isn’t,” he said, before she could find another excuse. He looked over and saw the lone waiter who had been stationed for the outside seating. The man was holding his tray across his chest and staring out at the rain. Heated lamps or not, no one would be stupid enough to sit out today. “Herr Ober,” said Hoffner, calling the man over. Hoffner reached into his pocket and pulled out his badge. Well trained, the man showed no reaction as Hoffner continued: “This young lady is going to leave her basket out here while we go inside for a coffee. You’ll be good enough to see that nothing happens to it, yes?”

The man gave a swift nod. “Of course, mein Herr.

“Good.” Hoffner turned to Lina, and motioned her to the door. “Shall we, Frulein?”

Schuckert’s was known for its sweets. The place smelled of raisins and honey, and everything was immaculately white: napkins, tablecloths, even the waiters’ coats. In a lovely old-world touch, the tea silverware was marvelously ornate and heavy, and seemed to overwhelm the small marble tables, each of which was surrounded by a quartet of straight-backed wrought-iron chairs. From the far corner, a violinist played something soothing. Hoffner thought it might have been Mozart, but he could have been wrong.

A plump matre d’ was chatting up one of his customers when he saw Hoffner and Lina come through the door. The man gave an overly gracious bow to the table, and then headed over. It was clear that he recognized Lina; he was kind enough, though, not to mention it. He smiled and extended his hand to the room. “Mein Herr,” he said. “A table for two?”

Hoffner knew that he and Lina were not Schuckert’s usual clientele. Grandmothers and granddaughters sat over hot chocolates and scones; elderly bankers shared a plate of figs-Schuckert’s had just the right sort of connections to keep its pantries full, no matter what the rest of Berlin might be suffering through; and young women, whose husbands would one day be eating those figs, sat with each other and their packages from KaDeWe or Tietz, or wherever else they had spent the day. One or two were tactless enough to stare at Lina as she passed by, but the rest took no notice. It had never occurred to Hoffner: people could think what they liked. But if Lina was bothered by their looks, she showed none of it. She walked past them with an air of seamless ease. Hoffner felt mildly foolish for having put her through it.

They reached the table and sat. Hoffner helped her out of her coat, and she let the collar fall back across the chair. He noticed that the rain had gotten through to her dress. The wet fabric clung tightly to her thighs. They were long and wonderfully slim, and the cloth was nestling deep within the perfect triangle between them. Without acknowledging his stare, Lina aired out the skirt of her dress and then placed her napkin on her lap. Hoffner looked up to see her peering over at him with a knowing smile. He liked the feeling of having been caught. “Let’s find a waiter,” he said, and turned to the room.

A man approached from the other direction; Hoffner failed to see him.

“Et voil,” said Lina. Hoffner turned to see a waiter holding out two menus. Lina was not one to wait. She said ecstatically, “I’m going to have a hot chocolate.”

Hoffner declined his menu, as well. “Coffee for me.”

The man was gone as quickly as he had appeared.

Lina leaned in closer and spoke in a soft, low whisper. “He’s asked me to the cinema twice. Must be strange to take my order, don’t you think?”

Hoffner felt the excitement in her breath, as if telling him had somehow made her more attractive: it had, of course. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his cigarettes. “Must be.” It was Kvatsch’s pack, a nice impressive brand. Hoffner lit one up. “Well, this was lucky,” he said.

“Yes. It was.” She continued to stare at him.

There was something thrilling in not knowing if he was being overmatched. Hoffner said, “I was meaning to send you a note about Hans, but I didn’t have your address.”

“No. You wouldn’t have.”

“Just in case you were wondering where he might have gotten to.”

“Just in case.”

Hoffner looked at the girl. He liked the way her eyes widened almost imperceptibly each time she spoke. He liked the slenderness of her shoulders, and the smallness of her breasts. Most of all, he liked how she continued to bait him. “He’s out of the country for a day or two,” he said. “On an investigation.”

“How very exciting for him.”

Hoffner took a drag on his cigarette; he was enjoying this more than she knew, or, perhaps, as much as she was permitting. He had yet to figure out which.

“In Bruges,” she said. “Yes. Hans managed to get a note to my flat before he left. But thank you for thinking of me, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Not at all, Frulein.” The drinks arrived.

Lina spooned up a dollop of the cream with her little finger and slipped it into her mouth. There was nothing sexual in it; she was simply too impatient to reach for her spoon. Her eyes slowly closed. “Heaven,” she said with delight. The waiter was gone by the time she opened them, and she peered over at Hoffner. He marveled at how her smile gave nothing away. She slid the cup toward him. “Have some. Please.”

Hoffner took his spoon and sampled the cream. He nodded. “Very nice.”

She took her own spoon and, leaning toward the cup, delicately dug through for some of the chocolate. Hoffner watched as she deftly tried to bring the liquid up along the side of the cup so as not to disturb the cream. She seemed so intent on the task. It was then that he noticed the half-blackened nail on her right hand; she had bruised it somehow, most likely from a slamming door, or a fall on the ice. She had done nothing to hide it. Hoffner kept his eyes on the nail as she raised the spoon to her lips. She blew gently, then sipped it down. Wincing a moment at the heat, she quickly recovered and went in for a second spoonful.

Hoffner said, “It’s best if you mix it with the cream. Less bitter.”

Lina kept her eyes on the spoon and cup. “I like it this way,” she said. “At least at the start.” Hoffner took a sip of the coffee. It was the first good cup he had had in weeks. Lina looked over at him and said, “Would you like my address?”

It was rare for Hoffner to be caught out like this, but here it was. He felt something sharp run through his chest. It moved up to his throat and made his mouth suddenly dry. He hadn’t felt it in years. It was anticipation. He slowly placed his coffee back on the table. Out of necessity, he said, “Is that such a good idea, Frulein?”

She spoke with certainty: “You came to find me. Didn’t you?”

When he had no choice but to answer, Hoffner said, “I’ve been wondering if you make enough to survive, selling flowers and matches.”

For the first time, he saw the smallest slip in her otherwise perfect stare. Just as quickly, she recovered. “Have you?” She placed the spoon in the cup and began to fold the cream into the chocolate. “I do all right. I’ve started modeling. For an artist.”

Hoffner watched as the liquid became silky brown. Lina was merciless with even the smallest floating fleck of cream. She seemed to take a wicked pleasure in drowning each of them to oblivion.

“How very exciting for you,” he said. He retrieved his cigarette, took a few puffs, and crushed it out. Digging the last of the butt into the ashtray, he said, “Yes.” He let go of the cigarette and looked at her. “I did.”

Again, her cheeks flushed, although she was too good to let it take hold. She stopped mixing and placed the spoon to the side. “I’m glad.” Taking her cup in both hands, she brought it up to her lips. She was about to take a sip, when she stopped and peered over at him. “I wouldn’t want anything to change with me and Hans,” she said. “A chance to leave my basket behind. You understand that.” She took the sip.

Hoffner suddenly remembered how young she really was. He doubted Lina realized it, but in that moment she had shown herself at her most vulnerable. She might just as well have said, “I’m not expecting anything, so don’t feel you have to give anything.” Or, perhaps, it was just what he had wanted to hear.

Hoffner watched as she placed the cup on the table. He slowly reached over for her hand. It might have been an awkward movement, but the two came together too easily, and he ran his thumb gently over her palm. Just as easily, he let go. “Thank you for the lovely time, Frulein Lina.” He picked up the pack of cigarettes and placed them in his pocket.

“Yes,” she said warmly. She then said, “Kremmener Strasse. Number five.”

Hoffner waited a moment. He nodded and, somewhere, he thought he heard Victor Knig laughing. He found a few coins in his pocket and placed them on the table. He then took his hat and stood. “A pleasure, Frulein.”

“As always, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner tipped his brow and headed for the door.

Back at the Alex, the security desk was under frontal assault from a group of irate Hausfrauen when Hoffner walked in: something to do with a pickpocket, from what he could make out. Hoffner decided to avoid the commotion and instead started for the wire room, when the duty officer put up a hand and shouted over:

“Kriminal-Kommissar.” Hoffner stopped. “Your Sascha’s been looking for you.”

Hoffner was momentarily confused. Why would his son have come to the Alex? “Sascha’s been by?” he said. Hoffner immediately thought of Georgi.

The man had no time for games. “Yes. Sascha. He’s asked for you twice.” Before Hoffner could answer, the women were once again on the attack.

Only then did Hoffner realize which Sascha the man had been referring to: “Sascha the runner,” Hoffner said aloud to no one in particular. He shook his head. He needed to concentrate, no matter what might, or might not, be happening later tonight: Knig’s laughter seemed to be growing louder by the minute. Hoffner stepped through to the courtyard.

Kripo Sascha was sitting on the ground, reading outside the wire room, when Hoffner pushed through and into the corridor. At once the boy stood. He took a folded sheet from inside the book and held it out to Hoffner.

Hoffner took the note and said, “So, when did it come in?”

“Just over an hour ago, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” The boy spoke with great precision.

“And no one else has seen it?”

Sascha looked almost hurt by the question. “No, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. No one.”

“Good.” Hoffner crooked his head to the side so as to take a look at the book in the boy’s hand. The Count of Monte Cristo. Hoffner was liking this boy more and more. “Planning an escape,” Hoffner said with a smile.

For the first time, Sascha let his shoulders drop. He smiled, and shook his head. “No, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner pulled a coin from his pocket and, taking Sascha’s hand, placed it in the boy’s open palm. “Our secret.” Before Sascha could say a word, Hoffner was nodding him down the corridor.

Hoffner’s mood changed the moment he started reading: WOUTERS DEAD STOP HANGED HIMSELF TWO DAYS AGO STOP STRANGE BEHAVIOR AS OF FIVE MONTHS AGO STOP NO BATHING CUTTING HAIR STOP PUT IN ISOLATION THREE MONTHS AGO STOP AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS STOP

Hoffner read the note several times to make sure he had missed nothing. “No bathing, cutting hair.” He stepped into the wire room.

The man behind the desk was just finishing off a wire. “Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” he said without looking up. “You’ve something for me to send?”

“A reply,” said Hoffner; he handed the original to the man.

The man examined it. “To Bruges?”

“Yes.”

The man took out a pen and paper. “Go ahead.”

“Two words,” said Hoffner. “‘Shave him.’”

THREE

SIX

Paul Wouters had been destined for Sint-Walburga as early as 1898. His mother, having no way to support or handle the already troubling three-year-old, had given him over to her dead husband’s mother, Anne, to raise. It was, perhaps, not the wisest choice given that the recently deceased Jacob Wouters had committed suicide after a short life in which he had been unable to reach beyond the traumas of his own childhood with Anne. That his bride decided to take her own life three weeks after Jacob’s death pretty well set the table for young Paul.

Anne Wouters was a woman of uncommon cruelty. Whatever love she might have felt for her son, Jacob-and there really was none to speak of-had long since dried up by the time her grandson, Paul, was thrust into her life. By then, she had come to believe that the wretchedness of her existence granted her the right to compound that of the boy. Not that she was aware of her malevolence-the most accomplished never are-but she could never have denied the singular pleasure she took at seeing him, hour after hour, slouched over a bobbin and thread. To her mind, it was justice at its most pure.

Before he was five, Paul was taught the art of lace-making; it was the only skill Anne knew, and would have made for an ideal living, filled with camaraderie and pride, had Anne not given birth to Jacob out of wedlock. At the time, there had been rumors of rape-even Anne had let herself believe them for a while-but the truth was that she had simply been foolish. And so went her life: her sin kept her forever from the inner circles; her skill kept her alive. For, whatever else she might have been, Anne Wouters was, without question, a virtuoso with lace. Everyone in Bruges knew it, and it was why the most intricate patterns always found their way to her tiny attic room at the Meckel Godshuizen, one of the more decrepit almshouses in town. At night, and on the sly, women-unable to match her artistry at the mills-would bring their pieces to her and pay her a tenth of what she deserved, all the while telling her that she was damned lucky to be getting any work at all. She would keep her eyes lowered, her head bowed, as they described the meshes they themselves could never achieve, and her teeth would grow sharp from the silent grinding.

When Paul was old enough to handle the pins himself, she put him to work, and for fifteen hours a day they sat in silence, manipulating the thread. He was unusually small, and though his fingers were nimble, they were often overmatched by the tools. Each missed stroke earned him a deep scraping of those tiny hands with a sharp bristle: there were mornings when the blood would still be tacky on his knuckles as he got back to work. Worse was when she fell short of her quota; then she would tie him to a chair and beat him with a strop. She liked the upper back. It was where the bone was closest to the skin.

Paul’s future life could easily have been attributed to the torture of his eight years with Anne. His choice that one night, when he had grown just tall enough to wrest the bristle from her hand and strike it repeatedly into her throat until her neck snapped and the blood spilled out in a pulsating streamlet, would have seemed the reasonable response to an unbearable situation were it not for the fact that Paul Wouters was not a victim of his circumstances. No doctor was needed to explain his horrifying condition. No, the real reason for his behavior was that Paul had been psychotic from his very inception: he had simply needed time to grow into it. Some are born evil, and Paul Wouters was one of the lucky few whose madness was no by-product of his setting. His father, Jacob, had learned to embrace his self-loathing; his mother had eventually succumbed to her self-pity; even his grandmother Anne could look to the world’s viciousness for her own. But Paul needed none of that. He felt no vindication, no joy in his killing. He killed because he could.

He was not, however, the man now lying naked on a slab at Sint-Walburga. In all fairness to the attendants, they had shaved part of the body yesterday afternoon: the top bit of his skull, so that the doctors could cut through and retrieve the brain. The doctors had been certain that the cause of Wouters’s mania would appear to them in the guise of some malformed lobe or conduit. The brain, however-now in a jar of formaldehyde on the shelf-had proved to be in perfect condition. The chief neurologist’s only response had been to utter the words “How very odd,” over and over again.

Yesterday’s disappointment, however, paled in comparison with this evening’s shock. Van Acker stared in disbelief as the thick locks of hair fell to the floor and revealed a face not at all similar to that of Paul Wouters. The shape and coloring of the narrow little body, on the other hand, were close enough to the contours van Acker remembered.

“You’re sure?” said Fichte, keeping his handkerchief over his nose as the attendants continued to scissor through the hair.

Van Acker shot him a frustrated, if tired, glance. “Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. I’m sure.”

Wisely, Fichte chose not to answer.

Van Acker turned to the gathering of officials who had accompanied the two policemen to the asylum’s laboratory; he knew he was dealing with idiots. He spoke in French: “You mean to tell me that none of you saw an iota of difference in the man’s appearance, his attitude, his behavior?” Fichte might not have understood a word, but he knew that van Acker was taking his frustrations out on the people who could least help him. Worse, the doctors actually seemed to be pleased to have discovered that they had been dealing with the wrong brain: still hope for the lobe theory, after all. “That seems almost impossible to me,” van Acker continued. “Who were the morons who were supposed to be looking after him?”

The Superintendent spoke up: “There’s no need for that sort of language, Inspector. Clearly, a mistake has been made-”

“A mistake?” said van Acker, amazed at the man’s audacity. “What you have here, Monsieur, is nothing less than criminal. Men don’t simply trade places, and, I might be wrong here”-his words were laced with ridicule-“but who do you imagine would have volunteered for that role? I don’t think Mr. Wouters knew anyone who was eager to step in for a few weeks while he took the air. Do you?”

Everyone in the room remained silent. For a moment, van Acker looked at Fichte; he then turned away and began to shake his head. It was clear that he was more than a little embarrassed to have had a Berlin detective inspector witnessing this scene. Had Fichte been a bit more poised in his newfound position, he might have known what to say; instead, he stood there like everyone else.

Van Acker switched gears. For Fichte’s benefit-though probably more out of spite-he spoke in German: “I want a photograph taken of this man; I want every entry log you have for the past five months-who came, who went; I want guard rotations, doctor rotations-any rotation that had to do with our friend Wouters. And anything that might have happened out of the ordinary. The smallest thing. A misconnected telephone call. You have the records. I want to know about them.”

No one moved. Van Acker glanced sharply at the Superintendent, and the man realized he had no choice. He nodded to his colleagues, and the other men started for the door.

Fichte waited until most of the men were out in the hall before turning to van Acker. “The Kriminal-Kommissar would have done the exact same thing,” said Fichte. Realizing he might just have given the game away, Fichte quickly added, “Nikolai, I mean. Hoffner. You work the same way.”

For the first time in nearly three hours, van Acker’s jaw slackened. There might even have been the hint of a grin in his eyes. “You’re not a detective inspector, are you, Herr Fichte?”

Surprisingly, Fichte’s answer was no less forthright. “Not yet, Monsieur Le Chef Inspecteur. No.”

Van Acker’s grin grew. “Well, at least you’ve put me in good company.”

Hoffner reached across the desk for his cup, and checked the clock. He had corralled little Sascha for a second posting to the wire room almost three hours ago, but there was still no word from Fichte. Hoffner took a sip of the coffee, careful not to drip any of it onto the pages that were spread out in front of him.

He had stopped on this particular letter about an hour ago, when the word “relationship” had jumped out at him. The language was as dramatic as ever, but it was a different Luxemburg that Hoffner heard, now having discovered her secret within the shelves.

. . I know you don’t get much pleasure out of our relationship, what with my scenes that wreck your nerves, my tears, with all these trivia, even my doubts about your love. . It’s too painful to think that I invaded your pure, proud, lonely life with my female whims, my unevenness, my helplessness. And what for, damn it, what for? My God, why do I keep harping on it? It is over. .

Her despair was not so much for the solitude to come, as for her own fallibility: she felt no remorse, only a relief in the affair’s dissolution. Once again, Hoffner felt a certain kinship with this Rosa, and that, he knew, was dangerous. Victims needed to remain victims. The only mind Hoffner wanted to find his way into was that of the man who had wielded the knife.

Focusing on the page itself, Hoffner traced the imprints of the razorlike creases. The letter-sent to Leo Jogiches in the summer of 1897-had been read over and over, folded and unfolded a hundred times since then, and with an almost pious precision. Rosa’s fear that Jogiches might have laughed at its absurdity, or at its woman’s insecurity, had been completely unfounded. Not only had Jogiches held on to it, he had kept it with him at all times: in a billfold, from what Hoffner could tell. There was an unrefined, crushed leather residue on the sheets-the kind found only on the inside pockets of a man’s wallet-from years of safekeeping. K was evidently well-enough connected to have pried the letter loose from Jogiches’s grip.

Half an hour ago, Hoffner had discovered its companion piece-a second letter to Jogiches with identical creases and residue-written three years earlier, also kept in the billfold, and equally desperate. This time, however, a different kind of frustration dominated:

. . Totally exhausted by the never-ending Cause, I sat down to catch my breath, I looked back and realized I don’t have a home anywhere. I neither exist nor live as myself. . It’s boring, draining. Why should everyone pester me when I give it all I can? It’s a burden-every letter, from you or anyone else, always the same-this issue, that pamphlet, this article or that. Even that I wouldn’t mind if besides, despite it, there was a human being behind it, a soul, an individual. . Have you no ideas? No books? No impressions? Nothing to share with me?!. . Unlike you, I have impressions and ideas all the time, the “Cause” notwithstanding. . Now I’d like to ask you the following questions: 1. Is it right to say that in 1848 the French people fought mainly for general elections? 2. Did the Chicago demonstration take place in 1886 or 1887? 3. How many rubles to a dollar? 4. Did the strikes of the gas workers and longshoremen in England break out in 1889 and was it for an eight-hour day?. . Read my letter carefully, and answer all questions.

Hoffner wondered if Jogiches had kept the letter as a reminder to himself to be diligent in his humanity, or simply because he had enjoyed the adorable shift in tone at its end. Hoffner was guessing it had been a bit of both.

And yet, however charming Rosa’s caprice might have been, it was the care that Jogiches had taken with the letters that told Hoffner the most about his victim. From what he could gather, the romance between the two had come to a bitter end sometime in 1907: there had been accusations of infidelity and threats of violence from him; Luxemburg had purchased a revolver, and had been forced to produce it during one of their more heated arguments. And through it all, Jogiches had continued to subsidize her-her rent, her paper, her ink. Hoffner was not sure which of the two lovers had been the moth and which the flame-he doubted they had known themselves-but it was clear that this had been a relationship incapable of permanent fracture. In fact, Hoffner was learning just how crucial a figure Jogiches had been during the revolution, even if his name had never once appeared alongside Luxemburg’s, Liebknecht’s, or Levi’s. Jogiches had always been the man behind the scenes, the silent partner.

Hoffner stopped scanning the page. Was he missing the obvious? Had he just uncovered his K, he wondered.

The telephone rang and he picked it up as he jotted down a note to look into Herr Jogiches’s past a bit more closely. “Yes,” he said.

“You’re in for a busy night, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” It was the duty sergeant from the front desk.

“And why is that?” Hoffner continued to write.

“A Schutzi corporal just found another one of your bodies. Markings and all.” Everyone, evidently, was now aware of the case.

Hoffner was on his feet and reaching for his coat when he asked, “Where?”

“Senefelderplatz,” said the man. “In the subway excavations.”

Only once in the courtyard did Hoffner remember Sascha and the wire room. He quickly stopped by the duty desk and asked the Sergeant to get a note to the boy: should anything come in, he was to bring it up to the site. The man understood. Hoffner also told him to telephone the porter at his own building in Kreuzberg; a direct call to Martha at this hour would only frighten her. Still, she liked to know when he would be late. No reason. Just that he would be late.

Hoffner decided to walk. It took him less than twenty minutes to make his way to the square; this time, however, Wouters’s pattern eluded him. These were not the wide avenues around the Unter den Linden; here the streets and alleys were too narrow, and the turns too clipped and sporadic, to give Hoffner the precision and line that he needed to enter the design. Even the people and cabs were too few to bring the buildings to life. Hoffner knew better than to expect anything from this part of town. He was skirting the edge of Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin’s underbelly, a place of stifled quiet after dark. If nothing else, the pattern demanded movement, and there was none to be found here.

More than that, Wouters and his pattern were no longer abstractions. Hoffner had no need to conjure them, and that made them somehow less his own.

He turned in to the empty square and followed the echo of a barking dog across the cobblestones and over to the site. A glowing red ember, perhaps two meters wide, stared like an angry sun from a poster painted onto the brick of one of the building walls. It was an advertisement for men’s shirts. The cigarette drooped from a mouth that was beyond the reach of the lamplight. A sharp chin in profile balanced the dark blue of the starched collar, and yet, even cut off at the lips, the Henzeiger Mann remained the picture of elegance. According to the print, he was also now stain-resistant.

A lone Schutzi patrolman had leashed the dog to a lamppost and was doing all he could to calm the animal with his boot. The mutt was big, and his white teeth glistened in the light each time he chopped his head forward in another snarl. The patrolman was young and having his fun as he slapped at the dog’s head before each quick kick to the gut. The dog, however, seemed undeterred by the taunting: his eyes peered menacingly at the darkened entry to the excavations as ribbons of hot steam poured from his nostrils. Hoffner approached and pulled out his badge.

“Enjoying yourself, patrolman?” he said, the reprimand clear enough in his tone.

At once the boy stood upright. The sight of Hoffner’s badge produced a wonderful blend of confusion and embarrassment. “Herr Detective,” he said. “No. I’m just-” He offered the only excuse he had. “He’s got to be put down. He’s had the taste of blood.” The patrolman actually seemed to believe his own justification. “It’s in his eyes, Herr Detective,” he added. “Nothing we can do. Just waiting for the wagon, that’s all.” The growling continued unabated.

Hoffner might have conceded the point: the dog’s eyes had, in fact, glazed over. That, however, did not make this patrolman any less contemptible. Hoffner said, “The dog found the body?”

The question caused a moment’s confusion. Evidently the boy had never been included on an investigation. Hoffner guessed that he was the halfwit who was always told to stand outside, or wait downstairs, or sit in the hall so as to keep any interested passersby at bay. Tonight he had been given the dog. Even that had overtaxed his resources.

“Yes, Herr Detective,” he finally said. “About an hour ago. Someone heard the howling. They called my sergeant. He’s-”

Hoffner cut him off. “And they’re down in the site?” The patrolman nodded. Hoffner waited for more, then pressed, “Is there a ladder, a ramp?”

Instantly the patrolman understood. “Oh yes,” he said eagerly. “This way, Herr Detective.” He led Hoffner across a series of wooden planks and through the entryway. Lamps along the scaffolding lit their way down and into the pit. At the base of the ramp, the patrolman pointed to the top of a ladder another ten meters on, which disappeared into the depths of the excavation.

“So, a ramp and a ladder,” said Hoffner with mock enthusiasm. The patrolman stared for a moment and then nodded slowly. “Never mind,” said Hoffner. He was about to head for the opening when he said, “And no more business with the dog. We’re clear on that?” The patrolman nodded sheepishly. “Good. Now get back to your post.”

The patrolman was already up the ramp and gone by the time Hoffner reached the ladder. Bending over for the first rung, Hoffner heard a movement off to his side, and immediately spun toward it, as a figure emerged from the darkness.

It took him a moment to recognize little Franz. The boy had been leaning up against a mound of cleared earth. “I thought it was you, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar,” Franz said as he approached.

Hoffner stood there, waiting for his heart to slow. He stepped away from the ladder. “You startled me, Franz.”

The boy looked genuinely surprised. “Did I? Then I wish I’d brought a towel for you.”

Hoffner remembered this morning’s episode at the washbasin. “Fair enough.” He noticed how threadbare the boy’s coat had become, and how exposed his little neck was without a scarf. Franz, however, was showing no signs of the cold. Tough little man, thought Hoffner. “What are you doing here, Franz?”

“What you told me, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. Following Herr Kvatsch.”

Hoffner understood at once. He peered over at the ladder, then back at the boy. “When did he get here?”

“About fifteen minutes ago.”

“He received a telephone call?”

Franz had grown accustomed to the accuracy of Hoffner’s guesses. “Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Where?”

“Reese’s Restaurant.”

“With anyone?”

“No, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner nodded. Kvatsch’s star was rising: he was being permitted a firsthand account this time round. Someone wanted the story on the front page, not the fourth. That, however, was not the boy’s concern. “So,” said Hoffner, switching gears as he pulled out his cigarettes. “Any interesting names on the list?” He lit one up and watched as Franz stared eagerly at the ember. The boy continued to gaze as Hoffner exhaled a wide plume of smoke. “All right,” said Hoffner reluctantly. He reached into his pocket and offered one to Franz. The boy took two. “You’d do better to get yourself a scarf, Franz,” said Hoffner as he watched the boy slip the extra one into his pocket. Franz nodded curtly, then placed the cigarette in his mouth. He waited while Hoffner lit it.

Kriminal-Bezirkssekretr Groener,” said Franz. “Over lunch.” Smoke streamed from his small nose. “They were together maybe five minutes. I couldn’t get close enough to hear what they were saying.”

A little obvious, thought Hoffner, but why not? The question remained, Was Groener clever enough to have had a reason to leak the story? Spite hardly seemed a sufficient motive. Hoffner said, “The next time they meet, you come and get me. All right?” The boy nodded. “Good. Now get yourself back to the Alex. You can leave the list on my desk.” Hoffner would have liked to have had Franz wait around and trail after Kvatsch for the rest of the night, but the boy had been out in the cold long enough for one day. Then again, from the way Franz was working the cigarette, Hoffner might just have been underestimating him; Fichte could have taken lessons. “And stay at the Alex,” Hoffner added with a bit more grit. “No slipping out tonight, all right?” For a moment Franz looked as if he might play the innocent; instead, he nodded.

Hoffner walked back with him until they were halfway up the ramp. He had a sudden impulse to pat the boy on the shoulder, but the gesture seemed wrong. Luckily, Franz gave him no time to consider it; with a strangely knowing nod, the boy darted up the remaining few meters and out through the entryway.

Hoffner watched him go. The patrolman was busy elsewhere and took no notice; the dog kept his gaze on the site. Its barking, however, had become hoarser. Hoffner could almost hear a desperation in its throaty growls, as if the dog knew that the measure of its time was spent the moment its last salvo came to an end: it was holding on for as long as it could. Hoffner continued to watch as Franz-once more a ten-year-old boy-crept up to within a few meters of the dog and let go with a howl of his own. The dog responded with a sudden and renewed vigor; Franz howled again and raced off. The patrolman spun around and shouted after Franz, but the boy was already lost to the shadows. The dog, however, had regained full pitch. Franz had given him new life. Hoffner turned and headed back into the pit.

The climb down was shorter than he expected. The Rosenthaler Platz site had been a good twenty meters deep; here it was, at best, ten to twelve, which made the air less thick, though the smell of decaying flesh was no less present. It was also a less complex layout than before. There were no spokes or distant caverns to navigate, just a long tunnel, dimly lit by a series of string lights hung from above. Various air pumps with ventilation hoses sat silent along the dirt floor, but it was clear that this station was still under construction: the wood slats along the walls were freshly cut, the steel beams still had a shine to them, and the piles of shovels and picks were placed for easy retrieval. From the cigarette butts strewn about, Hoffner was guessing that a crew had been here as recently as yesterday afternoon, maybe even this morning. The supply lines were back up and running.

A sudden flash of light drew his attention to the far end of the tunnel. He began to make his way toward it as the din of conversation grew more distinct.

“. . completely in the buff,” came a voice. “I’m telling you. And she wasn’t shy, either.”

The men laughed. One of them caught sight of Hoffner and his expression hardened at once.

“Gentlemen,” said Hoffner as he drew up with his badge held at eye level. “Quite a little gathering.” There were four of them: a Schutzi sergeant, his patrolman lackey, a man with a camera, and, of course, Herr “Detective” Kvatsch. They were standing to the side of a woman’s dead body. Hoffner returned the badge to his coat pocket. “I see we’ve already started in on the group photos.”

There was a stiffness to the quartet now that Hoffner had arrived. The sergeant was unsure how to respond. He went with what he knew best. “We found her about an hour ago, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar-”

“Yes,” Hoffner cut in. “Your man upstairs filled me in on the details.” It was clear from the sergeant’s expression that the man upstairs had been told to give more than just the details when the Kripo arrived: a little warning would have been nice. Another botched job from the halfwit, Hoffner imagined. “How fortunate that our friends from the BZ arrived so quickly to keep you company.”

Kvatsch said, “As always, one step ahead of the Kripo, Herr Detective.”

“Or one phone call,” said Hoffner. He waited a moment, then added, “I hear the bean soup was particularly nice at Reese’s tonight.” Hoffner watched as Kvatsch’s lips shifted into double time. Hoffner then turned to the sergeant. “I’m assuming you’ve got my cut, Herr Wachtmeister.” The sergeant looked almost relieved. He began to reach into his tunic; Hoffner’s gaze soured instantly. “Greedy and stupid, eh, Sergeant?” Again, the man was at a loss. “That’s a dangerous combination, don’t you think?” Without waiting for an answer, Hoffner reached over and took the camera from the fourth member of the party. He opened the back cover and removed the film.

“Excuse me, Detective,” said Kvatsch, now with an edge to his voice, “but I paid for that,” as if anything he said mattered down here.

Hoffner said, “Well, then, that was a bad investment, wasn’t it, Herr Kvatsch?” Hoffner crumpled the film in his fist and handed the camera back to the man. The photographer seemed wholly indifferent; Kvatsch had evidently already paid him for his services. “Who made the call?” said Hoffner.

Kvatsch said, “I thought you’d have that figured out by now, Detective. Wasn’t that the promise?”

Hoffner smiled stiffly. “Someone’s leading you around by the nose, and you don’t even realize it, do you?”

“We’ll see who’s leading whom.”

Hoffner nodded. “I thought newspapermen were supposed to track down stories, Kvatsch, not have them spoon-fed to them.”

Kvatsch was not biting. He answered coolly, “You want a name. I need a photograph. That seems a fair trade.”

“Does it?” said Hoffner.

Kvatsch actually thought he was gaining the upper hand. “You know, it’s so much nicer dealing with you than with your old partner. Knig never understood the art of negotiation. Always too quick with the rough stuff.”

Hoffner started to laugh to himself until, without warning, he grabbed the scruff of Kvatsch’s coat and shoved him against the planks on the near wall. The other men immediately stepped off. Slowly, Hoffner brought his face to within a few centimeters of Kvatsch’s. He held him there and spoke in an inviting tone: “That’s just what this city needs, isn’t it, Kvatsch? Something else to set it off in a panic.” Kvatsch was doing his best to maintain some semblance of calm. He swallowed loudly. Hoffner continued: “Revolution, war, starvation-they’re not enough for you, are they? You know, if you had half a brain, you’d realize that that’s exactly what your ‘Kripo sources’ want.” Hoffner smiled quizzically. “Why is it that you always have to be such an obvious rube?”

The sheen on Kvatsch’s face had begun to glisten in the low light; nonetheless, he remained defiant. “Glad to see you’ve picked up where Knig left off, Detective. By the way, “ he said more insistently, “how is the widow? I never got to pass on my condolences.”

Hoffner continued to stare into the callous little eyes. With a sudden surge, he pulled Kvatsch from the boards and slammed him into a bare patch of muddied rock. Kvatsch winced as he let out a blast of tobaccoed breath. He was clearly in pain, but said nothing. Hoffner held him there for several seconds longer, then let go and stepped away. He turned his attention to the dead body. “We’re done here.” Hoffner crouched down and began to scan the dead woman’s clothes: the dog had gotten to them; her blouse was in tatters. “Make nice with the good sergeant, Kvatsch, and get out.”

Kvatsch needed a moment to pull himself together. The sergeant-perhaps out of a twisted sense of loyalty-tried to help, but Kvatsch quickly pushed him aside. With a forced ease, Kvatsch straightened his coat and smoothed back the loose strands of his hair. He then spoke, undeterred by the back of Hoffner’s head: “What you’ve never understood, Detective, is how little it matters what you do, or how you do it. What matters is how it’s perceived.” Kvatsch knew there would be no response; even so, he waited. “And all for a little photo.” He nodded to the cameraman to start back for the ladder. Kvatsch was about to follow, when he added, “How much easier your life could have been, Detective.” He let the words settle. “Shame.” He then followed the cameraman out.

Hoffner waited until the sound of footsteps had receded completely. Without looking up, he said, “You two can wait upstairs, as well.”

The sergeant bristled at being lumped in with his subordinate. He offered a clipped bow to Hoffner’s back, then motioned officiously to the patrolman. The two men started off.

“Oh,” said Hoffner, still with his back to them. “And we’ll need a Kripo photographer down here. Tell him he can catch a ride in the ambulance.” Hoffner paused a moment. “And my guess is he won’t be paying, Sergeant.”

This time there was no bow. “Yes, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Finally alone, Hoffner stared down at the chiseled back through the strips of cloth: the ruts were again smooth, and the little bumps from the flawed blade appeared again at perfect intervals. She had been killed like the others, strangled and etched elsewhere-two, maybe three days ago, from the smell and look of the skin-then brought here to be put on display: the drag lines in the dirt-from some sort of crate or trunk-made that clear enough. Hoffner glanced at the side of her face. This woman had been in her late fifties. Her hands told of work in a mill: there were countless wisps of threaded cloth trapped beneath the fingernails, all of which had come to resemble little calluses on her skin. These were the by-product of years on the line, not souvenirs from any recent struggle. Not that she could have put up much of a fight. Like all of the victims, she was small, even delicate, if one put aside the gnarled texture of her hands. That, too, was a common trait: hands that had known a life of labor.

Unlike the others, however, her neck was horribly distended. Hoffner jabbed the end of his pen into the swollen flesh. That was more of the dog’s handiwork. Its teeth marks were still fresh in the fleshy skin just below the chin, yet the back had gone untouched. Instinct, thought Hoffner. Even the animal had sensed the depravity there and had kept clear.

He looked up and scanned the surrounding area. He knew he would find nothing: Wouters, or Wouters’s surrogate-Fichte would have to clear that up-was always far too careful to leave anything behind. Luxemburg and Mary Koop had been diversions: the killer was now back on form.

Hoffner placed a finger on her skin. It was cold and tough and greaseless. He ran his hand along the diameter-cut. The ridges of hardened flesh bent back easily against the pressure of his thumb. There was something oddly consoling in its familiarity, in the shape and texture of a pattern that he had known so well up until a week ago. Now there was far more to it than that: jagged ruts, and gloves, and grease, and a name, and a revolutionary, and on and on and on. It was all supposed to bring him closer to a solution, and yet, with each new “discovery,” Hoffner felt himself being drawn toward something that had little to do with the deaths of his five unremarkable and unconnected Berlin women. He was beginning to wonder where the diversion really lay.

Ten minutes later, Hoffner stepped back out into the raw air of Senefelderplatz. The chill settled on his face and, for an instant, let him forget all of the pieces that were flying through his head. Sadly, the first image that made its way back in was of Kvatsch. Hoffner knew that the first explosion of articles would appear in tomorrow’s papers. A lovely sense of panic would sweep over the city as the story jumped from the BZ to the Morgenpost, and up and down the Ullstein line, until, like a brush fire, it would leap across the avenue to the Mosse and Scherl presses, and blaze across the headlines of all of their high- and low-end papers. Kvatsch had probably come up with some clever name for the murders already. It was irrelevant what he had seen: he would invent what he needed. And a million eyes would now be peering over Hoffner’s shoulder, waiting and wondering.

The ambulance was still nowhere in sight. Hoffner knew there was no reason to wait; there was nothing else he could do here tonight. He had started across the square when he heard the sound of the sergeant running up from behind him. Hoffner dug his hands into his coat pockets and continued in the other direction. He spoke over his shoulder: “The ambulance,” he said. “Make sure she gets back to the Alex.” A mumbled, “Yes, Herr Krim. .” faded into the distance as Hoffner picked up his pace.

It was only then that he realized how quiet the square had become. Hoffner glanced over at the lamppost. He noticed that a small, horse-drawn wagon had pulled up under the light; a rifle was propped up against its back wheel. The horse stood content with a bag of oats, while the driver struggled to untie the leash from the post. Hoffner stopped.

The leash was now heavy from the weight of the dog’s lifeless body. The man had shot it once, in the throat. Save for an occasional bob of the head from each yank on the line, the dog lay quiet in a pool of its own blood. This time there had been no Franz to save it. Hoffner waited until the man had freed the dog. He then slowly headed off.

Van Acker checked the bottle before pouring out three more shots of whiskey.

The Bruges Stationsplein bar was not perhaps best known for its quality of stock, but it always kept enough of it flowing freely to satisfy the detectives of the city Politie. The rest of the station clientele had to be content with a Tarwebier or Chimay, tasty beers to be sure, but neither with enough of a kick to smooth over a ride out of town. Whiskey, on the other hand, always let you sleep. Mueller took his glass and raised it in a toast. Fichte was having trouble finding his.

“To your left, Detective,” said van Acker; he brought his own up to meet Mueller’s. Fichte eventually got hold of his and, spilling most of it on his pants, reached up to join them. “That’s very good, Detective,” said van Acker. He finished with the toast: “To finding one’s glass.”

Mueller and van Acker tossed theirs back. Fichte thought for a moment, let out a long breath, then placed his untasted back on the bar.

Mueller said, “Well, at least you tried.”

The last train to Berlin was set to leave Bruges in the next twenty minutes; it promised an eleven-o’clock arrival in Berlin tomorrow morning, and, with any luck, would get there by two. Still, it was quicker than waiting for first light; at best, Mueller could get Fichte to Berlin by early evening, and that was not accounting for weather or stops for fuel and oil. No, the train was the best bet. Van Acker had insisted. He had also used his pull with a certain transportation minister-a man whose wife had yet to learn about a young lady he was keeping in a lovely gabled house near the Begijnhof-to make sure that Fichte would have no trouble with any military delays at the German border.

Van Acker had come to this decision just after he and Fichte had stripped the asylum clean of every piece of paper having to do with Wouters: correspondence logs, visitor logs, psychiatric reports, staff interviews, medical files, the last of which had included details of Wouters’s eating and digestive habits-Fichte had been amazed to discover just how many varieties shit came in-all dating from the beginning of September. Plus, van Acker had taken them back via his office so as to pick up his personal case files on Wouters.

The train, though, was another matter. Fichte had wanted to send a wire to Berlin, just in case Hoffner had any other instructions. Van Acker had convinced him otherwise: better to bring all the necessary documents to Berlin by tomorrow morning than to lose valuable time to the drawn-out exchange of cables. “Don’t you agree, Detective?” Fichte had nodded quietly. The more he drank, however, the less he was looking forward to having to ask that question of Hoffner in person.

They had rounded up Mueller about an hour ago. Mueller, of course, had been disappointed to hear that he would be making the return flight solo, but once the invitation had been extended to join them for a few farewell drinks, all was forgiven.

“I still don’t see why you don’t come along,” said Fichte to van Acker. “Your case. You know the man better than anyone.” It was the first coherent thing Fichte had said in the last half-hour.

“I appreciate the offer,” van Acker said, “but not my jurisdiction. I had my chance.” He stared down at his glass. “I’m also guessing Herr Hoffner wouldn’t be that keen on the company.” Fichte tried to disagree, but van Acker continued: “I don’t want our friend back in Belgium,” he said with a sudden resolve. “And I don’t think you’ll want him in Germany, either.”

Fichte understood. Van Acker had failed to kill Wouters; he was telling Hoffner not to make the same mistake.

An amplified voice announced the train’s final boarding. Mueller tossed back Fichte’s untouched whiskey, and the three men headed out to the platform.

“They won’t wake you at the border,” van Acker said to Fichte as they walked. “I’ve seen to that.”

Fichte nodded his thanks.

Van Acker continued. “Tell Herr Hoffner-” He tried to find the words. “Tell him I would have loved the chance.”

The men stopped at the steps up to Fichte’s car, and, placing his valise on the platform, Fichte said, “My guess is, so would he, Monsieur Le Chef Inspecteur.” Van Acker appreciated the gesture. He said nothing.

“All right,” said Mueller impatiently. “If he’s going to be sleeping the whole way there, you and I’ll need to make up for his lack of commitment.”

Van Acker had known Mueller for less than an hour and was already a devotee. “One of us has a wife, Mueller,” said van Acker with a grin.

Mueller said, “Well, don’t look at me.”

The whistle blew, and Fichte gathered up his things. “I leave you in good hands, Chief Inspector,” he said. He shot a glance at Mueller. “Well, at least a few good fingers.”

Mueller laughed. He then turned to van Acker. “You do keep your pants on until the second course, don’t you, Inspector? Not like the Berlin boys?”

Fichte mounted the steps and van Acker said, “I’ll expect cables.” Fichte turned back and nodded. “Safe journey,” said van Acker. Another nod from Fichte. Van Acker then slapped Mueller on the back and started off. “Come on, Toby. I’ll introduce you to my wife.”

Fichte was out cold by the time the train had reached the outskirts of town.

At ten-thirty, Hoffner stopped by the wire room to send Sascha up to the attic for the night. It was too late for a cable now, not that he needed one to tell him what they had found. Anything other than Wouters would have caused a minor panic. Fichte, no doubt, had his hands full. Still, Hoffner would have liked to make sure that Fichte was loading them down with the right material. That, however, would have to wait for tomorrow.

It was nearly eleven, then, when Hoffner finally turned onto Kremmener Strasse.

He had long ago dispensed with the empty distinctions between character and weakness, at least when it came to decisions like these. To his mind, only men who claimed to have no choice struggled with those labels: to them, lack of choice granted a kind of freedom from consequence, or at least a softening of responsibility. Their angst, their wailing, their mea culpas of self-betrayal, all stemmed from that initial claim of powerlessness. Hoffner had never been that stupid or that impotent. He knew there was nothing inevitable about his seeing Lina. He was making the choice to venture back into the familiar of the unknown, and she was willingly inviting him in. Of course, had he seen Lina as anything more than that, he might have persuaded himself to hope for more, and that would have been dangerous. Hope fostered despair, and Hoffner had no desire for either.

The moon had broken through, and the houses melded into one another like a wide sheet of chalky gray stone. Lina’s building stood in the middle of the row, six wide steps leading up to its stoop, which boasted two flower boxes, each with a clump of frozen mud and a few gnarled twigs as reminders of some distant strains of life. Like the street itself, the boxes lay barren. Kremmener was one of the last outposts of the city’s Mitte district, a single street removed from the criminal haunts of Prenzlauer Berg. Ten years ago the gulf between the two would have been immeasurable; now it was a distinction only in name.

Lina had found a room on the top floor of Number 5, and although a woman living alone was far less of a shock these days-especially in this part of town-she had taken a roommate. Elise worked the coat-check room at the White Mouse. She was someone to know, according to Lina, a girl who was moving up. She was also rarely home before 2:00 a.m., and was infamous for forgetting her keys. A ring of the bell and the sound of scurrying feet up the stairs no longer drew the watchful eye of the landlord. He had grown fond of Elise and equally accustomed to her late-night, keyless returns.

Hoffner, with no inkling of a roommate, rang the bell anyway. He suspected that Lina had taken care of any possible awkwardness, and he was right. Two minutes into his wait, she appeared through the glass and opened the door. She was wearing a long lilac dressing gown that pretended to be silk, with tatty little ruffles at the sleeves and collar. On anyone else, they might have seemed vulgar; on her, they looked playful. She had kept her hair up, the tight ringlets along her forehead holding firm in a little row of Os that, from a certain angle, seemed to be oohing at him. She was wearing a bit more rouge than he remembered from this afternoon. Hoffner liked that.

She quickly put a finger to her lips. In a loud voice she said, “Nice and early tonight, Elise. That’s a lucky break.” Lina stifled a laugh and motioned for Hoffner to head up the stairs. He did as he was told; she followed.

The room was more cluttered than he had imagined. The slant of the roof left little space for windows. Two small ones, recessed into narrow alcoves, peered up more than out, and gave a cropped view of the starless sky. Everything else also came in twos-bed, dresser, chair-except for the small stove and washstand. Those the girls shared. Hoffner noticed a large rectangular gap on one of the walls. A picture had clearly hung there for years. He wondered what could have been so offensive as to merit its removal.

“A bare-bosomed slave girl,” said Lina, having followed his gaze. “Horrible. She was being sold to some old letch, or something like that. We hated it.” Lina closed the door. She saw Hoffner reaching for his cigarettes. “Not in the room, please,” she said. Hoffner found the request charming. Or perhaps Lina was more concerned with Fichte’s highly developed sense of smell. Hoffner returned the pack to his pocket.

She moved past him and over to an icebox that he had failed to see until now. She opened it and pulled out a plate of various goodies: crackers and pastes and cheeses, and something that looked like chocolate. Hoffner knew otherwise; Lina could never have afforded the real thing. She placed the plate on a small side table by the bed. Two glasses and a bottle of kmmel already stood at the ready.

Hoffner said, “I wasn’t expecting all of this.”

Lina continued to organize the treats. “So you were thinking it would be off with your pants and into bed,” she said with a smile as she pulled open a drawer and retrieved a few more crackers. She placed them along the rim of the plate. “I thought you’d be hungry.” She licked at a bit of paste that had grazed one of her fingers. “I also thought you’d be here a bit earlier. The paste’s too cold now. Oh, well.” She smoothed out the blanket on her bed and sat. She motioned for Hoffner to join her.

Hoffner took off his coat.

“Just there on the chair,” she said, pointing across the room.

Hoffner laid his coat across the chair and then joined her on the bed. He sat with his hands on his thighs. He said nothing. Lina reached over and poured out two glasses of the liqueur. A bit dripped on her hand, and again she quickly lapped it up. She handed Hoffner his, and they toasted. Lina then placed hers back on the table before bringing the plate to the bed and setting it between them.

“The other bed,” he said. “I’m assuming that one belongs to Frulein Elise.”

Lina handed him a cracker with a thin slice of cheese. “She knows not to come home before two. We’ve plenty of time.”

Hoffner was unsure how to react to the precision of the night’s planning. He took a bite; the cheese had no taste, at all. He said, “She’s used to this sort of thing, your Elise? Does it on a regular basis?”

Lina looked up. The implication was obvious. She smiled disingenuously. “She’s at the White Mouse most nights.” She took a cracker for herself. “And she does it only for Hans. There haven’t been any others.”

“I didn’t imagine there were,” he said.

Lina chewed as she stared at him. Her smile softened. “So,” she said. “Do you like my little place?”

Hoffner took another quick scan. “Very nice.” He reached for a piece of the faux chocolate. To his amazement, it was real.

“Not expecting that, either, were you?”

“No,” he said. “Not that, either.”

He was enjoying the chocolate’s sweetness when, very gently, she reached over and started to undo his tie. No less gently, Hoffner reached up and took hold of her arm. He held it there. Lina peered at him, unsure why he had stopped her. For a moment she looked almost fragile.

“Why?” he said calmly. There was nothing uncertain in his question, no need for affirmation. He simply wanted to know. “Why me?”

She brought her hand back to her lap. It was something she had never considered. It took her a moment to answer. “Does it matter?” she said.

Hoffner held her gaze. “Yes. It does. Why?”

Again she waited. “Don’t look at me that way,” she said. Hoffner said nothing; he continued to stare. “With your eyes like that.” Her smile grew uncomfortable. “It’s too much. . looking.”

Hoffner waited, then dropped his eyes to the plate. He took another wedge of cheese. “Better?”

“Much.”

He brought the cracker to his mouth. “So. . how much do you pay for this place, you and your Elise?”

Lina once again had her glass. “Are you planning on helping out?” she said with a coy smile. She took a sip.

Hoffner laughed quietly. “I don’t imagine that’s the way this is going to work.”

“The way what’s going to work?” she said with mock innocence. “Oh, this. No, I don’t imagine it will.”

“You split it?”

Lina said, “You’re awfully concerned with how I’m getting on. At tea today, wondering whether the flowers were enough, now my rent.”

“Sorry,” said Hoffner. “I won’t ask anymore.”

“No. It’s nice.”

“Good.” Hoffner finished off his cracker. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

She casually placed her glass back on the table. “Forty. Yes. We split it. Twenty each.”

Hoffner watched as her neck twisted with the movement. It was almost a perfect neck. “That’s not the question I meant.”

She turned back. “I know. I haven’t come up with an answer for that one, yet.” Without waiting for him, she reached over and took his glass. She set it on the table, then did the same with the plate. Hoffner knew exactly what was coming, yet he did nothing. He sat there as she moved closer, as she untied her dressing gown and let it drop off her shoulders. It spilled into a pool of silk by her thighs. She was wearing a nightgown beneath, pale white and thin, with two ribbon straps over her shoulders. Her small breasts were almost lost, save for the deep crimson of her nipples that puckered at the cloth.

Hoffner could smell the tangy sweetness of the rosewater in her hair. Her neck arced slightly, and he could see a thin ridge of powder that had gone unsmoothed by her chin. He felt a distant weakness in his arms and legs.

She slowly took his hand and placed it on her waist. “How many do I make, Nikolai?” she said. Hoffner felt a heat below the gown, the suppleness of her skin. “Girls like me,” she said. “The ones that mattered. How many?”

Hoffner followed the moisture of her lips. Without warning, he pulled her into him. He saw her eyes widen as she let out a sudden breath. She showed no vulnerability, no guile. He could taste the saltiness of her breath.

“How many?” she said.

“Six,” he answered without having to consider the number for even a moment.

Lina’s smile returned. The total was irrelevant. All she had wanted was an answer. She placed her hand on his cheek and brought him into her.

Twenty minutes later, Hoffner was asleep, his naked backside still glistening from the exertion. Lina pulled the blanket over him. She liked the weight of his arms and chest on her, the thick flesh of his back as his breathing grew heavier. He had taken her without reserve, and had left her spent. She had never felt such hunger in a partner. She could still feel him inside her, a deep vacancy where he had been. She imagined what it would be like to be loved by this man. She felt no less empty.

At one o’clock she woke him. Hoffner roused himself slowly. He had been dreaming, something to do with wild dogs and Georgi. He felt as if he had been running for hours. He dressed quietly and finished off his glass. Lina sat and watched him from the bed; she was relieved that there would be no need for a repeat performance. She held the blanket around her naked shoulders as she brought him to the door.

“You don’t ask any questions about Hans,” she said.

Hoffner half smiled and shook his head. “No.”

She ran her hand along his chest. “That’s good.” She kissed him.

An hour later, Hoffner dropped his pants and shirt at the foot of his bed and crawled in next to Martha; she hardly seemed to breathe. With the scent of Lina still fresh on him, Hoffner placed his arm around Martha’s back and was asleep within minutes. No dreams. Instead, for the first time in weeks, he slept through the night.

POINT TUDE

On his third time through the notes, Hoffner wrote: “No pleasure or purpose in it; no imperative; kills because he can.” Fichte was on his knees at the foot of the desk, busy with one more stack of papers that he had just pulled from his valise. He had come directly from the train and had been pleasantly surprised to find Hoffner in an almost buoyant mood. There was nothing to apologize for; van Acker had been right: best to get it all here as quickly as possible. Fichte had decided not to question his good fortune. For Hoffner, though, the clear evidence of van Acker’s hand in the choice of documents had been far more important than the speed. As far as he could tell, the Belgian had sent along everything they might need. Unfortunately, it would be another hour before Fichte would have the papers in any kind of presentable order, but at least they were here.

Unwilling to wait, Hoffner had started in on what looked to be the most self-contained and thus coherent of the packets. It was the transcript of van Acker’s first interview with Wouters, dated October 7, 1916, two days after Wouters had been taken into custody. Not surprisingly, it was making for some rather interesting, if disturbing, reading:

REPORT CASE #: 00935

SUSPECT: WOUTERS

INTERROGATOR: ACKERS

7 OCTOBER 1916

CI van Acker: So you killed your grandmother. Anne Wouters.

M. Wouters: Yes.

CI van Acker: Because of the way she treated you.

M. Wouters: Because I had the bristle.

CI van Acker: So you deserved the beatings?

M. Wouters: (Pause) I don’t know. I don’t think so.

CI van Acker: And you were pleased to kill her. As you said, to “watch the blood flow down her neck.”

M. Wouters: (Pause) I don’t think I understand.

CI van Acker: You liked watching her die.

M. Wouters: No. Why should I like watching her die?

CI van Acker: Because she had been beating you. Because of the scars on your back.

M. Wouters: I don’t think so. I don’t know. (Pause) Would it be better if that was why?

CI van Acker: If what was why, Mr. Wouters?

M. Wouters: Would it be better if it was because of the scars on my back? Would that be right?

CI van Acker: (Pause) Are you sorry your grandmother is dead?

M. Wouters: You’re asking the same question again.

CI van Acker: No, I haven’t asked that question.

M. Wouters: Yes. Yes, you did.

CI van Acker: I can assure you, I didn’t.

M. Wouters: Yes. You asked if I was pleased to kill her. “To watch the blood flow down her neck.” You see.

CI van Acker: (Pause) And you buried her outside the city.

M. Wouters: Yes.

CI van Acker: “In the soft earth near the Shripte factory.”

M. Wouters: Yes. The dirt smelled like coal, there.

CI van Acker: Like coal. I see. (Pause) So if there was nothing wrong with what you did, Mr. Wouters, why not tell the police when they asked you about her disappearance?

M. Wouters: Tell them? (Pause) They didn’t find the blood. I cleaned that. With a brush.

Hoffner reread the last line, then sat back and peered across at the map. He continued to think. “Kills because he can.” It was the same conclusion van Acker had drawn two years ago; Hoffner saw no reason to question it now. For Wouters, brutality carried no moral weight, no meaning beyond the act itself. His answers made that abundantly clear: there was no remorse, no pride, no delight in the killing. And yet, strangely enough, Wouters was neither cold nor detached in his responses. Van Acker’s notes said as much. It was as if Wouters had been genuinely confused by van Acker’s horror and disbelief.

CI van Acker: And, after that, you lived on the streets and in the almshouses.

M. Wouters: Yes. I moved about.

CI van Acker: Until the day you decided to kill another woman.

M. Wouters: Yes.

CI van Acker: You waited nine years, and then just went out to kill another woman.

M. Wouters: Yes. Nine. If you say it was nine.

CI van Acker: Nine years, and then three more women.

M. Wouters: Yes. Three more. One, two, three.

CI van Acker: And you decided to carve out these designs on their backs.

M. Wouters: Yes.

CI van Acker: I see. (Pause) Why so long, Mr. Wouters? And why so many at once?

M. Wouters: (Pause) It took time to find the ideal.

CI van Acker: To find the what?

M. Wouters: (Pause) It seemed the right thing to do.

It was that last answer the Belgian doctors had fallen in love with. To them, it had made everything crystal clear. Here was the created madman.

Hoffner was not so convinced. He had never cottoned to the theory that every beaten boy was destined for violence, or that every act of violence was traceable back to a beaten boy. People did what they did because they chose to. The motivations were ultimately irrelevant, inevitability merely an excuse. And yet, even in Berlin, the proceedings at the Reichstadt Court were beginning to sound more like medical seminars than legal prosecutions. In the hands of a clever attorney, the predilections for stealing, maiming, and raping were no longer criminally inspired; instead, they were all symptoms of some hidden disease. That disease, as far as Hoffner could make out, was called childhood. Luckily, most of the judges were, as yet, unwilling to accept the sins of the father as a legitimate defense: they still believed in the culpability of the individual.

Except, of course, when it came to a deeper depravity, that special brand of horror that tore at the very cloth of humane society. Then the judges, whether German or Belgian, were told to step aside so that the doctors could explain away the birth of psychosis. Hoffner imagined that it made them all feel so much safer to think that men such as Wouters could not simply be brought into this world; that, instead, they had to be malformed by it. Hoffner was not sure which painted the world in a more feeble light: the fact that it could not defend itself against a pure evil, or that it alone was responsible for every act of corruption.

Either way, it made no difference. The act itself was all that concerned him. That Wouters had killed Mary Koop-a young Mary Koop-clearly threw the doctors’ theories out the window. Wouters was not reenacting his grandmother’s murder. He was simply weak. And as the weak do, he preyed on the weak. There was nothing more profound to it than that. That he had found most of his victims in older, solitary women; that he had chosen to etch his markings onto the area where he himself had been beaten-naturally there was a link, but those elements could in no way mitigate Wouters’s decision to embrace his own infamy.

What they did provide, however, was a view into the logic of the killings. Wouters might not have had access to the rational world, but that did not mean that he had not constructed one for himself.

A few points were obvious: the drag marks at each of the murder sites made it clear that the placement of the bodies was essential; otherwise, why go to the trouble of bringing them out into the open? Wouters had buried his grandmother in the “soft earth.” He had meant for her to remain hidden. Not so with these women. Hoffner was hoping that van Acker could shed some light on the placement issue with some more information on the three victims he had discovered in Bruges.

More than that, Hoffner was now reasonably certain-ever since the discovery of the gloves-that the diameter-cut design was some kind of lace mesh itself. Wouters’s eight years cooped up in an attic room, working a needle and thread, confirmed it. The trouble was, the more Hoffner stared at the design, the less it seemed to jibe with the pins sticking out from his map. He knew there had to be another piece, something that could make sense of the design in the context of the city’s layout.

“He’s remarkably small,” said Fichte. He was still on his knees, staring at a single sheet. “Just over a meter and a half.” He looked over. “Weren’t some of the women taller than that?”

Hoffner kept his eyes on the map. “All of them.” He was fixated on one of the pins; it had begun to sag. “Tell me,” said Hoffner. “How does he move them, a man that small? How does he move a healthy-sized woman?”

“A trunk. Something like that. Isn’t that what the marks showed?”

Hoffner nodded distractedly as he stood and moved over to the map. “But how does such a little man maneuver a trunk? Up and down stairs? A ramp? A ladder?” Hoffner readjusted the pin. He could still smell the formaldehyde on his fingers from this morning’s session with victim number six. She had been of little help. As of now, they still had no name for her. “How does he do that without drawing attention? In fact”-Hoffner was now straightening each of the pins-“how does he do it at all without breaking his own back?”

Fichte thought for a moment. “The second carver.” Fichte knew he had gotten it right.

Hoffner looked over at him. His eyes widened as he nodded. “Not the way he worked in Bruges, was it?” Fichte shook his head. “You haven’t been at the pins, have you, Hans?” Another shake of the head. Hoffner turned back to the map. “No, I didn’t think so.”

Still preoccupied with the growing piles of paper, Fichte said, “Mueller knows how to have a good time.”

The comment caught Hoffner off-guard. He turned. “Does he?” Fichte’s smile was answer enough. “Yes. . our Toby’s not one to let an opportunity slip by.”

“I never knew a man who could drink that much and still-” Fichte stopped himself with a little laugh.

Hoffner had felt a mild discomfort at Fichte’s arrival this afternoon: another consequence to be considered. Now, hearing of Toby’s exploits, he felt a similarly mild dose of relief. “So you had company?” he said. Fichte looked up. He was sporting a fifteen-year-old’s grin. Hoffner returned the smile. “Toby never disappoints on that score.” For a moment, Hoffner wondered if that was the reason he had sent Fichte off with Mueller in the first place; Hoffner, however, had never considered himself quite that clever, if, in fact, “clever” was the right word.

Fichte began to busy himself with the papers. Trying just too hard at nonchalance, he said, “He was telling me about some of your goings-on.”

“Was he?” said Hoffner coolly.

“He mentioned something about Austria. The Tyrol. ‘The pact,’ he called it.” Fichte looked up eagerly. “He said I should ask you.”

Hoffner let Fichte sit a moment longer before saying, “Nice big tits on your girl, were there, Hans?” Fichte’s face turned a deep crimson. “Toby always likes to give the big-tit girls to his guests. What would your Lina have to say, eh, Hans?”

Hoffner regretted having said it the moment it had passed his lips. Fichte’s sudden look of concern hardly helped: not enough to have taken Fichte’s girl, Hoffner needed to make the boy feel small for letting himself off the hook. Hoffner had forgotten just how much of himself he kept locked away. Now he was seeing how easily it all came back. “I’m just teasing you, Hans,” he said to placate. “You’re young. These things happen. She knows that as well as anyone. And if she doesn’t, well, then-she doesn’t have to.”

Fichte nodded. It was clear that he had been trying to convince himself of the same thing since Bruges. Still, hearing it from Hoffner probably helped.

An unfamiliar boy poked his head through the doorway. Hoffner had no idea how long the boy had been standing there. He quickly stepped over and took the boy out into the hall. He had no interest in allowing a set of little eyes to get a glimpse of the files on the floor. “What is it?” said Hoffner.

The boy was particularly small. “The men are waiting in the Press Room, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner had completely forgotten about the meeting he had promised. In fact, he had blocked out the entire morning of interruptions: every paper in town had wanted to know where Kvatsch had gotten his story on the “chisel murders.” Clever little title. Just right for Kvatsch. The telephone had started ringing at nine o’clock and had continued unabated until nearly ten-thirty. Hoffner had told them four o’clock. He checked his watch. For newsmen, they were remarkably prompt.

“I’ll be right down,” he said. The boy headed off, and Hoffner stepped back into the office. “Pack it up, Hans.” He angled his head toward the bit of mirror that was visible through the bookcase. “We’ll need to lock everything in the filing cabinet.” Hoffner ran a hand over his face. His beard was a bit rough. Made him look diligent, he thought. That was all right.

“Pack it up?” said Fichte. “Why? What did the boy want?”

Hoffner checked his teeth. “This should take about twenty minutes.” He smoothed back his hair. “That’s when they usually run out of questions.” He straightened his collar. “Or at least get tired of hearing the same answers.”

“Who? Who gets tired?”

Hoffner pointed to piles on the floor. “The papers, Hans.”

The Press Room was just off the front atrium. Prager had set it up during the last weeks of the war, when the flow of reporters into the Alex had gone from a trickle to a torrent. It had all started when the General Staff-unwilling to admit just how badly things were going-decided, in its infinite wisdom, to cease any further release of information: the less people knew, the better off they were. Newspapermen, however, never saw it that way: they had turned to the Kripo as their only alternative. Not that any of the detectives had known what was going on outside of Berlin, but there was always something nice and official about quotes that cited “Kripo sources.” Naturally, once the revolution kicked in-making for genuine news-the Press Room had become the single most important office in the city. Even the General Staff had been known to send over a junior officer incognito, now and then, for a little information.

It was all very busy and very infuriating, and Prager had reasoned that it was safer to herd the newsmen into a confined space than to have them roaming about the building on their own. The rules were simple: they could come and go as they pleased, as long as they waited patiently in the office for someone to come and get them. More often than not, that wait stretched on for hours. Interest invariably lost out to impatience: the longer they were made to sit, the less frequently they appeared. By all accounts-now that the National Assembly elections had restored a bit of order-the flow had returned to a manageable drip. Then again, the fact that a battle had been waged inside the Alex walls just over a week ago might also have had something to do with it.

Hoffner recognized most of the eleven faces in the room, although the men’s clothes were probably a better indication of which papers had sent them. Those still in long woolen overcoats had come from the likes of the Lokalanzeiger or the Morgenpost or the Volkszeitung, men with no time to waste: people were waiting for their copy. Removing a coat could send the wrong message. They paced defiantly at the back of the room. Others had been sent by the 8-Uhr Abendblatt or the Nacht-Ausgabe, Mosse’s and Sherl’s knockoffs of the BZ. For years the two papers had been trying to compete with Ullstein’s gold mine, but neither had ever won the kind of following that the BZ continued to enjoy. The wrinkled suits and brown socks of these staff writers were proof enough of their second-class status. Sadly, these were men who were always getting scooped by Gottlob Kvatsch. For them, an appearance at the Alex was a kind of humiliation: they had missed it again. They stood off to the side, careful not to make eye contact with anyone else in the room. The final group was made up of men who looked more like stockbrokers than journalists. They were all very well put together-creases and all-and worked for papers such as the Vossische Zeitung or the Berliner Tageblatt. These were men who reported to the cultural elite, to the Westend highbrows. They sat aloof in the few chairs that were scattered about the room. Chances were, they would see the story for what it was: a bit of tabloid fodder. That, however, would not stop them from publishing it.

“Gentlemen,” said Hoffner as he continued to the rostrum at the front of the room. Those who were sitting stood. The rest bunched up across from him. “I’m Detective Inspector Hoffner-two effs. I understand you have questions about an article that appeared in this morning’s BZ.

For exactly twenty-two minutes the men asked and Hoffner answered. Fichte stood at the back of the room, marveling at the effortlessness with which Hoffner deflected even the most detailed of questions. It was clear that his Kriminal-Kommissar understood the essential rule of the press conference: that journalists in crowds are never as effective as when alone, probably another reason why Prager had set up the room in the first place. In this game of cat and mouse, each of the men had to be careful not to ask anything too leading lest one of his rivals learn more from the question than from the answer. Hoffner was playing them off each other to perfection. They learned that there were victims-four or five, the number was unclear just yet. That there was knife work-again, there was too little of it to make it a signature piece of the case. And that, thus far, the victims were women-old, young, there was nothing to specify at this point.

Frustrated by the vagueness of the answers, one of the woolen overcoats finally broke down and asked about the locations of the murder sites. He had heard that the women were being killed in one place before being brought to the various sites. Was there any truth to that?

Hoffner had anticipated the question. He was about to answer when a single “Yes” came from the doorway. Everyone, including Hoffner, turned to see Oberkommissar Braun enter the room.

“That is, in fact, true,” continued Braun as he moved to Hoffner at the rostrum.

Hoffner did everything he could to keep from biting through his tongue. He sensed an immediate shift in the level of interest in the room. Nonetheless, he turned back to the men as if he had been expecting Braun all along. “Gentlemen,” he said, “this is Chief Inspector Braun. He is also involved with the case.” Hoffner looked at Braun. “So glad you could take the time out for us, Chief Inspector.” Out of the corner of his eye, Hoffner noticed that Fichte had been joined by Kommissar Walther Hermannsohn.

Braun said, “The Polpo always has time for the truth, Herr Inspector.”

A second bombshell landed as the men’s interest gave way to tension. None of them had considered the possibility of Polpo involvement. Braun was working his magic.

The frustrated overcoat decided to push his luck: “The Polpo?” he said. “Are we to take it, then, that this is a political case, Herr Chief Inspector?”

Braun offered a cold smile. “In the aftermath of revolution, everything has a political side, mein Herr.” To a man, the pens started moving briskly across the pads. Braun continued, “One can never be too careful, especially with a maniac on the loose.”

The pens stopped. No one had mentioned the word “maniac.” Even Kvatsch had managed to keep it to just this side of lurid.

“You say a maniac,” piped in one of the stockbrokers, all traces of indifference now gone. “Can we assume he has designs on the entire city?”

Hoffner cut in quickly: “As of now, everything is localized. Let me say, gentlemen, that there has still been no clear evidence of any transporting of victims, despite any information the Chief Inspector might, or might not, have seen.” Hoffner lied, but he needed to do something to muddy Braun’s performance.

The stockbroker continued, “But there is at least one occurrence of a victim being moved to a separate site? Is that true, Inspector?”

Hoffner waited for Braun to step in, but Braun said nothing: like the men in the room, he looked to Hoffner. “One case,” said Hoffner coolly. The lie was taking on a life of its own. “But there’s nothing to indicate a pattern.”

“Does that mean that that killing could have taken place anywhere?” the stockbroker pressed.

“As I said,” answered Hoffner, “everything is localized.” And with just a hint of contempt, he added, “No need to worry, mein Herr. Your readers in the west are safe.”

The man was not satisfied. “Is that a promise, Herr Inspector?”

Hoffner was getting tired of this. He was also unsure how much longer he could stand next to the conveniently quiet Oberkommissar Braun without driving something sharp into the man’s chest. “He’ll be in our custody long before he figures out what’s beyond the Tiergarten.”

“And for those of us in the east,” cut in one of the brown socks, “it wasn’t so pressing?” The man had a point. “A maniac in Charlottenburg is reason to step things up, but a killer in the Mitte district was acceptable? Are our readers less important to the Kripo, Herr Inspector?”

Hoffner sensed how much Braun was enjoying this. “Of course not.” Hoffner knew he had to end this, now. “We’re in the process of following several very positive leads that should have this man off the streets before he has a chance to do any more harm, in any district of the city.”

A man at the back spoke up. Hoffner had not seen him until now. His clothes were out of keeping with the rest of the group. “And is the Polpo as certain as the Kripo about these leads?” the man asked. The question was transparent. It was the surest way to challenge Hoffner’s sincerity.

Hoffner gazed at the man. He made sure to remember the face.

“This,” said Braun, suddenly eager to chime in, “is a Kripo investigation.” It was as if he had been waiting for the question. “I can’t comment on any specific leads. But let me say that, while the Polpo has kept itself apprised of all criminal cases since the revolution, it is our policy never to interfere with an ongoing Kripo investigation. The Polpo has the greatest confidence in Inspector Hoffner and the entire Kripo staff to follow whatever leads it may or may not have, so as to bring this unfortunate and unpleasant business to a swift conclusion. Only if it should prove to be more than a criminal case would the Polpo then step in.”

Hoffner was impressed. In a matter of two minutes, Braun had managed to disclose crucial and damning elements of the case, foster panic, and undermine Hoffner’s credibility, and all while distancing himself and the Polpo from any kind of connection to the case. It had been masterful, and clearly orchestrated. Hoffner had no choice but to thank him for it.

“Always good to hear, Chief Inspector,” said Hoffner. He turned to the room. “And I believe, gentlemen, that’s all we have for you at this time.” Hoffner motioned for Braun to lead them out; Braun acquiesced. There was a flurry of questions, but Hoffner ignored them. From the back of the room, he saw Hermannsohn follow Fichte to the door.

Prick” was the first word out of Hoffner’s mouth as he and Fichte stepped back into his office.

Hoffner had refused to give Braun the satisfaction of a confrontation. He had thanked him again for his words of confidence, and had then headed upstairs. Fichte had been smart to say nothing.

“And how he enjoys it,” Hoffner continued. He moved over to the filing cabinet. He stared at it, his mind elsewhere. “There are things going on here I’m just not seeing.” He unlocked and opened the drawer. “I’m getting tired of that, Hans.”

Fichte closed the door. “Then I suppose we have no choice but to look at what we do see.”

A week ago, Hoffner would have taken Fichte’s contribution as little more than a parroting of what he had heard. Now the boy was actually speaking sense: not wanting to impress, Fichte was focusing.

Hoffner had the first of the papers in his hand. “Everything in here deals with what was happening at Sint-Walburga after Wouters went missing, yes? Logs, doctors’ reports, visitors?”

“Primarily.”

“Nothing about his behavior immediately after the arrest, or about his first few months in the asylum?” Fichte shook his head. “Which means reading through them won’t help us understand him any better than we already do.”

“Well, no,” said Fichte, unwilling to concede the point entirely. “We took them because we thought they’d lead us to whoever planned the escape.”

“I’m not questioning why you took them, Hans. I’m just making sure I know what we have. Finding the people who helped him only matters once we’ve got Wouters in hand.”

Fichte thought a moment and nodded. He was about to answer, when his eyes lit up. “There was something else,” he said as he moved to the cabinet and began to rummage through the papers. “Van Acker mentioned a few things he’d put together himself-interviews, a few last year, two or three the year before, and some drawings.” Fichte found the packet. “Here it is.”

“Drawings,” said Hoffner. He took the packet, placed it on the desk, and began to leaf through as Fichte drew up to his side. “When it’s a case that revolves around designs and patterns, Hans, you might want to mention drawings a little earlier on.” Hoffner stopped when they came to the sheets with Wouters’s scribblings.

There were four pages, each one filled with perhaps twenty lines of intricately drawn lace patterns. The sketches were all the same size, but what was most striking was the patterning of the rows themselves. Each one was made up of seven drawings of exactly the same design; the next row, another design and another set of replicas. Had Hoffner simply been glancing at them, he might have thought that each line was an exercise in perfecting the single designs. He quickly realized, however, that with each subsequent rendering, Wouters was bringing something new to the original drawing. The shapes, the lines, the contours might have been identical, but Hoffner knew there was something different in each one. He stood over the pages and stared, trying to find it, until, almost twenty minutes in, he saw the deviation. It was in the stroke of the pen. Each replica began at a different point of the design and moved through the lines of the pattern on its own distinct course: identical sketches, yet each one uniquely drawn. He had no idea what it meant.

“It’s in how he draws it,” he said out loud as he began to flip through the pages. He was hoping to find something resembling the diameter-cut. There was nothing.

The sudden break in silence momentarily startled Fichte. “An exercise, you mean?”

“Maybe.” Hoffner stared a moment longer. “I don’t know.” He then took the pages and grabbed his coat. “Friday night,” he said as he slipped his arm through the sleeve. “The only place that handles this kind of lace and that stays open past six is KaDeWe, yes?”

“The shops I tried wouldn’t be open this late,” said Fichte. “KaDeWe. Maybe Tietz. But KaDeWe definitely.”

“Good,” said Hoffner as he grabbed his hat. “Then I’m guessing our friend there is going to be able to tell us more about Herr Wouters than you, I, van Acker, or any doctor ever could.”

KaDeWe was packed. The revolution was now a distant memory, and capitalism had wasted no time in calling its faithful back to the teat. If any of the store’s clientele had seen this morning’s BZ, they were showing little concern. After all, there was a special on scarves, and someone had heard that a bit of perfume from Paris had finally made its way through. They were in the west, deep in the west. No one killed in the west.

Hoffner and Fichte sidestepped their way through the crowds and over to the glove counter, where, for some reason, things were less frantic. A placard on top of the glass explained:

We regret any inconvenience, however this department will be closing at five-thirty this evening. All inquiries may be taken up at the information desk. Thank you for your patience.

Hoffner checked his watch. It was a quarter to six. He moved across the aisle to lady’s handkerchiefs, where a line of three or four women was waiting for the clerk. Hoffner stepped up to the glass. “The gentleman who handles the gloves,” he said bluntly. “Herr Taubmann. Where does he change before leaving the store?”

The clerk turned slowly at the interruption as the woman started talking quietly among themselves. “Mein Herr,” he said through two stiff lips, “as you can see, there are other customers waiting-”

Hoffner pulled out his badge; he had no time for this tonight. “My apologies. Where can I find him?”

The man’s sneer became a weak smile. “Is there something the matter, mein Herr?” The man was doing his best not to rattle the ladies. “Surely this is a mistake?”

“Yes, that’s what this is,” said Hoffner abruptly. “A mistake. Just tell me where he changes.”

Three minutes later, Hoffner was leading Fichte through the maze of underground employee corridors in search of Room 17. It was eerily quiet, given the mayhem they had just come from on the main floor.

Herr Taubmann was sitting alone on a long bench, tying his shoe, when Hoffner and Fichte stepped into the cold room; evidently heat was not a necessity for KaDeWe’s workers. Hoffner noticed that the walls were in need of a bit of replastering, as well.

Taubmann’s suit hung in a locker directly across from him. It was perfectly placed, the creases exact on the hanger. Hoffner saw the open bottle of rosewater placed on a shelf just below the cuffs to keep it fresh: a perfect touch for the man, he thought.

Taubmann looked up, his surprise instantaneous. It was the first time Hoffner had realized how birdlike Taubmann was. “Herr Hoffner,” Taubmann said nervously. His head tweaked from side to side as he glanced from Hoffner to Fichte. “This is a restricted area.” He seemed unsure what to say next. “Your order has not yet come in.” Even Taubmann recognized the absurdity of what he had just said.

“Yes,” Hoffner cut in reassuringly. “I’m not here about the gloves, Herr Taubmann.” He calmly produced his badge. “It’s Inspector Hoffner. I just need to ask you some questions about. . lace designs.”

Taubmann was still trying to process the badge. “Inspector?”

“Yes. You’ve been so helpful in the past. I hope that’s all right?”

Taubmann struggled to find an answer. “Questions about lace?”

“Yes.” Hoffner needed to move this along. “I know you have an appointment tonight, but this shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”

Taubmann’s nervousness turned to shock. “How do you know about my appointment?” he said tensely.

Hoffner raised a hand. “I don’t,” he said in his most pacifying tone. “I merely assumed. There was a note at your counter. You were closing early.”

Taubmann’s relief was immediate. “Oh, yes. Yes, of course. The note. I–It’s a dinner for my mother. Once a year. We celebrate her birthday. I always leave a few minutes early. Saves an enormous amount of time back here. You can’t imagine. Half an hour at least.”

It amused Hoffner to see how much information the innocent were willing to volunteer. “Of course,” he said. “How nice for you. But could I steal just a few minutes of your time?”

Taubmann was again running through the last half-minute in his head. “You still want the gloves from Bruges, yes?” The salesman was returning.

Hoffner smiled. “Of course.”

“Good.” Taubmann was recovering beautifully. “That’s good. And this is. .?”

Hoffner turned to Fichte. “My partner. Detective Fichte. Herr Taubmann.”

Fichte offered a quick nod.

“Oh, yes,” said Taubmann. “I trust your doctor’s visit was a success?”

Naturally, Taubmann would have remembered that. Fichte nodded again, with a forced smile.

“Very good,” said Taubmann. He was slightly less efficient out of his perfect suit. He seemed aware of it himself as he motioned for Hoffner to take a seat. Hoffner did so, and pulled out the pages from van Acker’s files.

“If you can,” said Hoffner, “I’d like to know what these are.”

Still not sure what was going on, Taubmann took the sheets. “All right,” he said tentatively. He brought the pages up to his face. As with the gloves, his expression changed instantly. His head began to dart from row to row as he studied the sketches with great intensity. After nearly two minutes he said, “This is marvelous work. Really. Not another aunt, is it, mein Herr?”

“Another. .?” Hoffner remembered his first lie. “No. Not another aunt.”

Taubmann nodded, his eyes still fixed on the sketches. “No, I wouldn’t imagine something this unusual as a gift.”

“Unusual?” said Hoffner.

Taubmann looked up. “A point tude. It’s exceptionally rare. It applies to only a handful of meshes.”

“I see,” said Hoffner.

Gazing at the drawings again, Taubmann said, “Am I right in guessing that you want to know if we can make pieces from them?”

Hoffner found it oddly charming how everything for Herr Taubmann revolved around the sale of lace. A detective had just invaded his changing room, with mysterious sheets of paper, and all Taubmann saw was an order for unusual gloves. The man was perfect. Hoffner could ask him anything without wondering if Taubmann might see beyond the question. It made it all very safe.

“Once again,” said Hoffner, “you’ve guessed correctly.”

Taubmann’s smile was only slightly self-congratulatory. “Thank you, mein Herr, but I’m not quite clear why it’s so. . pressing.” He was doing his best to be accommodating. “After all, I will be in tomorrow morning.”

“Yes.”

“Not that I’m not keen on the sale,” Taubmann said eagerly. “But. . you understand.”

“Of course,” said Hoffner, easing himself back into character. “It’s just that I came across it-this. . point tude, as you say-quite by accident, and I’m simply fascinated by it.” Hoffner decided to lead the man. “Much the way you are, I suspect?” He saw Taubmann begin to waver. “Just two minutes, Herr Taubmann. You’ll allow me that brief imposition, won’t you?”

Taubmann stared uncertainly until, with a long exhalation, he nodded.

“Wonderful,” said Hoffner. “Is it some kind of blueprint for different meshes?”

“Some kind of-oh, I see what you mean. Well, yes and no. I suppose one could call them blueprints, but they’re more variations on each design.”

“Variations?” Hoffner had figured that out for himself back at the Alex. “But each row looks identical. I thought it might be some sort of exercise?”

Taubmann’s smile returned. “To the untrained eye, perhaps, mein Herr. But a point tude is not meant for the untrained eye. It comes from the French. ‘Point study.’ Of course, the term is inaccurate. A better way to describe it would be ‘flow study,’ or perhaps ‘path study.’ Even those don’t capture the art one finds in these.”

Hoffner had been right. It was the way in which Wouters had drawn them that differentiated each sketch. “I don’t understand,” he said.

Taubmann invited Hoffner to bend over the page more closely. “Identical in design, yes, but not in the way they are drawn.” Taubmann leaned in to illustrate as he spoke. “Each of these drawings begins at a different point on the mesh. The needle, or in this case the pen, then follows the path of the design using very specific directional markers that tell the artist when to loop back, when to bring the thread under or over, so forth and so on. Those shifts in movement occur at the picots, or knots, throughout the design.” Taubmann sat up. “The point of origin determines the movement of the needle throughout the entire mesh. Change the point of origin, and the design-even though seemingly identical-is nonetheless subtly and significantly altered.”

Hoffner nodded. He had been listening with only half an ear since Taubmann had mentioned the words “directional markers.” It suddenly struck him how close he had been to unmasking the design, all along. He had always understood it best through movement, in the ebb and flow of the city, and here it was, that very movement reflected in the twists and turns of the needle. It was not enough to take the little pins in his map and search for the pattern. One had to understand the flow of the design. That was the key to the placement.

More than that, the design itself told the “artist” where to go, which meant that the design, in some way, knew where its next crucial change in direction would be. In other words, all Hoffner needed to do was to find the point of origin for the diameter-cut design, and he would be able to follow its flow to Wouters’s next dumping site. At least that was the theory.

“So, if you have the point of origin,” said Hoffner, “you know which direction the needle will always move, and which major knots along the way it will hit.”

“Precisely,” said Taubmann. He was now enjoying himself. “But it gets even better. Most lacemakers believe that these kinds of rare designs also have an optimal point of origin-that is, a singular point of entry that will create the ideal mesh.” Taubmann once again had Hoffner’s full attention. “That’s why there are so many versions of the same design in each row. The artist is looking for the ideal mesh. Or, rather, he is waiting for the ideal mesh to reveal itself. In a way, the point tude turns a mesh into a living, breathing thing, with the key to its own perfection hidden within it. Remarkable, wouldn’t you say? That’s why they spend so much time on these points tudes. Or at least why they used to. These days, machines churn out the designs with no care for optimal mesh. Shame, really.”

An ideal mesh, thought Hoffner. Living and breathing. Of course. He remembered van Acker’s first interview with Wouters: It took time to find the ideal. It was perfect. In Wouters’s twisted mind, the diameter-cut-originated at its optimal point-was actually breathing life into his victims.

Taubmann picked up the pages. “In this particular study, the artist achieves the ideal mesh always on the seventh sketch. That’s a bit odd, I suppose, but it does make for a very nice symmetry.” He extended one of the pages to Hoffner. “I’m sure you can see the difference in the last ones in each of the rows. They’re slightly more-well, perfect.”

“Yes,” said Hoffner, not really looking. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out another single sheet. He held it out to Taubmann. It was Hoffner’s rendering of the diameter-cut design. “And is this one of these rare designs?”

Taubmann hesitated. It was clear from his expression that he was done with the lesson.

“Please, Herr Taubmann,” Hoffner said kindly. “This is the last, I promise.”

Taubmann stared a moment longer, then took the page. His brow furrowed as he studied it. “It’s very rudimentary. You’re sure this is a lace design?”

“That’s what I’m asking you, Herr Taubmann.”

Taubmann continued to scan the page as he spoke: “It might be.” He suddenly looked up. “This isn’t about buying lace, is it, Herr Inspector?”

Taubmann’s frankness was wholly unexpected. Hoffner had never understood why people asked such questions. Surely they knew there could be no answers. “The drawing, Herr Taubmann. Is it one of these designs?”

Taubmann’s discomfort grew. “I’m not really an expert, Herr Inspector.”

“You’re being modest.”

“No,” said Taubmann more forcefully. “I’m really not.”

Hoffner saw the uneasiness in Taubmann’s eyes. This was not something he readily admitted. “Then who is?” asked Hoffner.

The answer came without hesitation. “Emil Kepner. He’s the best in the city. In fact, I’m studying with him.” Taubmann did his best with a smile. “You see, I hope to have my own shop one day. When I’ve put enough money away.”

“Where can I find this Kepner?”

Fichte answered: “Kleiststrasse.” Both men turned to him. Fichte explained: “He owns one of the places I tried last week. Very high-end.”

Hoffner turned to Taubmann. “So Herr Kepner would know about my drawing?”

“Absolutely,” said Taubmann. “No one in Berlin knows lace like Emil.”

“You have the address?”

“He’ll be home, by now, mein Herr.” Again, Taubmann tried a smile. “You can see why I want my own shop.”

Hoffner was growing impatient. “Then his address there. You have that?”

Taubmann’s confusion returned. “It’s Friday evening, mein Herr. It’s the man’s home.”

“I’m aware of that, Herr Taubmann.” Hoffner was no longer the genial customer. “I’m also a Kripo detective. Do you have the address?”

Taubmann’s face paled. Six minutes later, Hoffner and Fichte were outside, heading for Charlottenburg.

The street names are what give everything away: Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Kant. If the brighter glow from the lampposts, or the whiter shine on the pavements, fails to tip off an errant wanderer that he has strayed too far, then the signs above are a final warning to turn back, now. Charlottenburg had never been satisfied merely to hold tightly to the city’s purse strings; it had to stake a claim to her genius, as well. The fact that Goethe and Herder had spent most of their productive years in Weimar, Schiller in Jena and then Weimar, and Kant forever in Knigsberg, had never deterred the privileged few from assuming their rightful lineage. Hoffner and Fichte were now in the land of the divine. They were meant to tread carefully.

Among friends, Herr Kepner was always heard to say that he lived in Weimar: after all, his house was on the corner where Schiller and Herder met. Very few ever got the joke, but they laughed anyway. Kepner was that sort of man: always a few steps ahead, but on a road no one else seemed all that eager to follow.

It was a road, however, that had served him well. Kepner’s house was three stories high, set off from the street, and with a pleasant garden out front. Aside from the Tiergarten, Hoffner had forgotten the last time he had seen this much grass in one place. He released the latch on the fence and followed the path of stones to the front porch. Fichte followed behind. Hoffner knocked at the door.

After several more attempts, the door finally opened and a man, younger than Hoffner had expected, stepped from the shadows. It was unusually dark inside the house; even so, Hoffner could tell that the man was not in a servant’s uniform. The man seemed puzzled by the appearance of someone on his stoop.

“Yes?” he said warily.

“Forgive the intrusion, mein Herr. I am Detective Inspector Hoffner, with the Kripo. I’m looking for Herr Emil Kepner.”

The man grew more reticent. He looked over at Fichte, then back at Hoffner. “I am Herr Kepner’s son-in-law, Herr Brenner. Can I help you?”

“Ah,” said Hoffner. “Herr Brenner. Is Herr Kepner available?”

Brenner spoke as if to a child. “It’s Friday night, mein Herr.

“Yes. Again, I apologize, but this is Kripo business. Herr Kepner will, I’m sure, understand.”

The man seemed to take offense at the suggestion. Hoffner was about to start in again, when a man’s voice called out from behind Brenner: “Is something the matter, Josef? Just tell them we are not seeing anyone tonight.”

Brenner turned back to the voice. “I have. It’s an inspector from the Kripo.”

There was a rustling of chairs and a low rumble of voices. Brenner moved out of the way as a man, perhaps in his early sixties, stepped through to the doorway. He was agitated. “Herr Inspector. Has something happened with the shop?” Brenner remained just behind him.

“Herr Kepner?” said Hoffner.

“Yes.” Kepner was small, but well fed. “Has something happened?”

“Nothing to do with your shop, mein Herr, but if I might have a word with you inside?”

For a moment Kepner seemed torn by the simple request. Hoffner was losing his patience: were the burghers of Charlottenburg beyond the sway of a Kripo badge? Finally Kepner nodded. He extended a hand and welcomed the two men into the house. “This way, gentlemen, please.” He led them along a hallway. A few paces on, he turned to his right, through an arch, and into a sitting room. Hoffner was following when he glanced to his left. Directly across the way was a second arch which led into the dining room. A table was set, with perhaps ten people seated around it. Each of the faces stared back blankly at him. Hoffner noticed the two candelabra standing on the sideboard. He saw the skullcaps on each of the men’s heads. He turned to Fichte. “Wait here, Hans.”

Fichte did as he was told. Brenner remained with him.

Kepner was by the fireplace when Hoffner stepped into the sitting room. “Another apology, mein Herr,” said Hoffner. “The Sabbath. I didn’t think to ask.”

Kepner nodded curtly. “Yes.” He motioned to two chairs. “Please.” The men sat. “You will understand, then, if I wish to keep this as brief as possible.” Hoffner nodded. “So what is it that I can do for the Kriminalpolizei, Herr Inspector?”

Hoffner felt foolish now asking about the lace. He had been looking forward to interrupting a nice Charlottenburg dinner party with his request-the rich needed to be kept on their toes-but this was something entirely different. Police and Jews were never a good mix. Jews saw only the threat, never the protection. Sadly, they probably had little reason to see it any other way. The irony of his career choice had never been lost on Hoffner.

He chose candor out of some skewed sense of penance for having reminded the man’s family of just how tenuous its position remained. “We’re in the midst of an investigation, mein Herr,” he began. “We believe you may be able to shed some light on a piece of evidence we’ve recently uncovered.”

“How did you get my name?” Kepner was being cautious.

“A clerk at KaDeWe.”

Kepner nodded knowingly. “Taubmann.”

“He was explaining the point tude when your name came up.” Hoffner saw the slight lift in Kepner’s eyes. “I have a rendering of a single design which I’m hoping you’ll examine.”

“A point tude. You know how rare these things are?”

“Yes.”

“And I shouldn’t ask why this is important, should I?”

“No, mein Herr. You shouldn’t.”

Again, Kepner took a moment. A Jew this old knew to leave it at that. “I can look at this for you, now,” he said. “But I can’t work on it for you. You understand.” Hoffner shook his head. “Not until after sundown tomorrow.”

For the second time in the last few minutes, Hoffner felt foolish. He was smarter than that. Of course not until after sundown. He hated appearing the amateur. He said, “I’ll need your word that this evidence will remain in your possession at all times. That you will tell no one about it. That you will show it to no one.”

Kepner remained stone-faced. “You don’t need my word, Herr Inspector. You see how I live.”

Hoffner felt another twinge of conscience; this time, however, he was unsure if it was because he should have known better, or because he knew only too well. Did Kepner actually believe that his place was so secured that his life could speak for itself? Could a Jew grow that comfortable in Berlin? Hoffner had no answer. He reached into his coat pocket and produced Wouters’s design. Kepner pulled a pair of glasses from his pocket and took the page. He began to examine it. His expression remained unchanged.

“Crude,” said Kepner. “But yes. This is a design for a point tude.” He removed the glasses. “I can’t tell you which specific design it is. I will need more time for that.” He folded the page and placed it in his jacket pocket. “But you knew as much before coming to me.”

“I was hoping.”

“Yes,” said Kepner guardedly. “I don’t suspect that your hopes are ever that far off, Herr Inspector.” Hoffner said nothing as Kepner studied him. “A Kripoman who apologizes for intruding on a Sabbath dinner. Now, that’s a rarity, isn’t it?” Kepner was not expecting an answer as he began to get to his feet. “I will do what I can for you, Herr Inspector. You will give me a telephone number, and we will talk tomorrow.” The two men stood.

A minute later, Hoffner was at the door with Fichte. Brenner had moved them on as quickly as he could. He watched them all the way down the stone path.

Out on the street, Fichte was the first to break the silence. “Bit of a cold fish, don’t you think, that Brenner? I suppose Kepner was the same?”

“No,” said Hoffner. “He wasn’t.”

“Oh.” Fichte seemed disappointed by the response. “Took me through the whole thing, Brenner did. I’d never heard about a Jewish ritual before.”

Hoffner continued to walk. “It’s just a meal, Hans.”

“The servants turning the lights on and off for them. And all done in Jewish-”

“Hebrew,” Hoffner corrected. “They speak in Hebrew.”

“Right.” Too pleased with himself, Fichte continued, “I’ll tell you, he was surprised I had so many questions.”

Hoffner said blandly, “Or maybe he was just surprised that you needed to ask them.”

The subtlety was lost on Fichte. He asked, “Did the old Jew have what we wanted?”

Hoffner found himself slowing. He stopped and stood there, deciding whether he wanted to take Fichte down this road. Fichte had stopped, as well. Not exactly sure why, Hoffner turned to him and said, “Herr Kepner has offered to bring his expertise to our case, Hans.” He spoke with no emotion. “What have you brought to it, so far?”

The sting of the comment took a moment to register. When it did, Fichte’s surprise quickly gave way to a look of injured pride. “I don’t know,” he said icily. “I suppose nothing at all, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner had no interest in stroking Fichte’s ego. He started to walk. “Don’t overstate it, Hans.”

Fichte was at a complete loss. He had no idea what had just gone so terribly wrong. He caught up and pretended as if nothing had happened; it was the best he could come up with. “Did Herr Kepner think he could help us?”

“We’ll know by tomorrow,” said Hoffner. They reached a cab stand and stopped. “You want me to drop you somewhere?” It was a hollow offer.

“We’re done for the night?”

Hoffner had spent the better part of the morning digging up what he could on Leo Jogiches-his possible K-but it had all been preliminary. He now considered taking another crack at the man, but he was tired. He needed a night away from all of this. “I am,” he said. “You’re welcome to head back to the Alex, run through the files by yourself, Hans, but that’s up to you.”

“You’re sure?” Fichte was still trying to wrap his mind around the last few minutes.

Hoffner explained. “There’s nothing we can do until we hear from Kepner. That’s it.” And with an unkind finality, he added, “I’m sure you can fill the time with your Lina.”

Fichte had reached the limits of his confusion. “Look,” he said, trying to make things right, “I’m sorry if I offended you-”

“Offended me?” Hoffner cut in. “You didn’t offend me, Hans.” Not true, but not the point. “You just have to be smarter than that, that’s all.” Hoffner decided to make this very simple. “You want to think that way, go right ahead. Not my business. What is, is how you look at a case, and in a case, that kind of thinking only gets in the way. You don’t see what you need to see. You see only what you already believe, and that helps no one. In another line of work, it wouldn’t matter. But to do what we do-at least to do it well-you can’t narrow the scope. Any kind of preconception, no matter how innocent you may think it is, muddies the view. Yes, Kepner is an old Jew, but that’s not what he is to us.”

Hoffner almost believed what he had said. A detective’s cold rationale had always been his best defense for an open mind. He knew it went deeper than that, but neither he nor Fichte could afford to dig that far. Moral indignation had never been Hoffner’s strong suit.

Fichte waited before answering. “Yes,” he said: something had struck a chord. “I appreciate the advice. And, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

Hoffner heard the sincerity in the boy’s voice. Maybe he had said too much. “Go see your Lina, Hans. Take the day. Be at the Alex by three.”

Things were all right again. Fichte nodded and then turned and headed down the street. If he was lucky, he would be on Friedrichstrasse by half past eight: he would have an entire evening with her.

Hoffner called over a cab. He imagined Hans in Lina’s arms as he stepped inside. Another act of contrition. Hoffner was becoming quite adept at them.

THE MASTER DRAFT

Sascha had been sulking for the last hour. There had been the promise of an outing with friends after school-someone had mentioned horseback riding in the Tiergarten-but Martha had insisted he be home for lunch with her sisters: another Saturday afternoon with the spinsters. Sascha had never understood why he had to be punished for their failures; his father had always wondered the same thing. So, in their last hour of freedom, father and son had snuck out to the kiosk on the corner, Hoffner to assess the damage Herr Braun had wrought, Sascha to check on yesterday’s rally results.

The Tageblatt had set the tone. Pasted across its front page, alongside a photograph of the American President-triumphant before an adoring Paris crowd-was an artist’s rendering of Berlin’s latest “chisel murder” victim. At least the editors there had had the decency to keep her relatively well clothed; Mr. Wilson was, after all, a modest man. The Lokalanzeiger, on the other hand, had offered her up with a bare back and a bit of thigh showing. Obviously, Ullstein was hedging its bets: if horror failed, then perhaps titillation would move the papers off the stands.

Naturally, the one name that had appeared over and over throughout each of the articles was that of Detective Inspector Nikolai Hoffner. Herr Braun, no surprise, had managed to maintain the elusive title of “Polpo source.” Hoffner was glad to see Sascha too busy with his results to take any notice.

A second item-lower down on the page-had also caught Hoffner’s eye. They were burying Karl Liebknecht today at the Friedrichsfelde cemetery. An empty coffin for Rosa was to be buried by his side. Hoffner could only imagine the throngs that would be following behind: the papers were estimating crowds in the thousands. Such was Rosa’s continuing hold on Berlin: even absent from her own funeral, she was the day’s central attraction.

A week ago, Hoffner would have given the article only a glance. Now there was a human side to it, with poetry and self-doubt and loneliness and a parasol, and somehow Hoffner felt as if these were his alone. Even so, he knew there was something safe in indulging the personal with a woman alive only on paper. He would have to be more careful elsewhere.

Back at the flat, Martha’s sisters showed no signs that they had seen any of the articles. The size of their appetites, along with the vacuousness of their conversation, told Hoffner as much.

“Fascinating,” he said, as he helped himself to another serving of cold potatoes. Martha had saved up a good bit of the cream from the week; the potatoes stuck to one another like clumps of packed snow. It was his favorite dish.

Gisella, Martha’s eldest sister, nodded. She was large and square, and wore wool even in the summer-the result, Hoffner guessed, of sixteen years confined to a secretary’s desk in a lawyer’s office. “It’s going to be a busy time once this new government starts changing the law books,” she said. “I can tell you that.”

Georgi kept a toy plane by his plate. It was reserved for emergencies only. He picked it up and took it out for a short flight under the tablecloth. His other aunt, Eva, watched him with delight. She was not so large, and very soft. A nurse in a dentist’s surgery, she had impeccably white teeth. As a little boy, Georgi had been frightened by her smile.

“Look how graceful he is,” said Eva as she beamed.

“Up on the table,” said Martha quietly. Georgi brought the plane up for a final approach, and then landed it by his plate. He smiled at Eva.

“I hear this new government might not last,” said Sascha, who was seated by his father. The boy was brazen enough to say it, though not yet sure enough of himself to look up from his plate when he did.

“That’s quite a statement,” said Gisella. Her entire torso shook when she laughed. “Do we have a young politico in the family?”

“Sascha has no taste for the socialists,” said Hoffner. He licked at his spoon. “Even the democratic kind.”

Gisella tilted her square head at the boy. “You could do a lot worse, Alexander.” Like all good aunts, she never forgot what he liked to be called. “It’s an exciting time to be young.”

Sascha nodded quietly. He felt the starch in his collar grate against his neck.

The conversation might have droned on and on-with a few more test flights before dessert-had the telephone not interrupted: Sascha and Georgi perked up; Martha looked to Nikolai for guidance; Gisella and Eva simply looked confused.

Hoffner stood. “I’m expecting a call,” he said. “About a case.” This managed to settle the table. Of course, the call was meant for after sundown-and back at the Alex-but maybe Herr Kepner had grown impatient, so impatient that he had tracked down the telephone number to the flat. Points tudes were rare things, after all. Hoffner excused himself and moved through to the living room.

“Hoffner here,” he said when he picked up.

Sadly, Kepner had not been so resourceful: it was the duty sergeant at the Alex. The man apologized for the intrusion. They had found another body, number seven, this one just west of the Tiergarten. Hoffner listened to the details, then hung up.

The zoo, he thought. Over five kilometers from any of the other murder sites. And just a day after Herr Braun’s press briefing. How convenient.

Hoffner considered phoning Fichte, but knew that would be pointless. A call to Lina’s would be equally ill-advised. He was about to start back to the dining room when he saw Sascha standing in the doorway.

“Yes?” said Hoffner.

“Mother wants to know if everything’s all right.”

Hoffner could see the total indifference in the boy’s eyes. “I need to go out to the Tiergarten,” he said. Sascha nodded and started to go. “You can come with me, if you want.” Hoffner momentarily allowed himself to forget what it was that he was going to see out at the zoo. The boy turned back. He said nothing. “Unless, of course, you’d prefer locking horns with Auntie Gee all afternoon?” Hoffner thought he saw the hint of a smile. Sascha, however, managed to keep it in check.

“All right,” said the boy.

“Good. Get our coats. I’ll tell your mother.”

The first streetcar took them out west, the second up north. It was a pleasant little ride, the pockmarks of Kreuzberg-those nice thick chips gouged out by stray bullets-giving way to the smooth porcelain-white complexion of affluent Berlin. Even the advertising posters here loomed more gently: docile pinks and yellows infused the tight skirts of the ladies’ dresses and men’s handkerchiefs. There was a joy in the painted faces that belonged only in the west.

Sascha peered out with contempt. “They got by without so much as a scratch, didn’t they?”

Hoffner hardly noticed; he had been watching Sascha for the last half hour. The boy’s gaze reminded him of another face, smaller, pressed closer in to the tram window, those distant Sundays when father and son had headed up to Potsdamer or Alexanderplatz to choose a line-a new one each time-before settling in for an afternoon’s expedition: twenty pfennigs, and the city had been theirs. He remembered how intently Sascha had listened to all of his stories about the bridges and statues and monuments, Berlin brought to life in a child’s gaze; how he had always insisted that they get out-somewhere in the city’s remote corners-to sample a chocolate or a cake at some unknown cafe, only to stash most of it away in a pocket for Martha; and how those remnants had always arrived back at the flat, more lint than chocolate, to Martha’s absolute delight.

Hoffner had no reason to blame Sascha for his contempt. Like the boy, that city no longer existed.

“They’re going to be governed by socialists now,” said Hoffner. “Far worse than any bullets could have done to them.” He saw a momentary slip in Sascha’s otherwise grim expression. “You like that, do you?” The tram came to a stop, and Sascha gave a shrug. The two stepped off and into the freezing rain. “So do I.”

The group outside the Gardens was far larger than Hoffner had expected. He had been anticipating a few shopkeepers, maybe a building porter or two: a body in daylight always brought out the true devotees, no matter what the weather. This, however, was actually a crowd. Moving closer in, Hoffner noticed a small unit of patrolmen. They had set up an improvised barrier and were trying to keep order. Braun’s promised hysteria had begun.

With Sascha in tow, Hoffner pushed his way through and up to the nearest of the Schutzi officers. “Who’s in charge here?” he asked as he pulled out his badge.

The patrolman recognized the name at once; he, too, had seen this morning’s papers. “Kriminal-Kommissar Hoffner!” he said in a loud, enthusiastic voice.

Everyone within earshot turned at the mention of the name: evidently, no one had missed today’s news. “The man in charge,” Hoffner repeated as he ignored the stares. “Obviously that’s not you.”

The man snapped to attention. “No, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. Right away, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” Still keeping the crowd back, the patrolman tried to locate his sergeant.

Hoffner peered past him. Set against the growing herd, the plaza looked desolate. The few who were wandering outside the gate to the zoo had turned up their collars against the wind; fists were pressed deep inside pockets, some in uniform, some not. Hoffner recognized several of the faces from yesterday’s briefing: the press had managed to get through. He was about to say something to the patrolman, when he noticed Polpo Kommissar Walther Hermannsohn among them. Hoffner wondered if he was meant to be surprised by Hermannsohn’s presence. The man was taller than he remembered-no Tamshik, this time, to dwarf him. Truth to tell, Hoffner would have preferred Tamshik. At least there he knew what to expect. Here, even within the small gathering, Hermannsohn seemed to stand alone. “Never mind,” said Hoffner as he stepped over the barrier and out into the plaza. “I see who I need.”

With a surge of authority, the patrolman reached over and grabbed Sascha by the shoulder. “Not so fast, my young friend.”

Hoffner turned back. Again, Sascha’s size startled him: the boy was as big as the man clutching him. “He’s with me, Patrolman,” said Hoffner. His impatience had little effect. “You’ve never seen a junior detective, is that it?” The man’s conceit gave way to confusion. Hoffner spoke with greater precision. “Any chance I can get my detective back?”

Confusion turned to helplessness. The man suddenly snapped to attention and released Sascha. “Yes, of course, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.

“Don’t let the age fool you, Patrolman. The good ones always start young. At least in the Kripo.”

“Of course, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar. My apologies.” He turned nervously to Sascha. “My apologies, Herr Kriminal-Assistent.

Hoffner was about to answer when Sascha said, “Just don’t let it happen again, Patrolman.” There was a surprising weight to Sascha’s tone. Hoffner bit down on his tongue to keep from smiling.

The man offered an efficient nod. “No, Herr Kriminal-Assistent.

Without acknowledging his father, Sascha pulled up his collar and headed out into the plaza. Hoffner gave the man a reproachful nod, then followed Sascha out. “A little hard on him, weren’t you?” he said when they were side by side.

“He’ll get over it,” said Sascha.

Had Kommissar Hermannsohn not turned at that moment, Hoffner might have placed an arm across Sascha’s back and taken him out into the city for the day. To hell with all of this, he thought. But Hermannsohn did turn, along with every newspaperman by the gate. As one, they started in toward their prey. Hoffner was about to raise a hand to ward them off when he saw Hermannsohn bark out something to three Schutzi officers who were standing nearby. To Hoffner’s complete amazement, the patrolmen moved over and held the pressmen back. Hoffner moved past the buzz of questions and over to Hermannsohn.

“My thanks, Herr Kommissar,” said Hoffner.

Hermannsohn nodded quietly. “I imagine that’s the sort of thing you can do without, Herr Kriminal-Kommissar.” Hoffner realized that this was the first time he had heard the man speak. Hermannsohn’s tone was oddly nonthreatening, although there was nothing inviting to it, either. “Ah, and young Hoffner, as well.” His familiarity was equally disconcerting. “I hear he’s quite the swordsman.”

Hoffner now regretted having brought Sascha along. “Yes.”

“And this is the source of his resolve on the strip, is it?”

Hoffner had no idea what Hermannsohn was referring to. “Excuse me, Kommissar?”

“A boy at a murder site. I imagine we each build character in our own way.” When Hoffner said nothing, Hermannsohn added, “A joke, Kriminal-Kommissar.

Hoffner waited, then said, “I imagine it was.”

Hermannsohn smiled quietly and then motioned to the gate. “The body is this way.”

Hoffner was about to follow when he saw the uncertainty in Sascha’s eyes: there had been no mention of a murder or a body during the tram ride out. How could there have been? The complete absurdity of this moment only now came clear to Hoffner. What had he been thinking? “I can’t take you inside, Alexander.”

Sascha showed an instant of relief before nodding in disappointment. “Well, then, I’ll wait here, Father.”

The boy acted with such poise, thought Hoffner. “Good man,” he said. For just a moment, Hoffner placed a hand on Sascha’s arm. Somehow, neither seemed to mind it. He then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small flask. He opened it and handed it to Sascha. “Should keep you warm for a while.” Sascha hesitated. “Go on. She doesn’t have to know.” Sascha took a quick sip, and coughed as he handed it back. Hoffner smiled. Just a boy, he thought. What had been so frightening in that? Hoffner then held the flask out to Hermannsohn. “Kommissar?” Hermannsohn politely refused. “No, I didn’t think so.” Without taking a drink, Hoffner pocketed the flask and followed Hermannsohn out into the Gardens.

There was something so depressing about the zoo in rain. The little buildings-some Frenchman’s notion of international kinship-were each designed in the style of the countries from which the animals had come. Laden with ice and damp, they looked less like invitations to foreign climes than sodden gingerbread houses. A merry skip past them became a somber slog: not much fun in knowing what dreary looked like in China or India or darkest Africa.

Hoffner said, “Nice when the Polpo puts in an appearance on a criminal case. Or did I miss the Oberkommissar’s point yesterday?”

Hermannsohn ignored the question; he seemed the type to ignore anything he found unpleasant. He took them past the elephant house-Hoffner wondered how many elephants actually roamed the Taj Mahal-and into the more remote regions of the Gardens. “You were planning on bringing the boy to the site,” said Hermannsohn. “I find that most interesting.”

“Do you?” Hoffner could change the subject just as easily. “As interesting as I find having the Tageblatt and the Morgenpost on hand?”

“Ah, yes,” said Hermannsohn. “You really never can trust these Schutzi patrolmen, can you?” He led Hoffner away from the animal houses and down a path that wound its way past a public toilet and beyond a small utility shed. The trees grew thicker as they walked.

They came to a link chain that hung across the path. A small sign dangled from it that read, DURCHGANG VERBOTEN. Two exclamation points hammered home the message: Passage Forbidden!! Hoffner knew his Berliners. This would have been enough to keep a small band of revolutionaries at bay. Hermannsohn stepped over the chain. Hoffner did the same. Half a minute later, they came to a clearing.

Hoffner was genuinely surprised by what they found: at the clearing’s center was the all-too-familiar fencing, scaffolding, and power engine that had come to define Berlin under construction. Two Schutzi patrolmen stood at either end of the small opening to the pit. Beyond them was a wider gap in the trees, an avenue for a single wagon to make its way through with supplies. More interesting were the three black Daimler convertible saloons that were parked at its edge; their chauffeurs were each enjoying a nice smoke.

“At least your man is consistent,” said Hermannsohn, as he led Hoffner toward the ladder.

Hoffner kept his eyes on the automobiles. The chauffeurs’ coats were not yet soaked through: they had not been here long. “I had no idea they were building this far out,” he said.

“They’re not,” said Hermannsohn. He reached the ladder and started down. Hoffner followed.

Had Hoffner been looking for consistency, the excavation site would have served perfectly. The climb down brought him into a cavern that seemed almost identical to the one he had seen two nights ago in Senefelderplatz, police lamps and all. Even the group of four men standing at the far end of the tunnel felt eerily familiar. That, however, was where the similarities ended.

It was clear from their clothes which of the four belonged to the Daimlers above. Like their automobiles, three of the men were long and sleek: Russian fur lined their coat collars; English wool creased the cuffs of their trousers; and their boots had the shine of Italian leather. War had done nothing to compromise their politically impudent tastes. For Hoffner, though, it was the fingernails-even at this distance and in this light-that made plain the stratum from which these men had descended: flat and pink, and never once having been cut by the men themselves. Hoffner knew exactly who they were: Prussian businessmen, and a far more dangerous breed than their military counterparts. War never thinned their numbers; inflexibility never stifled their success. They spoke to one another in hushed tones, a language that required fewer words, though greater subtlety of gesture, than the patter that flowed from the jaws of common Berlin. These were men who survived-and survived well-no matter who might be wielding the reins of government.

The fourth among them was Polpo Direktor Gerhard Weigland, in all his roundness. He looked completely out of place, nodding continuously while the others spoke. When he caught sight of Hoffner, he clumsily cleared his throat. The others turned.

“At last,” said Weigland with no small amount of relief. “Gentlemen, this is the Kripo detective I’ve been telling you about.” Hermannsohn remained in the shadows as Hoffner drew closer. “Kommissar Nikolai Hoffner, may I present the Directors of Firma Ganz-Neurath. Herren Trger, Schumpert, and Biberkopf”-Weigland motioned with his arm-“Kommissar Hoffner.”

Hoffner had never been the recipient of three such crisp bows of the head. “Meine Herren,” he said, with a lazy nod of his own.

“Herr Kommissar.” Trger spoke for all three.

Hoffner cut right to it. “I’m guessing this would be one of your sites, Herr Direktor?”

“Along with those in the Senefelder and Rosenthaler Platz, yes, Herr Kommissar. I believe you’re familiar with them?”

“The projected U-Bahn stations,” said Hoffner. “And dead women keep cropping up inside of them.”

Trger appreciated Hoffner’s bluntness. “Yes. They do.”

“You’re aware, mein Herr”-Hoffner spoke as if neither Polpo man was present-“that Herr Direktor Weigland and Herr Kommissar Hermannsohn are not with the Kripo?” He was enjoying seeing Weigland stand silently by.

“I am.”

“So you consider this a political case?”

Trger took a moment. He was gauging Hoffner, not the case. “The Herr Direktor and I are old friends, Kommissar. He has been kind enough to extend the services of his department.”

Hoffner had no reason to believe that fealty was the sole reason for the Polpo’s continuing interest in his case. Weigland might have convinced Trger and his fellow Directors of that, but Hoffner knew otherwise. “I see.”

“I’m not sure you do, Kommissar.” There was nothing combative in the tone: it was a simple statement of fact. Trger continued: “What I’m about to tell you cannot leave this site. Are we clear on that?” Hoffner nodded. “Good, because where we are standing doesn’t actually exist.” Trger saw the surprise in Hoffner’s eyes. “Yes. We first moved ground here just over five years ago. December of 1913. This was going to be the grand terminus for a line leading all the way back into the heart of the city. By the end of the decade. That was the aim, Kommissar. That was what the Kaiser wanted.”

“Forgive me, Herr Direktor,” said Hoffner, “but I don’t recall reading anything about a proposed line this far out.”

“Of course you don’t. No one does. The Kaiser was afraid that if news got out that an underground train-not a tram, mind you, or an omnibus, not something in the daylight, Kommissar-but something like this was being designed to connect Berlin West to the scum of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer-well then, a great many people might have had good reason to make the Kaiser’s life as uncomfortable as possible. Safety, insulation-that sort of thing. What the Kaiser knew was that his Charlottenburg faithful simply needed time to see how wonderful his new underground trains were going to be. He knew they would eventually come begging for their own, so why not have the trains at the ready when they did?”

“But only as far as the zoo,” said Hoffner.

“Yes.”

“No reason for the Kaiser to press his luck by taking the trains into the heart of the West.”

Trger was enjoying this more than he was letting on. “Something like that, Kommissar.

“And then the war came.”

“Exactly. We all discovered that the Kaiser was more interested in the world beyond Berlin than in her trains. Everything came to a stop, and the Number Two U-Bahn line happily drifted into oblivion. That is, of course, until last week. I can’t say we enjoyed hearing that women were being killed and then moved to our sites, but until this morning, Kommissar, no one knew about that. Luckily, they still have no idea about the Rosenthaler station. That, I have no doubt, will come out soon enough. When it does, our firm will have to answer some rather unpleasant questions. That, however, does not concern us. Embarrassment fades. The sites in the middle of town threaten no one.” He paused. “This one, however, does-especially given recent events. You understand what I am saying now, Kommissar?”

Hoffner did. The revolution had made an underground site this far west far more troubling. The image of a ten-thousand-strong mass moving down the Siegesallee in early January was still fresh in everyone’s minds: how much more frightening would the prospect be of an endless stream of such filth making its way out from beneath the streets in the dead of night? At any moment, they could emerge like rats to run rampant. Herr Direktor Trger and his cohorts might be willing to stomach the hysteria produced by a maniac on the loose; they would not, however, tempt the kind of panic that could tear Berlin apart at the seams. “And you’ve managed to keep it hidden all this time?” said Hoffner.

“They think we’ve been building a holding pool for some enormous fish,” said Trger. “Tell me, Herr Kommissar, does this look like a holding pool to you?”

Hoffner said, “May I see the body, Herr Direktor?”

“You understand our concern, Kommissar.

Hoffner spoke candidly: “That the Polpo knows how to keep the press at bay, and that we in the Kripo-especially those of us who live in Kreuzberg-have never been quite as useful? Yes, Herr Direktor. I understand that quite well. May I see the body now?” Hoffner enjoyed the sudden tension that was radiating from Weigland.

Trger, on the other hand, seemed amused by the jab. “Then we’re clear, Kommissar?”

“Absolutely, Herr Direktor.

“Naturally, my colleagues and I are eager to assist you in any way we can.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Herr Direktor.

Trger waited. He continued to gaze at Hoffner as he spoke to Weigland. “You shouldn’t have let this one get away to the Kripo, Gerhard. That’s not like you.”

Weigland tried a smile. “No, Herr Direktor.

Any help at all, Kommissar.

Hoffner nodded.

Weigland waited to make sure that Trger was finished before motioning Hoffner in the direction of the body. “It’s this way,” he said as he led Hoffner to the end of the tunnel; the three directors started back for the ladder.

“Always have to be clever, don’t you?” said Weigland under his breath.

Hoffner said dryly, “You have some very impressive friends, Herr Direktor. I’m very impressed.”

“Just finish the case, Nikolai. Make all our lives easier.”

The woman was lying facedown in the dirt, at most a day since she had been killed. Hoffner crouched down next to her and saw the drag marks leading up to the spot; he saw the ripped bodice of her dress, the age in her face, the diameter-cut design etched across her back, and he knew, with absolute certainty, that this was not the work of Paul Wouters.

Hoffner might have been guessing had he come to the conclusion from her clothes alone. The dress and shoes were too young for a woman her age, and there was nothing of the solitary nurse or seamstress in them. Hoffner drew out his pen and lifted up the back hem of her dress. There, as he had expected, he found the telltale sign just above her knee: a little purse was tied on tightly to her thigh. He weighed it in his hand. It was still filled with coins. This woman had been a prostitute, and far more than Wouters could ever have handled.

The clothes and occupation, however, were only confirmation for what Hoffner saw in the design. He ran his thumb along the ruts. He pressed down onto the cold flaps of skin. They were jagged, their angle wrong. These had come at the hands of the second carver.

Hoffner glanced down the tunnel and felt Weigland’s gaze over his shoulder. Someone had gone to great lengths to create the perfect setting. Everything was laid out exactly as it had been in Senefelderplatz two days ago, as it had been over the last month and a half at each of the other sites: the Mnz Strasse roadwork, the sewer entrance at Oranienburger Strasse, the Prenzlauer underpass, the grotto off Blowplatz. Everything perfect, thought Hoffner, and just a day after Herr Braun’s revelations.

He was about to turn back to the body when something else stopped him. Hoffner continued to stare down the tunnel. He saw it in the lights hanging from above, in the placement and dimension of the wooden boards along the dirt walls. It was in the layout of the planks, in the steel beams, in the height of the ceiling, its contours-everything about the tunnel. He had been distracted, first by Trger, then by the victim. Now it was infinitely clear.

Hoffner jumped up and started toward the directors, who were almost to the ladder. He quickened his pace. “Herr Direktor.” He began to run as he yelled out, “One moment, please.”

Trger stopped. He turned around. “Herr Kommissar?”

Hoffner drew up to him. He could hear Weigland trying to catch up from behind. “Herr Direktor.” Hoffner spoke with intensity. “This site. These sites. How are they designed?”

Trger seemed unsure of the question: “You mean how is the tunnel built, Herr Kommissar?”

“No, the designs, Herr Direktor. How are they configured?”

Trger glanced momentarily at his colleagues. “We have a model. What’s called a Master Draft. It acts as a central plan. Why, Kommissar?”

“Each site, Herr Direktor? Each one is designed in the same way?” Hoffner felt the pieces falling into place.

“In theory, yes.” Trger was still not sure what he was explaining. “One basic tunnel design. One basic track design. It makes for much more cost-effective production of materials, instruction to foremen, so forth and so on.” Trger was finished answering questions. “Why is this of any importance?”

“So the Senefelder site would be almost identical to this one?”

“More or less, yes.” Trger was growing impatient. “Why are you asking this?”

“Even something as involved as the Rosenthaler Platz station. An arcade. That, as well?”

Trger answered abruptly. “With a few modifications, yes. The same construction. Kommissar, what has this to do with your case?”

Images were flying through Hoffner’s head. He saw the frustration in Trger’s eyes. “Thank you, Herr Direktor.” And without another word, Hoffner took hold of the ladder and headed up.

Out on the plaza, Sascha was holding court among a group of Schutzi patrolmen. Hoffner caught his breath as he made his way across.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said, still winded. The men moved off. “I need a favor, Sascha.”

The boy’s eyes widened, and not for the misuse of his name. This was the first time he had ever heard his father ask for help. “A favor?” Sascha said uncertainly.

“I need you to go back to the Alex. To my office.”

“Now?” he said more eagerly.

“Yes, now. There might be a telephone call. If Herr Fichte shows up, you tell him I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Sascha nodded through the instructions. “And if the telephone call does come in?”

Hoffner had not thought that far ahead. “Good point. You tell the gentleman that I’ll call him back. A Herr Kepner. Take his number. He’s to say nothing else on the line. You’re to make sure of that. Nothing else. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Excellent.” Hoffner reached into his pocket and pulled out some coins. “You’re doing me a tremendous good turn, Sascha.” He handed the coins to the boy. “Whatever you don’t use on the trams, you keep for yourself, all right?” He squeezed a hand on the boy’s arm. “Thank you.” He then headed off.

“You’re welcome, Father.” But Hoffner was already out of earshot.

Five and a half kilometers across town, a sign had replaced the Schutzi patrolman: ENTRY STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. Evidently it had worked just as well. The Rosenthaler site was completely deserted. Hoffner took hold of the ladder and headed down.

Fifteen rungs in, the cavern became pitch black. He reached the bottom, struck a match, and gently wedged it between two wooden slats.

From the little he could see, Hoffner managed to locate a stray pick lying on the ground. He took it and began to wrap his handkerchief around its wooden end. He then pulled out his flask and doused the cloth in liquor. Holding the pick by its chisel edge, he struck a second match and lit the improvised torch. At once the underbelly of the station opened up in wild shadows in front of him. The odor of feces was long gone, as was any indication that a family had been living down here until ten days ago. Even the boards for the feather beds had been restored to their rightful places.

Trger had been right: the space was virtually identical to the other designs Hoffner had seen in the past three days. The spokes that led out into the arcade were simply other single-line tunnels, those “modifications” Trger had mentioned. They, however, were not the reason Hoffner had come.

He set off down the central spoke and back toward the cavern in which they had first found the body. He deliberately kept his head down, his eyes on the dirt path. He needed to see it from Wouters’s perspective-from the proper angle-and that was possible only from inside Mary Koop’s cavern.

Hoffner made his way through various entryways and along several tunnels before he reached the opening and headed for the far wall. He found Koop’s indented outline in the dirt: six weeks of occupation had kept it fresh. The little ridges of mud seemed to ripple in the torchlight. Even now, her frame looked as if it had been a part of the flooring, all along. Hoffner took in a deep breath and turned around.

“My God,” he whispered.

The design was everywhere. Hoffner could have closed his eyes and traced its path without ever once taking a false step. He moved back to the cavern’s opening and felt himself being pulled into the pattern, not in the way he had felt on the streets of Berlin-not in some conjured reimagining of the ruts and curves of a woman’s back-but in the actual carvings themselves: he turned, and the tunnels turned with him; he reached out for a crossing line, and the wall gave way to an opening that cut across his path; he ran his hands along the walls and felt the cold ridges of human flesh. He had missed it before, too many distractions, too much to get in his way. Now he was a part of the diameter-cut.

The edge of the design ended abruptly at the entryway to a tunnel that led back to the central cavern. Beyond the entryway, two steel support beams were rooted into the walls directly across from each other. Hoffner stepped through the entryway and continued down the tunnel and away from the design, back toward the ladder. He found another set of steel beams perhaps twenty meters on. A third pair appeared, again at the same interval.

Here the construction was almost identical to those in the Senefelderplatz and the Tiergarten. Hoffner turned around and quickly headed back to where the Wouters design began.

He started in through the entryway: twenty meters, forty, sixty. There were no steel beams. The tunnels here were not a part of the Master Draft design. They had been added on, and quickly: too quickly to afford the arrival of the steel beams.

Someone had given Wouters a home, the only one capable of making him feel safe: sculpted in the perfect image of his own twisted mind.

Hoffner was suddenly struck by the word. This was perfect. This was Wouters’s ideal. Of course. Another piece of the puzzle flashed into focus.

Hoffner found himself running back to the cavern, back through the opening, back to the outline of Mary Koop’s body. He stepped inside the small ridges and drove the pick into a wooden beam above his head. The torch glowed freely as he pulled his notebook and pen from his coat pocket and began to sketch the diameter-cut, one last time. The lines danced on the page from the light, but it was there. He drew an X for the spot in which he was now standing, and stared down at the page.

The “optimal point of origin.” He had found it. Mary Koop was his starting point. All he needed, now, was to understand the design’s flow, and he would have Paul Wouters.

Hoffner missed the call by five minutes.

“He told you nothing?” he said as he pulled Wouters’s original sketches from the filing cabinet. He was moving quickly. He needed to see Kepner.

“Nothing,” said Sascha.

Fichte said, “The boy was remarkably convincing.” They were both caught up in Hoffner’s impatience.

“Good.” Hoffner placed the sheets in his coat pocket and pointed to Fichte. “You and I have a man to see.” He then pointed to Sascha. “And you need to get home.” He saw the disappointment in Sascha’s eyes. “I know, but even I can’t stretch the rules that far.” It was all he needed to say.

Out on the Alex, they found a taxi for Sascha, then one for themselves. Hoffner ran through an abbreviated version of the afternoon’s events on the ride out. Any theories he might have come up with about the directors from Ganz-Neurath, or the reappearance of the second carver, or even the design of the Rosenthaler station, he kept to himself. Hoffner knew that Fichte would have had trouble processing the information. He was having trouble with it himself. Best, then, to concentrate on Wouters, for both of them.

Kepner showed no surprise when the two Kripomen appeared at his door: the brevity of the telephone conversation had told him to expect visitors. He brought them into his sitting room, where Herr Brenner was already waiting. Hoffner noticed several pages of sketches laid out across the coffee table. Kepner had worked quickly.

“The three on the far left,” said Kepner. Hoffner was already scanning the sheets. Kepner told the men to sit. “I believe those are what you are looking for.”

Fichte spoke up as Hoffner reached for the pages: “Perhaps Herr Brenner would care to wait in another room?”

Hoffner had to stifle the urge to upbraid Fichte in front of the two men. He took the sheets. “My apologies for my Assistent, Herr Kepner. He is-overly cautious.”

Kepner waved Hoffner off. “Better that than the other, Herr Kommissar.

Out of nowhere, Fichte rose to his feet. He snapped his head in a bow. “My apologies, Herr Brenner.”

Hoffner thought the gesture a bit extravagant, but he knew it would keep Fichte quiet for the rest of the interview. Brenner nodded quietly.

“It’s a Bruges design,” said Kepner. “I have yet to determine an optimal point of origin-” He stopped himself. “You understand what I mean by this?”

“Yes, mein Herr. The starting point.”

“Exactly. These are only rough sketches. Anything more detailed will take more time.”

It was odd, seeing the design drawn with such precision: a woman’s flesh created its own imperfections; Hoffner’s rendering had been “crude” by Kepner’s estimation. This, however, showed the true artistry and intricacy of the pattern. Lines and turns Hoffner had never imagined filled the little sketches. He wondered if, perhaps in his haste, he had missed the design in one of Wouters’s pages. It hardly mattered now; he was about to show Kepner where to find his optimal point of origin.

“What if you were to start here, mein Herr?” Hoffner placed the sheet on the table and pointed to the spot that approximated the point where Mary Koop’s body had been found.

Kepner pulled out his glasses and leaned forward. He had not been anticipating suggestions from the Kripo. Fichte seemed equally surprised. “From where?” said Kepner. Hoffner kept his finger on the sheet as he turned it toward Kepner. Kepner gazed down with an uncertain stare until his eyes began to move through the sketch. “All right,” he said absently. Without looking up, he pulled a short pencil from his pocket and, very slowly, began to create another replica, another possible route for the design. He continued to glance back at the other drawings he had made, along with a list of calculations he had written out on a separate page. “Is this a guess, Herr Inspector?” he said as he continued to draw.

“An educated one, mein Herr.

“Yes, I imagine it would be.” Kepner hummed in a monotone as he went back and forth between drawings and figures.

Progress was slow going-Kepner kept at it for nearly twenty minutes-as Hoffner began to see what he needed. If Mary Koop had been the optimal point of origin in the station design, then the Rosenthaler Platz-Wouters’s home-had to be the origin in the city design. What else could it be? It was the one site that Wouters had meant to keep pure, or at least beyond the reach of death. The preserving grease had said as much. That was why it was the deviation; and that was why it held the key.

Hoffner tried to reconstruct the path of Wouters’s victims in his head, taking Rosenthaler Platz as his starting point: southeast to Mnz Strasse, due west to Oranienburger, northeast to Prenzlauer, west to Blowplatz, and finally north to Senefelderplatz. All the while, he continued to watch Kepner. With each turn of the pencil, Kepner was following the identical shifts in direction. Hoffner rarely let himself give in to moments like these. Now his heart began to accelerate as Kepner drew closer and closer to the sixth knot.

“There,” said Hoffner.

Kepner looked up, unsure why he was being asked to stop. “It’s hardly finished, Herr Inspector.”

“That was your sixth knot?”

Kepner went back and counted. “The sixth that required a direction change. Yes.”

Hoffner stared across at the design. “Southeast,” he said to himself.

“Excuse me, Herr Inspector?”

Hoffner refocused. “Nothing, mein Herr.

“‘Nothing,’” Kepner echoed cautiously. “And this is what you needed?”

Hoffner thought for a moment. If Wouters-and not the second carver-was consistent, he would be depositing his next victim sometime in the next three or four days. There was little chance that a body was already waiting for them at that sixth knot. Even so, Hoffner had no intention of making a return trip to Charlottenburg. He told Kepner to continue.

When Kepner began to make the turn away from the eighth knot, Hoffner stopped him again. “There. That’s fine, mein Herr.

Kepner glanced up. “You’re sure this time?” Hoffner nodded. “Good.” Kepner dropped the pencil and sat back. He removed his glasses and rubbed two fingers on the bridge of his nose.

Hoffner picked up the pencil. “May I?” he said. Kepner looked over; he was still blinking the strain from his eyes. He nodded indifferently.

Hoffner took a clean sheet and began to sketch Kepner’s design, but on a much larger scale: large enough to conform to the map that was hanging back on his office wall. Hoffner finished and slid the drawing across the table. Kepner had been watching him. He now leaned in to take a closer look.

“The dimensions are still accurate?” said Hoffner.

Kepner continued to examine the sheet: “As I said, Inspector, these drawings are rough. I would need other tools to make a perfectly accurate rendering, but this, I suspect, is as close as any I’ve constructed.” He slid the sheet back to Hoffner. “I doubt this mesh would ever be configured on such a large scale, but then again, I doubt many Kripo officers would be as consumed by lace as you are.” Kepner raised a hand to stop Hoffner from answering. “I don’t want to know the details, Herr Inspector. I’m tired, that’s all.”

Herr Brenner stood. “You have everything you need?” Brenner might have been a cold fish, but he was a cold fish devoted to his father-in-law.

“Yes, mein Herr.” Hoffner began to shuffle the papers together. “May I take these?” He continued to stack them.

“You are taking them, Inspector,” said Kepner with the hint of a smile. He had sunk back comfortably into his chair. “What would I do with them, anyway? Just make sure you catch him before he comes too far west, that’s all.” Hoffner stopped in mid-shuffle. Kepner enjoyed Hoffner’s momentary surprise. “There’s no stricture about reading before sundown, Inspector.”

Kepner had known exactly what he was doing, all along. He had simply managed to feel safer not knowing the details.

“I’ll try, mein Herr.

“Good,” said Kepner. “There is one favor I have to ask of you.”

Hoffner finished stacking. “Of course, mein Herr.

“This aspect of your case. The lace. I’m hoping it can remain out of your reports. Lace, you see, is primarily. .” Kepner hesitated. “That is to say, the quality of this particular lace-”

“Lace is a Jewish concern, Inspector,” Brenner cut in bluntly. “In Berlin, trade and production of this type are run primarily by Jews.”

“I see,” said Hoffner.

Kepner deferred to his son-in-law. Brenner continued: “If it should get out, if the newspapers should decide to print that we were in any way associated with this case-that this man was using our designs as some kind of inspiration for his madness-you understand our concern.”

Fichte piped in, “A loss of business, mein Herr?”

The room fell silent. Brenner had long ago learned to swallow his rage. When he answered, he spoke quietly, deliberately. “No, Herr Detective. Another excuse to blame the Jews. Not that the revolution hasn’t delivered on that front.”

Before Fichte could open his mouth again, Hoffner said, “Of course, mein Herr.” He stood, the pages in hand. “None of this needs to come out. The reading public never goes in much for the details, anyway. You have my word.”

Brenner remained silent. He glanced at Kepner. The older man nodded. Brenner then turned back to Hoffner. “I’ll show you out.”

Forty minutes later, Hoffner stood in his office, slowly penciling the last lines of the design onto the map. He made sure that the lengths of each of the segments conformed to the basic proportions of Kepner’s original, but it was clear even before he had made it halfway to the sixth knot where Wouters would be bringing his next victim. Hoffner stared at the spot. Somehow he had known all along.

The Ochsenhof.

What could be better, he thought. Two city blocks filled with the worst human refuse that Berlin had to offer. Murder was routine in the “cattle yard,” not that Wouters could have known that. The man was simply following his design. That it was now leading him to a place that, in essence, lay beyond the reach of the Kripo was simply his good fortune.

Hoffner stared a moment longer, then began to remove the pins.

Fichte said, “How did you know where to tell Kepner to start?”

Hoffner continued with the pins. “That’s an excellent question, Hans.” Hoffner went to work on the tacks that were holding the map to the wall. “Give me a hand here.” Fichte stepped over and the two brought the map to the desk. Very delicately, Hoffner began to fold it.

Fichte said, “We don’t need the map anymore?”

Hoffner concentrated on the folds. “We don’t need anyone else seeing what’s been written on it.”

Fichte understood. “So how did you know?” he said.

Hoffner made the final crease. “The cavern inside the Rosenthaler station,” he said. He felt strange placing the map inside the filing cabinet rather than in a folder for the archive clerk. Maps came down only when cases were complete. This case, however, was changing the rules as it went.

“What about it?” said Fichte.

Hoffner locked the drawer. “We’ll have plenty of time to discuss it. Right now, I need ten minutes. Then meet me downstairs, and bring whatever’s going to keep you the driest.”

A LAST STROKE OF THE KNIFE

Wouters was making them wait.

Three days camped outside the Ochsenhof had taken its toll. Fichte complained of everything-cramp, filth, exhaustion; Hoffner was feeling it in his lower back and legs. He said nothing. He knew that Mulackstrasse was never kind. At best, it only goaded the rain. Tonight the wind was whipping up. Even the most secure nooks and alleyways had fallen prey to the biting damp and chill.

Three a.m., and they were holed up in a recessed stairwell directly across from the tenement. Six or so of its entrances were in clear sight. Hoffner had found a bit of a muslin tarp that, along with a flask of brandy, was helping to keep them warm. It was a relative term. And, of course, there was the price to pay for the added heat: three minutes each morning at a nearby washbasin and toilet were doing little to dull the stink. Fichte was a large man. He was giving off as good as he got.

Stench and cold aside, Hoffner was grateful to be out on the streets: it meant that he was away from the Alex. The last few days had brought the “chisel murders” to a fever pitch. Any reason to avoid those unending requests for interviews and the like suited him just fine: Sunday, the Tiergarten body had graced the front pages, although Weigland’s pull had managed to keep any mention of Ganz-Neurath, or U-Bahn 2, from the public; Monday, Berlin had met the Rosenthaler Platz victim, though she remained unidentified, as Hoffner and Fichte were the only ones, thus far, to have given Mary Koop a name; and today, the list of the remaining victims-dating all the way back to the very first, in Mnz Strasse-had appeared in Kvatsch’s BZ afternoon article.

The Kripo leak had been working double time to make sure that any momentum lost to the revolution was now being paid back, and with interest. Anxiety over a pair of murders that had occurred in the last ten days was gaining a kind of retrospective boost of panic: the murders stretched back over months, and Berliners felt compelled to make up for lost time. The first accusations of Kripo incompetence were beginning to surface.

Hoffner stretched his neck. “I’m going to check on the boys.”

Hoffner had known from the start that the tenement was too large to manage from one lookout point, and so he had turned to little Franz. There was no one else at the Alex he could trust: word would get out, and Wouters would slip through their hands. Hoffner had told Prager that he was getting close; Prager might have been feeling the pressure himself, but he was smart enough to know that Hoffner worked best on his own terms.

Franz had recruited a group of teenaged Schlgers, street thugs who blended in perfectly with their surroundings: probably one full set of teeth among them. They needed the money; Hoffner needed the manpower. He had shown each of them the photograph of Wouters-the one he had pulled from van Acker’s file-although a description of Wouters’s diminutive size, and the fact that he would be dragging a trunk, had been far more helpful.

The nights had been easiest for Hoffner. Fichte preferred the days, what with the chance to stretch his legs, move through the crowds, get something hot to eat. All that changed after dark. In the silence, Fichte would drift off and leave Hoffner alone to piece together the strands that lay beyond Wouters: the second carver, the military connection to the Ascomycete 4, the “additions” to the Rosenthaler station, even the choice of the Tiergarten site as a threat to the city’s tenuous social order. They all led him back to one name: Luxemburg. Naturally, the why still eluded him. In a strange way, it was Wouters who now seemed more and more out of place. Rosa, however, remained suspended above it all, the world unwilling to “let her be,” even in death. Hoffner had kept the little book with him. He had read through it from time to time as Fichte slept. It held no answers, but there was something quieting in it.

He pulled back the tarp. “I’ll be back in ten minutes,” he said. The sudden slap of chilled air forced a muted grunt from Fichte. Hoffner stood. “Try to stay awake this time.”

Cramp in his leg forced Hoffner to take the steps one at a time. Keeping to the shadows, he peered out in both directions. The street was empty; even the prostitutes were staying in. Hoffner pulled down the brim of his hat and headed out into the lamplight.

He played the drunk during his rounds. The shuffling feet, the bobbing head, the single hand held out along the shop fronts for balance, were not an uncommon sight this time of night on Mulackstrasse. In fact, on his last circuit, Hoffner had nearly bumped into the genuine article: a weaving body had appeared from a side street, doing its best against the rain and wind and its own inebriation. One of the boys had actually mistaken him for Hoffner and popped out. The boy had been too late to see his mistake. Caught, he had done what any boy in his position would have done: he had tossed the man for everything he was worth. Hoffner had pretended to retch during the performance. The man, to his credit, had suffered it all with a drunk’s affability. He had even managed a pat on Hoffner’s back-“It’ll pass, my friend, it’ll pass”-as he continued down the street. This time, Hoffner walked alone.

Halfway down the block, he propped himself up against a wall as if he were catching his breath. “Anything?” he said quietly.

The boy had learned his lesson; he remained within the shadows. “Not a peep, Eminence.”

This one had a sense of humor. “No one to clean out this time?”

“Not my cock-up.”

“No choice, was it?”

“That’s right.”

Hoffner bent over as if he were about to retch. “But you’ll be splitting the proceeds with your mates, yes?”

“Splitting the what?”

“Just make sure Franz gets his cut.”

There was a silence. “Yeah. All right.”

Hoffner spat a few times, then moved off. He turned the corner.

The western side of the building was no less desolate. Another six or so entrances waited silently under the lamplight. Hoffner knew that they had been lucky thus far. Lamps had a tendency to burn out at the oddest of times in this part of town. Mulackstrasse in shadow was one thing; in total darkness it was suicide.

He checked in with the other boys, two more lookouts with nothing to report. He dropped a pack of cigarettes in the shadows at each of the posts: something to keep the boys awake. He then headed back, the sound of his own footfalls a solitary echo on the street. He was tired and wet. Maybe he could take a nap, let Hans earn his pay? Not much chance of that.

It was only when he reached the stairwell that Hoffner heard the scurrying of feet from behind him. He turned to see little Franz running up. The boy’s expression told him everything.

With newfound energy, Hoffner whispered into the shadows. “We’ve got him, Hans.” He waited to hear the tarp being pulled back before running out to meet the boy. Hoffner no longer felt the damp.

“Where?” he said as the two met in the middle of the street.

Franz spoke through gasps. “Just now.” He motioned back to the corner. “The fourth entryway.”

“Alone?”

The boy nodded.

“With a trunk?”

Again, the boy nodded.

Hoffner had heard nothing, no scraping of metal on cobblestone. How had Wouters maneuvered the trunk? There was no time to worry about that now. Without another word, Hoffner raced off. He was at the corner-Fichte and Franz chasing after him-when he saw five or six of the boys gathered at one of the far entryways, each of them pressed up against the door. Hoffner ran up to them.

“He’s gone down to the pit rooms,” whispered one of the boys. “Heard him go down. We can take him, if you want.”

Hoffner pulled his Mauser one-four-eight from his belt and tried to catch his breath. The pistol had been with him since 1912. He had fired it twice in the last seven years, once to test the action on the trigger, the other to salute Knig in a drunken farewell on some Tyrolean hillside. The lettering on the gripstrap marking-KripoDZ. 148-still shone like new.

At the sight of the gun, the boys edged back. Even Fichte was momentarily unnerved. Hoffner said, “No one takes him.” His breathing was still heavy. “You see him leave the building, you start shouting. You don’t go near him, you keep him in sight. Understood?” Fichte nodded along with the boys. “Get out your pistol, Hans.” Fichte did as he was told. Hoffner then pulled open the door and headed in.

The short corridor was lit like an interrogation room: stark light bounced off cracked walls and tile, and the smell of cabbage filled the air, a sourness seasoned with urine. At the stairs, Hoffner stopped. Somewhere above, someone was taking a nice beating; higher still, an old woman laughed or cried: even at this hour, the sounds of muted desperation trickled down. Hoffner put up a hand. Fichte stayed where he was, and Hoffner took two steps down to listen.

He heard it almost at once, its incongruity drawing him farther down the steps: a faint if high-pitched squeal was repeating in perfect intervals as it grew more distant. It was too even, too precise, and therefore completely out of place inside these walls. Hoffner suddenly realized what it was. He was following the rotation of a rusted wheel. An image popped into his head. The trunk was being moved on a porter’s wheel, the sort to be found at any train station. The marks at the sites had not been formed by the dragging of a trunk, but by a wheel pressing down into the mud. The weight of the bodies had simply flattened and thus widened its imprint.

Hoffner continued to listen. This was the sound of Wouters transporting his final victim. With a quick wave for Fichte, Hoffner started down.

The lower reaches of the tenement spread out in a warren of narrow corridors, bare bulbs dotting the walls, only here they were placed too far apart to create continuous light. Checkerboard patches led off in all directions. The infamous pit rooms-where pipes and coal stoves bristled with heat, and where only the most wretched took refuge-appeared at equally disjointed intervals. Half of the doors had gone missing for firewood. The rest clung to rotting hinges, or leaned out menacingly into the corridors, but they did nothing to keep the swelter from infiltrating. The air here was oppressive. Hoffner felt the perspiration forming in the creases of his neck as he heard Fichte begin to labor for breath.

The squeal called to them from one of the corridors, and Hoffner, his pistol held chest-high, moved toward it at an even pace, following the twists and turns, just fast enough to draw them closer to their man. He could feel Wouters’s presence, the sound of his footsteps slowly growing more distinct. Wouters was moving rhythmically, easily, uninterrupted-no idea that he was being followed. For the second time in a matter of days, Hoffner felt the sharp pull of anticipation.

And then, without warning, Fichte let go with a choked gasp. Dumbstruck, Hoffner turned to silence him, but it was too late. Fichte was doing all he could to stifle the seizing in his lungs. It was as if his throat had collapsed in on itself.

Hoffner turned back to the empty corridor. The squeal had stopped. Silence, and then a sudden crash and the sound of darting feet. Hoffner looked back at Fichte. The boy was on his knee, sucking desperately on his inhaler.

Hoffner ran, forcing himself to move faster, his hand sliding along the chipped walls as he propelled himself forward. Wouters’s steps were faint, but they were there. Taking a turn, Hoffner nearly fell over the abandoned trunk. It lay on its side and was blocking most of the corridor. For an instant he imagined what lay inside; putting it from his mind, he clambered over the wood and metal-still slick from the rain-and continued after Wouters.

Whether it was the nights out in the cold, or the sudden heat, or simply his own incapacity, Hoffner felt himself giving way. He strained for breath. He felt the stress in his legs and chest, his throat ready to explode, and still he pushed himself on. Wouters was disappearing into the endless corridors. He was slipping out of Hoffner’s hands, and all Hoffner felt was his own desperate failure. All of this would start again. All of it. And there would be nothing he could do to stop it.

A single shot rang out, and Hoffner froze. He planted his hand against the wall for support, and tried to quiet his breathing long enough to locate its origin. A second shot was fired, and Hoffner began to move. The echo hung in the air and led him first left, then along a corridor until he saw a shadow move beyond the open door of one of the pit rooms. He tightened his grip on his pistol, drew up to the door and, bracing himself, shouldered his way in.

What he saw was mind-numbing. A small body lay perfectly still in the half-light. Hoffner recognized it at once. It was Wouters. He was dead. A single bullet had entered his left thigh. Another had cut deep into his chest. He looked remarkably peaceful.

A board moved from across the room and, no less dazed, Hoffner looked over to see Kommissar Ernst Tamshik crouched down, rummaging through scrap wood.

“No body,” said Tamshik as he got to his feet.

Hoffner was still catching his breath as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. “What are you doing here?” he said in a near whisper.

“He’s not much to look at, is he?” This was a different Tamshik, one intent on police work. The bullying and sneers were nowhere in sight. “All this trouble for so little a man. Remarkable.”

Hoffner finally caught his breath. “What are you doing here?” he repeated.

Tamshik continued to scan the room. “Looking for a body, Kommissar.

Hoffner tried to focus. Instinctively he pointed back to the corridor, toward the trunk, but stopped himself. “How did you know he would be coming down here?”

Tamshik peered over at Hoffner. “You didn’t think you’d be the only one to find a way inside his head, did you Kommissar?” The smirk returned. “Typical Kripo arrogance.”

Hoffner’s mind was spinning. A minute ago, he had thought he had lost Wouters. Now he had the man’s carcass in front of him, compliments of the Polpo. Hoffner was hard-pressed to say which was making him feel worse.

“You shot him?” said Hoffner, still trying to clear his mind.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Tamshik holstered his gun. “Because I thought he would get away, Kommissar.

Again, Hoffner glanced out at the corridor. That made no sense. He thought out loud. “I was behind him. You must have been directly in his path. There was nowhere else for him to go. Except in here.” Hoffner again looked across at Tamshik. It suddenly struck him that Tamshik had shown no surprise at his own appearance. It was as if Tamshik had been waiting for him. Things suddenly began to come clearer. Hoffner’s mind slowed. “Unless you thought he’d overpower you, Kommissar?” Hoffner’s tone sharpened. “A man of his tremendous size. Is that it?”

Tamshik stared blankly. “He was a maniac. I didn’t know what to expect.”

Hoffner returned the stare. “And the shot to his thigh wasn’t enough to stop him?”

“No. It wasn’t.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Believe what you like.”

“You were waiting for him, weren’t you?”

For just an instant, Tamshik’s eyes narrowed. “The man’s dead, Kommissar. You have a strange way of thanking someone for doing your job.”

Hoffner felt a sudden urge to step over and crack a fist across Tamshik’s face. Luckily, Fichte poked his head through the doorway at that moment. Hoffner could hear the wheezing in his breath.

“I heard shots,” said Fichte, catching his breath. He noticed Wouters. “Oh, God.” Fichte laughed nervously through his gasps. “You got him. Good Christ. We got him.”

“Yes, Herr Assistent,” said Tamshik from the far corner. “You got him.”

It was only then that Fichte saw Tamshik. He nearly jumped. “Kommissar Tamshik? What. .?” Fichte looked to Hoffner for an answer.

“Your Kriminal-Kommissar has gotten his man,” said Tamshik with mock admiration.

This only seemed to rattle Fichte further. “Yes,” he said uneasily.

Hoffner kept his eyes on Tamshik. “I shot no one, Hans.”

Tamshik said, “It’s a proud day for the Kripo, gentlemen.”

“‘A proud. .?’” murmured Fichte. Again, he looked to Hoffner. “I don’t understand.”

Tamshik spoke to Hoffner: “Think of all the money and time saved, Kommissar. No need for a trial. No reason to parade out your madman. And all because of your heroics. Well done.”

Hoffner had no idea what game Tamshik was playing. “Who were you pulling the trigger for, Tamshik? You’re not this clever. Who sent you down here?”

“Don’t worry, Kommissar,” said Tamshik with his accustomed venom. “This one’s all yours. No one needs to know about all the help you’ve gotten from the Polpo.”

Hoffner had heard enough. He started for Tamshik, but Fichte, still not knowing what was going on, had the good sense to hold him back. “He’s not worth the trouble, Nikolai,” he said in a whisper.

Slowly, Tamshik drew up to them. “Your case is closed, Herr Kommissar. Congratulations.” Hoffner managed to pull his arm free. “I wouldn’t do that,” said Tamshik coldly. He stared a moment longer, then nodded to Fichte. “Assistent.” Tamshik then stepped over Wouters’s body and headed out into the corridor.

When the footsteps had faded, Fichte released Hoffner’s arm. “What the hell just happened in here?” he said.

Hoffner remained motionless. He stared down at the body. Wouters had nothing to tell them, not now. Tamshik had made certain of that. Slowly Hoffner walked to the back of the room and slammed his hand into the wall.

It is a bit odd.”

Kriminaldirektor Prager sat uncomfortably behind his desk. His skin was still pasty from sleep. Polpo Direktor Weigland sat across from him. It had been nearly twenty years since either of them had seen the Alex this early in the morning.

“I don’t know what he’s so upset about,” said Weigland. He turned to Hoffner, who was standing at the window. “Nikolai. The case is finished. Tomorrow the papers will call you a hero.”

Hoffner continued to stare out. The dull gray of pre-dawn hung over the square like an unwashed towel: it only reminded him of how tired he was. “I’ll ask one more time, Herr Direktor,” said Hoffner as he turned to the two men at the desk. “What was Kommissar Tamshik doing in the pit rooms of the Ochsenhof?”

Weigland threw up his hands as he looked across at Prager. “There’s no convincing him, Edmund. This is a gift horse. I don’t see what the problem is.”

“I understand,” said Prager: for the first time he was actually holding his own with the Polpo. “Kommissar Tamshik obviously had his reasons. We’re not interested in Polpo business. But you can understand the Kriminal-Kommissar’s concern.” Prager glanced over at Tamshik. The man stood unnervingly still. Fichte, by comparison, looked almost pitiful by his side. “That said,” Prager continued, “I think we can all take satisfaction in having eliminated this problem.”

Hoffner started in. “That’s not the point, Herr Kriminaldirektor-”

Prager put up a hand. “The bodies are here. They’ll be here tomorrow. Whatever else can wait until then.”

Hoffner disagreed. “I’m not sure that’s true.”

“You’re tired, Kriminal-Kommissar.” Prager was telling him, not consoling him. “You should take tomorrow at home. With your family. Take two days. The rest can wait.”

Hoffner stared across at Prager. There were any number of things he thought to say, but his mind was a jumble. Exhaustion was getting the better of him. More than that, he knew Prager was right. This wasn’t the time, nor the audience to press things any further. “Fine, Herr Kriminaldirektor.

“Good,” said Weigland, his relief all too apparent.

Hoffner said, “Just so long as no one touches anything. Nothing happens until I see the bodies.”

“Of course,” Weigland said eagerly. “Naturally.” He wanted this done. “Everything stays exactly as it is tonight. No question.”

Hoffner ignored Weigland. He kept his eyes on Prager.

Prager said, “It’s still your case, Kriminal-Kommissar. Nothing gets touched.”

Hoffner nodded. He then looked over at Tamshik. “And I want that man nowhere near my evidence.”

Tamshik stared straight ahead as if he had heard nothing. Weigland spun back to Prager.

“Edmund, really!” Weigland’s exasperation had returned. “That tone was completely uncalled for.”

Hoffner said, “I think we’re beyond protocol, Herr Direktor.

“We’re done here, Nikolai,” said Prager, ending any further discussion. Hoffner had overstepped the line. “You did well with this. Take your two days.” He glanced over at Fichte. “You as well, Herr Kriminal-Assistent.

Fichte perked up. He blinked quickly several times. “Thank you, Herr Kriminaldirektor.

There was nothing else to be said. The room became uncomfortably still. Finally, Hoffner picked up his hat and started toward the door. Fichte moved to join him, but Hoffner continued past him. “You get home safe, Hans, all right?” Fichte had hoped for more. Hoffner, however, was not in the mood.

Out on the Alex, Hoffner pulled up his coat collar. The air felt somehow kinder; it was of little comfort. Wouters’s eyes were still with him, their silence like a last stroke of the knife.

Hoffner peered up into the first light. Small specks of snow were swirling overhead. Odd, he thought. By nightfall, Berlin would be under a blanket of white.

PART TWO

FOUR

K

They made them into heroes.

The announcement came on Friday, the day of Hoffner’s scheduled return. Rumors had been circulating, but nothing had been confirmed. “You don’t rush these things, Nikolai.” Prager was famous for his timing. “You have to let the city set the tone.” Evidently the city wanted Friday. And so, with the hysteria at just the right pitch, Prager presented Berlin with her new saviors.

From that moment on, Hoffner and Fichte lived on the front pages of every daily in town. Photographs of Wouters’s body-his chest laid bare, the tiny charred hole where the bullet had entered-sat side by side with images of a beaming Fichte and a less than enthusiastic Hoffner. Prager insisted: Hoffner would be a good little soldier. The last of the interviews dragged on into Saturday.

What was worse was how the papers were harping on the fact that Wouters was a Belgian: still more reason to cheer. Some speculated that he might have been an agent sent in during the last days of the war to create mayhem in the capital. Others took it as a sign that German savvy-if not for the incompetence of the generals-would surely have gained the ultimate victory in the war. Even Kvatsch managed to write something mildly favorable. To a paper, though, all agreed on one incontrovertible truth: that Hoffner and Fichte now stood for all that was right with Germany.

Naturally, the directors of Ganz-Neurath invited them to a special luncheon on the following Monday to thank them for their outstanding work. Chancellor Ebert himself put in an appearance to express his faith in the fine men of the Kripo. Ebert, too, needed to align himself with what was right with Germany.

But the crowning moment came on the Tuesday-one week after all the excitement at the Ochsenhof-when the Kripo whipped together an elaborate promotion ceremony outside the old Royal Palace: Fichte to detective sergeant, Hoffner to chief inspector. The Alex was still a shambles and hardly the image that Prager wanted to convey. More photographs, more beaming from Fichte, and all the while, the Polpo remained curiously silent.

Martha, on the other hand, was enjoying it all immensely. The neighbors down the hall had sent over a small bottle of kirsch-dreadful stuff, and not even a premium brand-in congratulations. All that business about the flat had been a misunderstanding. No reason to let it spoil things. An invitation to tea was extended. “Certainly,” Martha said. “When my husband can find time in his very important schedule, Frau Rimmler. We should be delighted.”

Sascha, too, was reaping the benefits. Herr Zessner, his physics teacher, had cited Sascha as “a model for us all” in front of the entire class. Herr Zessner lived alone with his mother, and had been hearing the poor woman’s torments over the “chisel murders” ever since the news had broken: she was the same age as the rest; she spent time outside the flat. “You know the boy’s father, Heinrich. Have him do something!” Detective Hoffner had saved Herr Zessner from an early mental breakdown. Young Hoffner would therefore be finishing the year at the top of his class. Good feelings all around, Sascha even managed to put in an appearance at the air show at Johannisthal: a few cold moments, to be sure, but, all in all, the thaw was progressing quite nicely.

And Georgi-the dailies spread out on the kitchen floor-was making a habit of pointing out his own last name in the papers every morning. “Hoffner. Like Georgi Hoffner.” He cut out each one-not the articles, just the names-and kept them in a cigar box under his bed. If Hoffner was being kept from the office, at least Kreuzberg was radiating a very comforting mood.

When Hoffner did finally get back to the Alex in that first week of February, Prager was prepared for him. Cases Fichte would have handled on his own as a detective sergeant suddenly required Hoffner’s expertise. Pimps and whores, bar-front brawls, lowlifes ending up dead, and Hoffner would be called in to clean up the obvious mess. It was a week into it before he began to wonder whether Prager’s intention was to keep him in the papers or out of the office.

Through it all, the snow returned-again and again-as if it knew that Berlin had something to hide. A hint of grime would peek up through the streets, and a new dusting of white would quickly settle from above. Better not to know what lay beneath. It was a popular attitude.

All that began to change on the twelfth when Leo Jogiches-from somewhere in hiding-printed his account of Rosa’s death. The article had appeared in the communist Die Rote Fahne almost a week ago. The rest of the city’s papers had failed to pick up on it. Hoffner had seen it for the first time only this morning.

It was a startling tale of Liebknecht and Luxemburg on the run. Hunted down by members of the Cavalry Guards Rifle Division-those charming soldiers who had taken such joy in beating students to death in the last days of the revolution-Karl and Rosa had been snatched from an apartment on the outskirts of town and then brought to the Hotel Eden near the zoo, where a Captain Pabst and a rifleman named Runge had seen to the killings. Jogiches had even included a photograph of the drinking bout at which the murderers had celebrated the deaths. It was all very dramatic, very shocking, and, as Hoffner well knew, not even half the story.

Not surprisingly, the government was showing little interest. They preferred the original reports from mid-January: that an angry mob had ambushed the Reds and killed them in a wild frenzy, a tragedy of the revolution, to be sure, but not all that much of a tragedy. “The proper expiation for the bloodbath that they unleashed,” the Tgliche Rundschau had written at the time. “The day of judgment on Luxemburg and Liebknecht is over.” Ebert and his cronies were more than willing to agree. They had no intention of dredging it all up again. There was mention of a possible trial, but no one was all that keen to pursue it, especially as the accusations were coming from the people who had started all the trouble in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Polpo-still silent, and still with Rosa’s body somewhere up on the fourth floor-continued to say nothing. They seemed happy enough to let it all fall at the feet of Pabst and Runge. The Wouters case was closed. Weigland even made a special trip down to the third floor to remind Prager of proper jurisdiction. Luxemburg was a Polpo matter. The men of IA would handle it as they saw fit.

Prager had nodded. He liked a victory-along with the good press-as much as anyone else. However, he also liked his victories clean. Two minutes after Weigland had scuttled back upstairs, Prager called Hoffner into his office.

The photograph that Jogiches had printed now stared up at Hoffner from his desk. It was a dreary affair, twenty or so men in gray uniform, another few in black, one little barmaid in white standing at the center with a tray in her hands. Hoffner had been studying the faces for almost an hour. It was the first such block of time he had been able to devote to the case in almost three weeks.

They had let him see the bodies on that first Friday after he returned to work: the woman inside the trunk had been no different from the others, another lonely seamstress with no family to claim her; Wouters had not been much of a surprise, either, except for his hands. Even lifeless, they had shown remarkable strength, especially on so small a man.

More than that, however, was no longer available. The bodies were in the ground; Weigland had made sure of that during Hoffner’s extended absence. It seemed only appropriate given the speed with which the case had resolved itself: Tamshik’s single shot, all discussion closed. Why bother with the evidence?

Hoffner’s eyes continued to drift to the girl in the photo. It was clear that she had been persuaded to pose with the men: she seemed uncomfortable in their presence. The soldiers, however, needed a symbol for what they had been fighting to protect. The entire group stared grimly into the lens, except for one fellow who was seated at the front. He was sporting a tight smirk, with one hand in his coat pocket, the other around a thick cigar. His had been a job well done.

Rifleman Otto Runge and his cohorts looked to be the perfect dupes, posed over a few buckets of beer, and without a spark of intelligence among them. Runge himself had the air of a halfwit, with his drooping moustache and narrow eyes: not difficult to see that the best these men could have managed was a quick crack on the head, or a bullet to the ribs. Hoffner had no doubt that they had killed Liebknecht and Luxemburg, but the etchings on Rosa’s back-and her connection to Wouters and beyond-were clearly far too involved for their simple minds. Like Tamshik in the pit rooms, someone had set them on their task. The question remained: Who?

And yet, the more Hoffner studied the photo, the more he realized that Jogiches was trying to tell him something with it. There was a certain arrogance in the assumption, but Hoffner had not been wasting all of his time in recent weeks. Stealing a few minutes here and there, he had begun to dig deeper into Herr Jogiches’s past. Last Thursday, while rummaging through it, Hoffner had stumbled upon his K.

Naturally, it was Rosa who had led the way: her 1912 journal had held the key. Several of the entries detailed a period during which Jogiches had been living under an assumed name somewhere in the city. Rosa, of course, had never given up the name-Hoffner had admired her discretion-but she had let slip the address of a hotel in two of the passages. Hoffner had paid a visit to the hotel: what he had unearthed was a story worthy of a Rossini libretto.

Years ago-long before her move to Berlin-Rosa had told her family that she and Jogiches had been married in Switzerland. It wasn’t true, and by 1911, when the two were no longer together, it had become something of an embarrassment whenever members of Rosa’s family came to visit. While she had been willing to concoct a sham marriage so as to save face, she was not so eager to present her family with a sham divorce. To maintain the fiction, Jogiches had agreed to leave his name on the lease and to rent a room at the Hotel Schlosspark under an assumed name. Unfortunately, Jogiches’s tailor had never been fully apprised of the arrangement. Hoffner had discovered a receipt-still in the hotel files-for a pair of trousers that had been delivered to the room of a K. Kryzysztalowicz, on the fourteenth of March, 1912. The name on the receipt, Leo Jogiches.

Further proof of the alias came from a much earlier entry devoted to Leo’s brother, Osip, that dated from 1901. According to that journal, Osip had been dying of tuberculosis since the early nineties and, in the last weeks of his life, was advised by his doctors to take a trip to Algiers for his health; naturally, Leo had insisted that he join him. Hoffner had checked the ship’s manifest and, once again, had found meticulous German paperwork up to the task. Osip had indeed sailed for Algiers. Oddly enough, Leo had not accompanied him. A Dr. Krystalowicz, however, had.

Spelling variations aside, Jogiches was his K.

More than just the name, though, Hoffner’s digging had begun to lay bare the man himself, one obsessed with hidden meanings and ciphers. Jogiches inhabited a world built on secrecy and intrigue, and, more often than not, used them as tools to test those closest to him. Not surprisingly, Rosa had been his favorite target over the years. Resilient as she was, however, his incessant goading had ultimately torn them apart.

Why, then, thought Hoffner, would Jogiches treat the recent article and photograph any differently? They were simply the latest pieces in his puzzle: the note to return to her flat; the papers waiting there; the creased letters that had led Hoffner to Jogiches in the first place? Presumptuous as it might sound, Hoffner believed that Jogiches was now testing him, that he had been testing him all along. Jogiches’s inclusion of the photograph-hardly a damning piece of evidence on its own-could only mean that he knew far more than he was willing to print, or that he thought safe to expose. He was simply waiting for Hoffner to contact him. At least that was the theory.

Unfortunately, Hoffner was now alone in his speculations, for while he had been busy unpacking Jogiches, Fichte had been occupied elsewhere.

Most nights, Fichte could be found at the White Mouse, drinking too much and allowing himself to be photographed with any number of popular faces. Last week, the BZ had included the young detective sergeant in a candid photo with three of the Haller Revue girls, lots of thighs and teeth, along with a leering grin from Fichte. Fichte had become the new image of the Kripo, vibrant and charming-it was a Fichte whom Hoffner had never known-and Prager seemed only too happy to encourage it. Fichte was now irresistible to the night-crawl crowd. In fact, Fichte could hardly resist himself. Even his knock on Hoffner’s door had grown in stature. Where before, several light taps had signaled his approach, now two rapid-fire raps announced his presence.

Hoffner looked up from behind his desk. Fichte had been given an office of his own down the hall, but the files remained here.

“We’re done with this one, yes?” said Fichte. He placed the pages on Hoffner’s desk: a drunk had stabbed his wife and then confessed; it was hardly a case. Fichte already had his hat in hand.

“New suit?” said Hoffner.

Fichte glanced down at the jacket. One of the shops along Tauentzienstrasse had given it to him as a gift, the least they could do for a hero of the Kripo. Fichte smiled. He had been working on this particular smile for a week now. “Sure. You should get one for yourself. They want to know when you’re coming in.”

Hoffner took the sheets and moved over to the filing cabinet. “You don’t think about it anymore, do you?”

Fichte had trained himself to look mildly amused whenever his old confusion reared its head. A furrowed brow was hardly in keeping with his new image. “Think about what?” he said.

“I sent a wire to van Acker.” Hoffner flipped through the files. “See if they’ve come up with anything on that body. Wouters’s replacement.”

Fichte stayed with amusement. “The man’s dead, Nikolai. That usually means a case is closed.”

Hoffner replaced the file and closed the drawer. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Prager’s satisfied. Why shouldn’t I be?”

Hoffner nodded indifferently. He found something else on his desk. “Off to Maxim’s?”

“White Mouse,” said Fichte as he watched Hoffner shuffle through more pages.

“With your Lina?”

Fichte hesitated before answering. “She doesn’t like the crowds.”

Hoffner was still focused on the papers. “And you’re a magnet for them, are you?”

There was a momentary crack in Fichte’s otherwise effortless stare. Just as quickly the lazy smile returned. “Can’t help it if they want to meet me.”

Hoffner looked up. There was no point in prodding at him; Fichte was too far gone. Hoffner only hoped that the boy would survive the road back. Not that Hoffner was encouraging him to find it any time soon. There was still the pull of Kremmener Strasse, and Hoffner had been taking full advantage of Fichte’s inattention. Lina had become something of a regular indulgence, high times in Kreuzberg notwithstanding. She had even started allowing him to smoke in her flat. It was an intimacy Hoffner had yet to give much thought to. “No, I’m sure you can’t,” he said. “You tell that shop of yours I’ll be coming in for my suit, all right?”

Fichte’s eyes widened. “Naturally.” He spoke with the enthusiasm of a first infatuation. “They’ll be very pleased, Nikolai.”

Hoffner bobbed his head once.

It was all Fichte could have hoped for. “You have a good night, Nikolai.” He placed his hat on his head.

Hoffner kept busy with whatever it was that was on his desk. “Good night, Hans.”

She was a “word city.”

Hoffner had heard it, or read it, somewhere. Not just in her newspapers, but in her advertisements, her signs, her schedules, and most important, in her Litfassulen-those pillars that appeared on almost every corner of every neighborhood-Berlin breathed as a metropolis of language. It was the pillars, however, that stood apart. They were the modern town criers, filled with the chaos of endless messages: sell a bed, post at the corner; workers’ meeting tonight, post at the corner; find a girl, post at the corner. Capped by their crowns of green wrought iron, the pillars rose two meters higher than anything else on the street, and thus demanded attention. Even the figures in their posters were more garish than anything to be found in a window or on a billboard. Couples decked out in glaring reds and greens screamed out in aggressive poses to passersby: everything angular, sharp, and desperate for recognition. The pillars indulged their own disorder and thus mirrored the life of the streets even as they catered to it.

Find K, post at the corner.

Hoffner had used the Alex’s hectograph to make copies of a single sheet of paper, which he had plastered throughout the Mitte district over the last few days. His two index fingers were still stained with the aniline dye from the ink. It was always something of an adventure using the machine, pressing the sheet to the gelatin pad, waiting the few minutes for the page to absorb the ink, and then hoping not to smear anything in the removal. Hoffner could stomach only forty or so such tries. His patience and the dye usually gave out at about the same time. He was trusting that the simplicity of his note, and not its beauty, would make it stand out among all the more elaborate postings: Krystalowicz. Cafe Dalles. 10 o’clock. I’ll bring the brandy this time.

Hoffner had been at the cafe for the past two nights. Jogiches had yet to make an appearance.

In the meantime, Hoffner had decided to track down the one living link he still had to the diameter-cut: the engineer from the Rosenthaler station, the man who had helped to design the site under the tutelage of the great Grenander himself. In the last week, Hoffner had stopped in at three of the city-run shelters for the homeless. So far, no Herr Tben or his wife and two boys. Hoffner scanned the new map he had hung on his wall. He had been making his way east. Tonight it was Frbelstrasse, and the heart of Prenzlauer Berg.

Durable and cold was how the red brick of state institutions always announced themselves to Hoffner. Situated next to a bit of open ground, with a few trees planted about-not by nature, but by a bureaucrat’s pen-the shelter and its adjacent hospital showed little in the way of life. Even the long line of huddled bodies waiting for admission gave off nothing that might have been construed as flesh and blood. They were cracked faces, etched by hunger and resentment, and buried beneath the dust of decades. The snow seemed a starker white in their presence. Hoffner moved past them and up to the main door.

Several desks were laid out inside to process the line of applicants. Hoffner showed his badge, and a man motioned him over to one of the far desks. The chief administrator, a Herr Mitleid, was tending to one of his charges.

“You’ve come at our busiest time, Chief Inspector,” said Mitleid when Hoffner had introduced himself. The place reeked of sterility, with the tangy odor of ammonia emanating from every corner. It mixed uneasily with the smells of cooking and drying clothes and digestion. “You see us at our best and at our worst.”

This was not the typical administrator, at least not from Hoffner’s recent experience. Unlike the other directors, Mitleid seemed in tune with his own humanity. It was as if the man knew what it was to carry his life in a small sack on his back, or to feel the weight of a refugee’s thousand-kilometer walk in his legs, or to sense what gives a man a look of both fear and confrontation in his every gaze. Mitleid was a man of pure compassion. Hoffner wondered where they had found him within the ranks of officialdom.

“We open the doors at four, close them at nine. Takes about two hours to fill each of the dormitories. You find us in mid-filling, Herr Inspector.”

Hoffner explained what he was looking for: the name, two sons, a former engineer, sometime in the last month and a half. Mitleid thought for a moment. He seemed to recall something, and then brought Hoffner into his office. The two men sat, and Mitleid began to run through a roll of filing cards on his desk.

Hoffner noticed a stack of empty application documents. He took one and was astounded to see how bad things had gotten:

Case No. -- P.B.Was heard by the court in Berlin, on — 1919.Mr. -- was instructed to find himself alternative accommodation within five days, failing which, notwithstanding the most strenuous efforts on his behalf to do so, he would be punished for making himself homeless. The appellant was further warned that in accordance with #361, subsection 8, of the Criminal Law of the German Empire, such punishment will consist of up to six weeks in prison, and in accordance with #362 ibid., transferred to the police authorities, for placement in a workhouse.Approved and signed.Signature of the homeless man in question — Signature of the police case worker —

“Dreadful, isn’t it?” Mitleid was still searching. “Five days to find housing. Can you imagine?”

Hoffner replaced the sheet. “You show me someone who can find a flat that quickly in Berlin these days, I’ll show you your criminal.”

Mitleid tried a smile, but the topic was too close to home. He pulled out a card and said, “Here it is.” He read through it quickly. “I knew it sounded familiar.” His brow furrowed. “You’re sure about the name?”

“Tben,” Hoffner repeated.

Mitleid continued to look puzzled. “This is a Teplitz. A Willem Teplitz. Wife, two boys. I thought for sure.” He shook his head and began to replace the card; Hoffner stopped him and took the card. He read as Mitleid spoke. “Clever man, Teplitz. Helped us rework the placement of the beds. Gave us room for four more each night. Never said he was an engineer, but you could tell.”

According to the card, Herr “Teplitz” had arrived on the night of January 16, the night Hoffner and Fichte had come across Mary Koop.

“Who fills out this card?” said Hoffner.

“I do.”

“Do you have anything Herr Teplitz might have signed?”

Mitleid stood and moved across to a large filing cabinet. He returned with a small folder and handed a sheet to Hoffner. It was a form to request that the family be kept together while inside the shelter. “Another abomination,” said Mitleid. “But the Reichs Ministry insists we have it.”

Hoffner scanned down to the signature, where the lettering was deliberate and uneven. Teplitz had labored with his own name. Hoffner had seen the same hesitation many times before. This was Tben. He had been scared enough to take a false name, and Hoffner was guessing that his fears had had nothing to do with the body his son had discovered at the site. “How long did they stay with you?” he asked.

Mitleid took the card again and flipped it over. “Their last day was the twelfth,” he read. “Last Wednesday.” He looked across at Hoffner. “You believe this is your Herr Tben?”

Hoffner was thinking about the date. February 12: the day Jogiches’s article had appeared. Frau Tben and her boys were five days gone from Berlin: they could be anywhere now. “Was there anyone here that he was particularly friendly with?”

Mitleid again studied the card. “Dormitory three.” He thought for a moment, and his eyes lit up. “Oh, yes. Of course.” He began to get up. “The Colonel.” Mitleid started for the door and then motioned Hoffner through. “Marvelous fellow. A Russian. Fought for the Tsar. You’ll like him at once.”

Dormitory 3 was like all the others, long and narrow, and with two rows of beds jutting out from the walls, barracks-style. There were also a few stray cots that had been placed down the center aisle, the extras Herr Tben had managed to reconfigure. More than half of the beds were filled with men, flat on their backs, here and there a cocked elbow drawn across the eyes. The few who did look up did so with vacant stares. Hoffner knew they were looking directly at him; he just couldn’t feel their gaze.

Beyond a partition was another hall: here, instead of beds, small wooden cubicles-large enough to accommodate four or five people-appeared at intervals along the walls. These were for families. A gas burner and range stood in each of the corners of the hall, places for the women to do their cooking. Washing hung where it could, the cleverest of the women having placed their lines over the gas burners so as to help with the drying. The clothes might have picked up the sour smell of cabbage broth, but better dry and pungent than damp and fresh.

At the end of the row, Mitleid came to a stop. Unlike the other cubicles, this one had managed to keep its clutter in check. It was also far roomier, with only one bed inside and a little chair: evidently, rank had its privileges. A few photos hung on the inside walls, along with an officer’s cap. Below, a stack of books and papers rose to nearly a meter high, while on the bed, a large man, somewhere in his late sixties, lay stiffly on the tissue-thin linens with his eyes closed. His boots pointed to the ceiling, while his pant legs disappeared into the cracked leather just below the knees. Even in sleep, the Colonel looked as if he were on parade.

Mitleid seemed reluctant to disturb him. “Colonel Stankevich?” he said quietly.

At once, Stankevich’s eyes opened. He peered over, and just as quickly, offered a gracious smile. “Ah, Herr Mitleid.” Stankevich was sitting upright, his feet firm on the ground, before Mitleid could make the introductions. Years of interrupted sleep had prepared the Colonel well.

“May I present Herr Kriminal-Oberkommissar Nikolai Hoffner of the Kriminalpolizei?”

Stankevich peered straight ahead for another moment. All signs to the contrary, he was still in the last grasp of sleep. With a sudden clearing of his throat, he stood and offered a bow. Hoffner bowed as well, and then insisted that the Colonel retake his seat. Mitleid waited until the two men were seated across from each other before taking his leave.

“Very German, our Herr Mitleid,” said Stankevich with a wry smile as he watched Mitleid go. “Very perfect.” He turned to Hoffner. “Are you also so perfect in your Kripo, Herr Inspector?” His German was flawless, but Hoffner recognized the accent.

“No worries on that front, Herr Colonel,” said Hoffner. “Kiev?” he added.

Stankevich showed a moment’s surprise. He then spoke in Russian. “You know Ukraine?”

“Once, to visit, as a boy,” said Hoffner. His Russian was not quite as fluid as he remembered.

“Odessa, actually. But close enough.”

Hoffner nodded.

“Your mother?”

Another nod.

“Always the mothers who ran off,” said Stankevich. “Find a nice German boy, give him nice German babies.”

Hoffner’s mother’s story was not quite as charming as Stankevich imagined, but Hoffner had no interest in muddying the illusion with mention of Cossacks and rifles and burning villages. Instead, he continued in Russian: “You’re a long way from Odessa, Colonel.”

“Yes.” The word seemed to carry the weight of the man’s history with it. “Someone decided to turn the world on its head, Inspector.”

Hoffner knew it would be a mistake to go down this road. “I’m told you knew Herr Teplitz, the engineer.”

Stankevich looked as if he might answer. Instead he reached across and pulled the cap from its hook. He held it in his hands like a boy caressing a new toy train, a tender blend of pride and reverence. “They let me keep this, you know,” he said as he gazed at the cap, its crimson band all but faded. “Ripped the epaulettes from my shoulders, the citations from my chest, but this-this they thought would be humorous to leave me with.” He paused. “A corporal. A boy in my company. Tired of taking orders.” Stankevich looked up. “Laziness. That’s what made him a revolutionary, Inspector. And here I sit in a shelter in Berlin.” He placed the cap back on its hook. “Yes, I knew Teplitz.”

Hoffner did his best to console. “The world will find its way back, Colonel.”

“Yes, but not while I’m here to see it.” Stankevich stood. He needed to distance himself from the cap. “Always better to walk, Inspector. Frees the mind. Shall we?”

Stankevich strode as if he were on inspection, his left leg hitching every third or fourth step from some hidden ailment. He nodded to the families as he passed by. Everyone knew the Colonel. A moment’s recognition from him was enough to spark some life into the line of tired eyes: his gift to them, Hoffner imagined.

“They have no past,” Stankevich said quietly. “So they have no hope.”

Hoffner nodded even though he had no idea what the Colonel meant.

“You think it’s the other way round, don’t you?” said Stankevich. “No future, no hope. But the future is fable, air. How can you draw faith from that?”

“It’s an interesting way of looking at things, Colonel.”

“It’s a very Russian way of looking at things, Inspector. Only the past gives you something to stand on. Without it, how do you know where your feet are when you’re looking to the heavens?” Stankevich’s leg buckled momentarily. “They are without hope because their past has been taken from them. It’s been rendered meaningless, and so, like me, they have nothing to build their hope on.”

Hoffner waited before answering. “And Herr Teplitz? Was he also without a past?”

Everything about Stankevich moved stiffly, which made the ease of his smile all the more surprising. “I’m passing on great wisdom, and all you want to know about is Teplitz.”

Hoffner smiled with him. “Unfortunately, yes.”

Stankevich let go with a throaty, quiet laugh. “It’s nice to hear Russian again. Yours is quite good, but it’s the eyes that give you away. Too dark. That’s your past, Inspector. Germans don’t have such depth. And how can you trust that?” He waited, then continued. “A war in China, another in Japan, the Great War, and a boy of nineteen tells me that my country is no longer mine. And you want to hear about a little German engineer.” Stankevich shook his head slowly. “Seems a bit frivolous, don’t you think?” They moved through to the next hall. “My corporal had weak eyes. I remember that.”

An attendant was mopping up something in one of the corners. A boy, in stocking feet and short pants, stood staring at the swirling motion of the mop. Hoffner noticed that Stankevich was gazing over, as well. Stankevich showed no pity for the boy, only a stifled despair. This was what his life had come to, thought Hoffner, watching a boy fascinated by a mop.

“So you chose Berlin,” said Hoffner.

Stankevich stayed a moment longer with the boy, then fixed his gaze straight ahead as he walked. “So I became a burden on your city? Is that what you mean? Yes. They don’t employ old men here, Inspector.”

“They’re having trouble with the young ones as well, Colonel.”

“Little consolation.” A pot of something brown was boiling over on a nearby range. No one seemed to be taking any notice. Stankevich stepped over and removed the pot from the burner. “I came to Berlin seven months ago. There was a woman. A friend from before the war. She took me in. Brest-Litovsk. We were no longer enemies, after all.” The water in the pot settled. Someone had been boiling socks. “She died from the influenza a little over three months ago. Herr Mitleid was kind enough to house me without the usual paperwork. A generous man.” Stankevich peered down at the floating wool. “You know, of course, that Teplitz’s real name was Tben.” Hoffner said nothing. “Quite popular, as well. A colleague of yours was here asking for him.”

Hoffner showed no reaction. “Another policeman?”

Stankevich began to walk. “If you try to sound so uninterested, Inspector, it gives the game away.” Stankevich swung his arm as if he were remembering what it was to have a crop in his hand. “This other policeman, this man wasn’t like you.”

“The eyes not as deep?”

Stankevich allowed himself a smile. “That, too, but no. He wasn’t the kind to hunt down little Belgians who kill old women.”

Hoffner was impressed. “So you actually read those newspapers?”

“Nothing to do but read in here, Inspector.”

“The political police?”

Stankevich nodded.

“Herr Mitleid didn’t mention it,” said Hoffner.

Stankevich had anticipated the response. “This man didn’t waste his time with Herr Mitleid, Inspector. He simply appeared at my bed.”

“And you told him what you knew about Herr Tben?”

Again, Stankevich stopped and turned to Hoffner. “Now, why would I have done that?”

Stankevich liked his Russians, even his half-Russians. The man from the Polpo-Kommissar Hermannsohn, from the description-had merited no such consideration. Hoffner and his dark eyes, on the other hand, were another matter entirely.

According to Stankevich, Tben had left the shelter nearly a month ago, alone and with no explanation. His only request had been that Stankevich act as his conduit: Tben had thought it unsafe to address his letters directly to his wife, who had remained behind with the boys. Two letters had arrived prior to the twelfth, both postmarked from Zurich, which Frau Tben had read and then destroyed. Stankevich knew nothing of their contents. A third had come after the twelfth, but by then, the entire family had gone.

Back at his cubicle, Stankevich produced the letter. Hoffner read: MY DEAREST ONE,All sinks deeper into despair. Access to the account remains an impossibility if we are to keep our whereabouts a secret from our friends in Munich. I have no concern for my own well-being, but I fear that they would not be satisfied with my life alone. It seems that the monies promised for my designs were never intended as payment, but more as a lure should circumstances require my silencing. I will not play the mouse to their cheese. It is something of a miracle that we have managed to elude them for this long.You, of course, had the good sense from the start. These were not men to be trusted and, if not for my navet, you should not be in such distress now. I have failed in the most fundamental of my obligations-the security of my family-and have only my constant remorse and loneliness to show for my efforts.I will wait until the 23rd as agreed, and hope that by some good fortune you are able to accompany me. If not, then I hope you can forgive me for the destruction of our lives. Choose your friends wisely, and may they deliver you to me.IN CONSTANT ADORATION, P.

Hoffner asked Stankevich for the envelope. The postmark was also from Zurich, dated the fourth of February. Hoffner examined the envelope’s flap, then brought it up to his nose and sniffed. There was no residue of talc, nor were the edges crimped by steam: the letter had not been opened and then resealed. Whatever Hoffner might have thought of the Polpo-and whoever else those “friends” might be in Munich-he could at least rest easy that neither had been so thorough as to intercept the letter before it arrived at the shelter. Hermannsohn might have tracked down Stankevich, but he was not monitoring the Colonel’s mail.

Hoffner continued to scan the letter as he spoke: “How much money did you give her, Colonel?”

Stankevich pretended not to have heard. “Pardon?”

“Frau Tben,” Hoffner said, “or whatever her real name is. My guess would be something a bit more Russian. Where did you send them, Colonel?”

Stankevich did his best to sound convincing. “I don’t know what you mean, Inspector.”

Hoffner nodded to himself as he continued to look down at the letter. “We both know German isn’t his first language. ‘The destruction of our lives.’ ‘You are able to accompany me.’” He looked up. “He means ‘join me.’ The syntax and language are wrong throughout. It’s also much too formal. He gives himself away, as you knew he would when you let me read it. So now that I’ve passed your test, Colonel, where did you send them?”

Stankevich looked as if he might try another dodge; instead he simply smiled. “They made you out to be quite brilliant in the newspapers,” he said. “I thought it was all something of a joke.”

“It was.”

“No, I think, in spite of themselves, they managed to get that right.”

Hoffner spoke deliberately: “Where is Tben, Herr Colonel?”

Again, Stankevich waited. It was now a matter of trust. “Sazonov,” he said. “His name is Pavel Sazonov. The wife’s maiden name was Tben.”

Hoffner had guessed as much. “So sometimes it was the fathers who ran off and wanted nice German babies?”

“What do you want with them, Inspector?”

“The same as you. To help them.”

Stankevich was not yet convinced. “Your colleague said the same thing.”

“Yes,” said Hoffner more pointedly, “but you didn’t show him the letter, did you?” Hoffner held the single sheet out to Stankevich.

It was an obvious point. Still, Stankevich hesitated. “No,” he said. “I didn’t.” He peered down at the letter. Then, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, he said, “Better for you to keep it, don’t you think?”

Hoffner pocketed the letter.

Stankevich now spoke as if to a longtime confidant. “I don’t think he knew what he was doing, Sazonov. Not that he explained any of it to me. He did mention once that he had been clever, something about hiding in the last place they would look, but more than that he never said.”

Clever until his son had discovered Mary Koop’s body, thought Hoffner. “And his wife?”

“She knew less than I did. She simply wanted a roof over their heads. I don’t think she’d slept in weeks.”

“And he never mentioned his ‘friends’ in Munich?”

Stankevich shook his head. “The letter was the first I heard of them. Or of an account. Or a rendezvous. The man was terrified, Inspector. I did what I could. I had a few marks. It was enough to get him wherever he was going. Evidently that was Zurich. He said he would send more for his wife and the two boys, but the money never came. And then, last week, Frau Sazonov informed me that it was no longer safe for her to stay in Berlin. I don’t know why. I didn’t ask.” Stankevich paused. “I don’t care how long he had been in this country, Inspector, he was still a Russian. This was a good man.”

“And one, no doubt, with a past worth saving?” said Hoffner.

For the first time in minutes, a warmth returned to Stankevich’s eyes. “Yes.”

Hoffner nodded slowly. There was nothing else to be learned here. He stood and pulled his wallet from his jacket pocket.

The Colonel’s reaction was instantaneous. His hand shot up. “Really, Inspector, there’s no need-”

“My card, Colonel,” said Hoffner. He had no intention of embarrassing the man. “Nothing else.” Hoffner held it out. “Over the years, my wife has learned to make a very nice walnut dumpling-Kiev style, I’m sorry to say-but close enough. An expert’s opinion would please her to no end.”

Stankevich cleared his throat; he was not particularly fond of his emotions. He took the card.

The stink of ammonia was still with Hoffner as he drew up to the Cafe Dalles’s front doors: two steps down, and a bit of sawdust to keep the ice at bay.

It was always tough going, getting the weight of a place like Frbelstrasse out of one’s system. Hopelessness, whether informed by a past or a future, was all the more stark when projected against a backdrop of cold white tile and yellow light, more acute when seen through the faded red of an officer’s cap: Hoffner doubted the Colonel would be joining them for dumplings in Kreuzberg any time soon. At least the desperation inside the cafe had a nice jaunty feel to it, small tables and dim lights, with a prostitute or two catching up with her pimp. These were always pleasant reunions, money handed over, a few drinks into her system as she sat like a queen atop his lap. New stockings invariably demanded attention.

The band-a violin and piano-plunked out something that blended easily into the haphazard spray of conversation, nothing to take focus, though the air would have grown stale without it. Hoffner began to navigate his way across to the far corner and what had become his usual table. Like a distant shore under mist, it was obscured by clouds of smoke. He checked his watch and saw that it was a quarter to ten. The place was just revving up as he passed by a waiter and told the man to bring over a bottle of Mampe’s, no doubt the watered-down stock, but why should tonight be any different, he thought.

Hoffner loosened his tie, settled in, and pulled a cigarette from his pack. He knew he could have sat like this for hours, a full glass, watching the little dramas play themselves out at the nearby tables: parry, thrust, parry, thrust, and always at a safe distance.

He was taking in one such performance-the muffled pleadings of a heavyset girl to her indifferent lover-when the bottle arrived. Still intent on the scene, Hoffner pulled a few coins from his pocket.

“Very kind, Herr Inspector.”

Hoffner looked up to see Leo Jogiches pouring out the second of two glasses. For an instant, Hoffner thought he recognized Jogiches, not from Rosa’s photographs, but from somewhere else, something more immediate. The sensation passed, and Hoffner returned the coins to his pocket.

Jogiches was no longer a handsome man. His beard, a silky brown in the photos, had grown gray and knotted, as if a cat had been grooming him. Worse was the hairline that rose just too high on one side and made everything seem to droop to the left. His skin sagged as well, especially under the eyes, where sleeplessness and beatings collided in an array of dark blotches and fading bruises. Only the eyes themselves recalled the past: they showed that same deep calculation and fierceness that Rosa had known. This was a man who had lived his life on the run, and the uncertainty of his world-the inherent danger in his very presence-was like an intoxicant to him. Ancient photographs aside, Jogiches was exactly what Hoffner had expected.

“But again, my treat,” said Jogiches. He capped the bottle and took a seat. “To your health, Inspector.” He tossed back the brandy and settled in.

Any sense of validation Hoffner might have felt at seeing the man-the theoretical K, now flesh and blood-quickly fell away. Jogiches’s presence confirmed far more than just good detective work.

Hoffner held up his pack. “Cigarette?” Jogiches took one and Hoffner continued: “I didn’t see you when I came in.”

“You weren’t meant to,” said Jogiches. He lit up and explained, “Two nights. By the bar. To make sure you were as determined as you seemed.”

“And tonight you got your answer?

Jogiches took a deep pull. “We’ll see, won’t we?” The smoke trailed slowly from his mouth as he gazed out into the crowd: “The man there is a thief,” he said with certainty. “The woman there doesn’t want us to know she’s a whore, but she’s a whore just the same. And the couple there”-the indifferent lovers Hoffner had been tracking-“that boy will kill someday. Look at how he crushes his cigarette into the pile of ash, over and over. There’s no satisfaction in it. The wonderful tension in his hand. He wants to crack the girl across the face, but he keeps digging the little butt into the ashtray.” Jogiches’s gaze seemed to intensify. “One day he’ll have the courage.” He watched a moment longer, and then turned to Hoffner. “And then, Herr Inspector, you’ll have to hunt him down.”

“Quick to judge, aren’t you?”

Jogiches’s smile was unlike any Hoffner had ever seen: the mouth conveyed the requisite joy, but the eyes remained cold. It was as if even his face was keeping secrets from itself. “No judge, Herr Inspector, just the accuser. I’ll leave the judging to someone else.”

Hoffner flicked a bit of ash onto the floor. “I enjoyed your article.”

Jogiches poured out a second glass for himself. “Not nearly the entire story, but then someone had to prod your case into life again.”

“And what is my case?”

“Rosa.” He spoke the name as if it were part of some incantation, hushed and filled with meaning. Then, too casually, he added, “You’ve heard, of course, that tomorrow’s Lokalanzeiger will say she’s in Russia, plotting with Herr Lenin to overthrow the Ebert government.” Jogiches was too busy reordering the ashtray, table lamp, and salt shaker to allow a response. “‘Where’s the body, Berlin?’ they’ll ask. ‘Rosa dead? Nonsense. Watch yourselves. For she’ll sweep in and rip your hearts out when she brings her revolution back again.’” No less intent on his task, he added, “But then, we both know she’s dead, lying on a slab on the fourth floor of the Alexanderplatz. Still, it’ll make for a good bit of press.”

Hoffner had his glass to his lips when Jogiches let go with this little tidbit; Hoffner wondered how many other items Jogiches might be holding in reserve. He tossed back the brandy and set his glass on the table. “No reason for me to play coy, is there?” said Hoffner.

“No.”

“You have someone inside the Alex.”

“Yes.” Jogiches seemed satisfied with his redecorations: order had been achieved. He sat back.

Hoffner said, “So who’s been working for you?”

For the first time, Hoffner was aware that Jogiches was studying him. He wondered which crime Jogiches might be imagining for his own future. Hoffner was about to ask when Jogiches’s eyes suddenly seemed to lose themselves, as if they were looking directly through him.

“You know,” Jogiches said vacantly, “she was much cleverer than all of us.” It was as if he were admitting to some long-held secret. His gaze remained distant.

Hoffner had spent enough time with Rosa now to come to her defense. “Shame you never told her,” he said.

“Yes,” said Jogiches. His gaze refocused and he looked directly into Hoffner’s eyes. “I suppose it was.”

Guilt, thought Hoffner, had an uncanny way of exposing itself. Jogiches, however, had spent too many years denying his own faults to allow any instinct for atonement to take hold for more than a few seconds.

Jogiches said, “You’ve never read any of her work, have you? Her real work, I mean.” Hoffner shook his head. “I didn’t think so. No, no, I don’t mean it that way. I’m sure you could have understood it. She was quite superb in that way. Theories only the geniuses could master, and she made them simple. Marx’s Capital-a morass, completely impenetrable, and then Rosa writes her Accumulation and suddenly Marxist economics has a place in the twentieth century. She even improved on the old man, with a little help, of course.”

“Of course,” said Hoffner.

Jogiches liked the challenge. “You think she could have done it without me?”

Hoffner had neither the inclination nor the ammunition to take on Jogiches. “That story about the gun,” he said. “Did she really pull it on you?”

Jogiches seemed surprised by the question. His answer came with a bit more bite. “She wrote about that?”

“In great detail,” said Hoffner. “I would have thought that you’d have been the first to read through the journals, cover to cover.”

“Evidently you have.”

“But not you?”

Jogiches tapped out his cigarette. “And slog through an endless tirade of revisionist history, Inspector? I’ll take a pass.”

Hoffner heard the self-rationalization in his tone. “So she never pulled the gun?”

“Of course she pulled it. Why not? She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t permit her to continue seeing that idiot Zetkin.”

Hoffner could feel Jogiches rising to the bait. “You wouldn’t permit her?” he said.

“Something like that.” Jogiches took a last pull, then crushed out his cigarette; he continued to play with the stub. “She thought she could make him into a novelist or a painter, or something equally ludicrous. You’ve read through it. I forget which. Waste of time.” He let go of the stub and brushed off his hands. “She couldn’t accept the man for what he was, and when she tried to make me into something that was her fantasy-” Jogiches caught himself. It was only a momentary hitch, but it was enough to sour his tone. “Zetkin. When she insisted Zetkin could be all of her marvelous romantic ideals-it was pathetic. A woman her age. I told her so. She became very dramatic. Rosa loved the drama. And so out came the little revolver.” He shrugged it off with too much indifference. “She said she never wanted to see me again, which made it even more ridiculous.”

Even now, Jogiches had no idea what the drama had been masking. Hoffner poured himself a second glass and said, “The journals said you promised to kill her if she stayed with Zetkin.”

Jogiches tried an unsuccessful laugh. “That again. The woman was obsessed.”

“She seemed to think it was the other way round.”

“Did she?” Jogiches was now fully engaged. “I’ll tell you something about obsession, Inspector. A nine-year sentence in Mokotw-and we both know what goes on inside those walls-and she thinks I’m having an affair with some woman halfway across the country? I don’t see daylight for five months, and I’m the one carrying on. Guilt is a remarkable thing, don’t you think? She should have shot me when she had the chance. Would have served her right.”

Crushing out his cigarette, Hoffner said blandly, “So who’s in Munich?”

For just an instant, Jogiches winced. It was hardly a movement, the recovery as immediate, but it was enough to tell Hoffner that he had hit a nerve. In that moment, Jogiches knew that he had been outmaneuvered. His eyes grew cold. Hoffner said nothing.

“I see,” said Jogiches icily. “You let me ramble on like a fool, and I give you Munich. Well done, Inspector.”

Hoffner had known to hook Jogiches by his pride-Rosa had told him as much in the journals-but he had never expected this level of self-reproach. “I’m not sure I’d have used the word ‘fool,’ mein Herr,” said Hoffner, “but I think we’re at the point where you can volunteer a little something.”

Jogiches answered cagily, “Am I so easily manipulated?”

“I don’t imagine anything of the kind.”

Jogiches was still cold: “And you think I’m eventually going to trust you, don’t you, Inspector?”

Hoffner pulled a second cigarette from his pack. “I wouldn’t want to set a precedent, mein Herr.

“No,” said Jogiches, eyeing him more closely. “That would be dangerous, wouldn’t it?”

A clarinet had joined the band. There was hardly space between the tables, yet someone had decided that that meant dancing. Luckily, all the bouncing was keeping itself to the other side of the room.

Jogiches said, “It’s when the smoke clears that the trouble begins, Inspector.” He was on his fourth glass of brandy, though as sober as when he had first sat down. “Berlin wants to dictate to the rest of Germany, but the rest of Germany isn’t all that keen to listen. Communists in Bremen, Social Democrats in Hamburg, royalists in Stuttgart, God knows what else in Berlin, and on and on and on. The revolution isn’t over. It’s simply waiting to see who has the will to see it through.”

“And Munich?” said Hoffner.

Jogiches spoke with absolute certainty. “Munich will make all the difference, even if Berlin doesn’t know that, just yet.”

“But you do.”

Jogiches had a habit of staring at the ember of his cigarette as he held it by his glass. “Did you ever ask yourself why they’re keeping Rosa’s body on a slab of ice in Alexanderplatz?”

“Every day.”

“Yes, but you’ve been asking for the wrong reasons.” He looked across at Hoffner. “You think it’s something to do with your little Belgian.”

“No, I think it extends far beyond that, but I have nothing to tell me why. Isn’t that the reason we’re having this little chat?”

Jogiches conceded the point. He took a pull on the cigarette. “There’s the obvious answer.”

“Which is?”

“She makes your murder case political.”

Hoffner disagreed. “That’s not enough. She’ll be forgotten the moment these idiots they’re rounding up get a slap on the wrist. You don’t actually think anyone’s going to pay for her death?”

Hoffner was expecting a bit of fire in the answer, but Jogiches was no longer biting. “That would be something, wouldn’t it?” said Jogiches, his eyes drifting for a moment. “Justice for a socialist.” He again stared across at Hoffner. “They’re keeping her so as to use her. This is about taking the reins, Inspector, and the when and the how are what matter. The why is far too obvious.”

It made Hoffner uneasy to see how much pleasure Jogiches took in the prospect of something so far-reaching. Men like him saw conspiracies and revolutions at every turn, but the more Hoffner sifted through the pieces he himself had brought together, the less implausible those possibilities seemed. “Munich,” he said, still unsure why.

Jogiches smiled elusively. “Precisely.”

There was nothing remotely satisfying in the answer. Whatever Jogiches thought he had been making clear was as impenetrable as that insufferable smile. “You know I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Hoffner.

“I imagine you have more than you realize, Inspector.”

Impatience was seeping into Hoffner’s tone: “Then tell me what makes Munich so important.”

For the first time, Jogiches hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said with frustration. “In the same way I don’t know why a Prussian business interest, or a discontinued military ointment, or a substitute madman who was willing to kill himself so as to protect your little Belgian, are involved. But I do know they all revolve around Rosa. The when and the how, Inspector. That’s what you need to find out.”

Hoffner was impressed; Jogiches had mentioned virtually everything except, of course, the design of the Rosenthaler station, but then how could he have known about that? Hoffner was the only one to have put it together. It made the link to Munich even more startling: Stankevich’s letter had come from the engineer; the engineer was the only link to the station. Now Jogiches was mentioning Munich without any knowledge of the engineer.

Hoffner measured out two more glasses. “You seem to be doing fine on your own.”

“That has its limitations,” said Jogiches. “A revolutionary crying foul doesn’t exactly provoke a response, especially when the powers that be already consider him dead.”

“Your article.”

“The final nail, as they say. And dead men don’t have much luck catching trains out of Berlin.”

Jogiches was right. There was nowhere he could turn: the Social Democrats would do nothing to protect him; the right-wing troops would stop at nothing to eliminate him; and the police. . well, not really their jurisdiction. His only option had been the truth, and that was something Jogiches had never managed terribly well on his own. “Your source is very thorough,” said Hoffner.

“He has to be. There’s a great deal at stake now.”

And there it was, thought Hoffner. The catchphrase. There was always “a great deal at stake” for men like Jogiches: grand causes tended to subordinate every motivation to a singular truth. Only action mattered, which, as Hoffner now thought about it, made Jogiches’s approach not all that different from his own. The one distinction was in how each of them saw the confluence of events. For Jogiches, the details came together like pieces in a boundless jigsaw whose cover had gone missing, so that the final picture, though dimly imagined, remained forever a mystery: completion was always just another few days off, which made the eternal search all the more compelling. For Hoffner, the pieces produced a finite picture, smaller, of course, and without a sense of the greater totality, but no less coherent: the final product might have been only a tiny segment of the larger puzzle, but it brought resolution, and that, in the end, was all that mattered. There was either truth and causes and sacrifice, or there was practicality and cases and death. Hoffner had never questioned which took precedence.

He said, “So I have an ally inside the Alex?”

From his expression, Jogiches had never thought of it that way. Truth to tell-until this moment-neither had Hoffner. “I suppose you do,” said Jogiches.

Hoffner waited as a lifetime of mistrust stared back at him. Luckily, the dead are quick to realize that they have nothing to lose.

“Groener,” Jogiches finally said. “Detective Sergeant Ludwig Groener.”

Jogiches enjoyed the moment immensely. “Oh, don’t look so surprised, Inspector. Why do you think he never won promotion? Bit of an embarrassment to his uncle the General, I suspect, but then maybe that’s the reason he became one of us in the first place. I never asked. Groener’s far more than you ever imagined.”

In fact, Hoffner had never even conceived of it, not that he had heard much beyond the name. It had come at him like a wave of gibberish, a word in a child’s game with syllables and cadence but no meaning. Groener? The name was, at this moment, completely incomprehensible.

It was the perfect lead-in to the garbled singing that suddenly erupted from one of the tables by the front door. A drunk had taken to his feet and was already at full throttle:

“When lovely eyes begin to wink, when full glasses gleam and clink, there comes once more the call to drink, to drink, to drink, to drink!”

Everyone at the table laughed. It was loud enough to draw half the caf’s attention, Hoffner with them. When he turned back, Jogiches was on his feet. “We’ll do this again, Inspector,” he said as he reached for his hat. “There’s another door through the kitchen. They won’t have anyone there.”

“You still haven’t told me how you know about Munich.”

Jogiches placed his hat on his head. “And you, Herr Inspector, have to leave me some secrets.” Jogiches grabbed his umbrella and, without another word, headed for the back of the cafe.

It was only then that Hoffner remembered where he had seen Jogiches before. Rcker’s bar, the day they had found Mary Koop, the professor with the umbrella. It was a startling image. Hoffner wondered: Had Jogiches been watching him even then?

The front doors opened and a Polpo detective appeared; the man was too obvious to be anything else. Hoffner watched as the singing drunk suddenly maneuvered himself out into the aisle and clumsily blocked the detective’s path. Jogiches had picked his lookout well: the man showed a tremendous dedication to his task.

Taking advantage of the commotion, Hoffner stood and quietly made his way back toward the kitchen.

Martha was asleep by the time he stumbled in. As always, she had left a light on for him.

Hoffner was still mulling over his first encounter with Jogiches as he tossed his clothes in a pile and turned out the light: had Munich been a consideration back in January? Had Jogiches stayed in the shadows and allowed three more women to be killed rather than expose what he knew? Had Groener done worse? Hoffner quietly slipped into bed. His head was still thick from the brandy as he lay back, closed his eyes, and tried to piece it all together.

“Late night.” Martha’s voice filled the darkness.

It had been a long time since she had waited up for him. “You’re awake, then,” he said. He listened for movement; when none came, he added, “Not that late. Go back to sleep.”

There was the hope that she would give in, but they both knew better. She spoke quietly and without any hint of judgment. “Nothing you want to tell me, is there, Nicki?” She kept her back to him.

It always came here, he thought, with no distractions, nothing to run to for a moment of relief: a newspaper lying about, a package recently delivered, a boy passing by the door. Only darkness and conversation and the unbearable weight of the two.

“Tell you what?”

“That’s up to you, isn’t it?”

She had always had the good sense to wait until things had sputtered out before posing the question. It was safe by then, each of them aware of what he had done and how he had chosen not to let it drag on. There was a kind of victory in that for them both. Now, however, it was four years on since his last slip, and her timing had gone off.

“The Wouters case,” he said. “Loose ends.” He did his best to wrap it in the truth, which, of course, only made it more cruel: anything other than his confession signaled her miscalculation.

“Oh,” she said vaguely. She was trying not to sound betrayed.

“Yes. I might have to take a few days in Munich.”

“Munich?” she repeated with false blandness.

The stupidity of what he had just said struck him at once. A few days in Munich? Could anything have been more obvious? The truth had snuck in and was now lashing away. He said, “Two days, at the most. I’m not even sure how the trains are running.” He would have given anything for an outburst of anger or despair or loathing, but Martha always let her strength work its magic.

She said, “Sascha’s friend is coming up at the weekend.” Hoffner had no idea what she was talking about. “Kroll’s niece. The girl from Frankfurt. It’s all planned. So I’m sure the trains are running fine.”

Hoffner wondered if, perhaps, they had moved past the worst of it. Unpleasantness loomed somewhere, but he chose to ignore it. “Geli,” he said: the name came to him like an unexpected gift. Sascha had met the girl on his last summer holiday: she was bright and pretty and thirteen and equally taken with the boy. Hoffner recalled something being said around the table last week. It was all very hazy.

“He’s in such a nice mood about it,” said Martha. She rolled toward him. “And you’ve been very good, Nicki. A boy needs that sort of thing.”

The air was clearing. They were well beyond it now. “He’s a good boy,” said Hoffner. Not that he knew his son well enough to say it, but he knew Martha needed to hear it.

“I saw the Mrike,” she said. It took Hoffner a moment to follow. “I found it in your jacket. You haven’t read him in years.”

Again, he needed a moment. “No. I-just came across it.”

“You were always so fond of him.”

“Yes.”

She continued to stare up at him. “You don’t love her, do you?”

And there it was, the banality of the question so much more painful than its answer. It might have been comical had Martha known the book’s source, but then again, he had chosen to keep it. Perhaps the question wasn’t as absurd as he thought. “No,” he said with quiet certainty. “I don’t.” Hoffner waited, wondering if she might drag them back into it; instead, she rolled away and onto her side.

She said, “I saw the gloves. They’re lovely. Thank you, Nicki.”

He had left them for her this morning with a little note on her pillow. “With warm affection,” or some such thing. It would have been too much on poor Herr Taubmann to return them now.

Does everyone have a partner!”

Tamako-he might have been Japanese, but it was anybody’s guess-called out from high above on his catwalk to the throng of dancers below. As always, he was immaculately togged in silk tuxedo and vest, and stood shouting into his now-infamous white megaphone, which he had named “Trubo.” Tonight, Tamako was keeping his dyed ginger-blond hair greased back to show his inordinately high forehead, which, for some reason, was powdered in white.

“You!” he said, leaning over the railing and pointing an accusatory finger at no one in particular. “Higher knees! Herr Trrrrrubo wants higher knees!”

A woman at the edge of the floor began to lift her legs with greater abandon. Her dress flew up and she laughed as the men around her helped to hike it up farther each time she kicked.

“I see knickers!” shouted Tamako. “Black and gold knickers! Oh, those lovely knickers! Three cheers for the lady in blue!”

The dance floor erupted, and the orchestra took it as its cue to raise the decibel level. Everything grew more feverish, while Fichte, seated at the bar with a vodka and orange, watched in delight.

He enjoyed the view from the bar. More than that, he enjoyed how he could be viewed from the bar. Hardly a quarter-hour passed without a handshake or a drink for the young detective. The girls had grown less attractive over the weeks-after all, who could keep a Haller Girl interested for more than a few days? — but some of the middling ones were still coming by. Tonight a buxom counter girl from one of the stores along the Kurfrstendamm was on his arm: she had a flat of her own; she had made that very clear early on in the evening. She was drinking champagne, but Fichte was figuring it would be worth the extras.

She pulled away from him and showed a bit of thigh as she flapped her skirt. “I want to dance, Hans. Let’s dance.”

Fichte imagined the treats in store for him. He placed his drink on the bar and followed her out as a photographer flashed a shot. It was a slow night. Who knew? Fichte might even make it back into the morning papers.

The girl was all thrusts and kicks, and she liked it when Fichte kept his hand clamped around her buttocks. He bent closer in and placed his cheek on hers, and little beads of sweat started where their skin touched. She smelled of talc and matted hair as Fichte reached up and stole a squeeze of her breast. She slapped at him playfully, and the cloth clung momentarily to his palm as he pulled it away.

Back at the bar he bought her another champagne. He was handing it over when a familiar voice from behind broke through the crowd.

“Something of a madhouse tonight, isn’t it?” said the voice.

Fichte turned to see Polpo Oberkommissar Gustav Braun reaching out for two glasses of his own. Fichte took a moment to process the image. Smiling, and with his hair mussed at the front, Braun looked almost human.

Fichte’s girl was growing impatient. “Hans-my drink?”

Fichte recovered and handed her the champagne. Braun, however, remained no less perplexing. With a false camaraderie, Fichte said, “Herr Oberkommissar. What a surprise.”

Braun was handing one of the drinks to a lady friend of his own. “We’re not at the Alex now. It’s Gustav, please. Allow me to present Frulein Tilde Raubal. Frulein Raubal, Herr Fichte. This is the young detective I’ve been telling you so much about.” The woman extended her hand.

Fichte took it and brought it to his lips. “A pleasure,” he said. “This is-” He had forgotten the girl’s name. There were several moments of uncomfortable silence before the girl said with an unflattering tartness, “Frulein Dimp. Vicki Dimp.” She extended her hand, though not with quite the same grace as her counterpart.

Suffering through the girl’s sweaty little hand, Braun said, “You must come and join us. Wouldn’t want to drag you away from the cameras, but we do have a table away from the noise, unless you prefer the bar.”

Fichte answered instantly. “Wonderful.” He motioned for Braun to lead the way. Frulein Dimp, though less than enthusiastic, followed Frulein Raubal into the crowd.

The air was slightly less steamy away from the bar, which made squeezing into the half-moon booth more pleasant than it might have been. Even so, the women were forced to sit shoulder to shoulder, while Fichte kept most of his heft teetering on the edge of the banquette: he placed a hand on the side of the table for balance. He smiled awkwardly at Frau Raubal, who seemed expertly bored.

“He might be a she,” said Braun, gazing up at the catwalk and a strutting Tamako. “There are rumors.” Fichte peered up with him. “Then again,” said Braun, “he might just be a diseased homosexual.”

Fichte found Braun’s chumminess thrilling. If only for a few moments, he was being invited into the inner circle. Fichte had guessed at Tamako’s darker secrets. Now here was a man who could more than merely speculate. Fichte said eagerly, “If only Herr Trubo could speak.”

Braun was momentarily confused by the response-seeing that Herr Trubo was, in fact, a megaphone whose sole purpose was to speak-but he nodded anyway and raised his glass. “To the times ahead,” he said.

The four toasted, and Fichte turned to his girl. “Herr Braun”-he corrected himself-“Gustav is very high up with the Polpo. They handle the more complex cases at the Alex.”

Frulein Dimp needed no coaching “I know what the Polpo does, Hans. I read the papers, too.”

Braun said genially, “We don’t spend a lot of time in the papers, Frulein.” He was becoming more human by the minute. “We leave that to heroes like Hans, here.”

Fichte would have blushed, but his face was too busy sweating.

“What we do,” continued Braun, “is always less interesting to the public.”

Fichte perked up. “Not true at all. You manage what’s most interesting to them without their even knowing it. The Polpo keeps a different kind of peace.”

Braun said, “You’ve been talking with Walther Hermannsohn, from the sound of it. Good man, Hermannsohn. Knows his business.”

Fichte had in fact spent more than a little time chatting with the young Kommissar over the last few weeks: a few chance meetings at a lunch spot around the corner from the Alex. Hermannsohn was, as Braun said, quite a good fellow. Fichte said, “Yes, not what one expects, really.”

Braun gave him no time to backtrack: “And what did you expect?”

Fichte was suddenly on the spot. “Well, you know,” he said, trying to buy some time. “What people imagine goes on inside the Polpo.”

Uninformed people,” said Braun.

“Yes. Exactly,” said Fichte, trying not to show his relief. “The common misconceptions.”

Braun raised his glass and with a knowing look-one that only confused Fichte-downed his whiskey in one swallow. He then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Why don’t you two girls have a spin at the roulette wheel? Give Herr Fichte-”

“Hans,” corrected Fichte enthusiastically.

“-Hans and me a chance to talk.” Braun pulled a five-mark bill from his wallet.

Frulein Raubal looked relieved, as if she had been waiting for the suggestion all along; Frulein Dimp simply marveled at the amount of money.

Braun was on his feet. The women slid over, and Frau Raubal placed a nice kiss on Braun’s cheek as she took the bill.

“You talk as long as you want,” said Frulein Dimp as she reached across the table for her drink. She made sure to give Fichte a nice view of her cleavage. “We’ll be just fine, Hans, darling. Don’t you worry about us.”

And like that, the girls were gone. Braun settled back into his seat and managed to wave down a passing waiter. He ordered two whiskeys. He said, “Nice-looking girl, Hans. Very enthusiastic.”

Fichte tried his best to keep up. “I certainly hope so.” He laughed a bit too loudly, but Braun let it pass.

“I imagine you’ve been on quite a tear since the Wouters case broke.”

“I can’t complain.”

Braun offered him a cigarette. “You enjoy that kind of work, do you? Murders and the like.” The two men lit up.

“I don’t know if I’d say ‘enjoy,’ but it is interesting.”

“Of course. Interesting in a limited sort of way.” He saw Fichte’s confusion. “I only mean that the cases have fixed parameters.” This didn’t seem to help. Braun spoke more slowly. “You catch the killer and the case is closed. That sort of thing. They don’t really lead anywhere else.”

“Oh, I see what you mean. Well. . yes and no. There are some cases that lead elsewhere.”

“And you like those?”

Fichte tried to find the right words. “Well, I haven’t had the chance yet to work on one that’s led beyond the. . you know, beyond the case. But I’ve certainly read about the ones that have.”

Braun nodded amiably. “Of course.” He took a drag. “Pretty much all we do in the Polpo. Nothing ever seems to find an end up on the fourth floor. Always leading from one thing to the next to the next.” He picked at a piece of stray tobacco on his tongue. He examined it as he said, “From what I’ve seen, you look like you might have a talent for that sort of thing.” He flicked the tobacco away and looked across at Fichte warmly. “We were all very impressed with your work on the Wouters case.”

Fichte tried an awkward pull on his cigarette and began to nod his head quickly. “No. Of course. That’s the sort of thing I do best.”

“Have you ever considered the Polpo?”

The suggestion caught Fichte completely by surprise. “Considered the Polpo?”

Braun was still unnervingly relaxed. “It’s just something I wonder about when I see work of that caliber, that’s all. A bit of healthy competition, you understand. Wanting the best that the Kripo has to offer.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t listen to me, Hans. I’m just a jealous detective who’d like to filch from the boys on the third floor. You’ll be getting quite a bit of that in your career, I imagine.” The waiter arrived. Braun said, “Shall I order two more while we have him here?”

Fichte fumbled with a nod.

Braun waited until they were alone before continuing: “I’ve made you uncomfortable. Forgive me. You’re a Kripo man, through and through.” He raised his glass. “To fine work on whichever floor it happens to be coming from.” The two men drank.

Fichte sat with his glass in hand. He was feeling a bit light-headed, although he was doing his best to keep himself under control. Not that he had ever thought of the Polpo. They were safe in deep water, shoals closer in, or something like that: he could never remember the exact words Hoffner had used. But that seemed so far from the truth, given tonight, more so given his recent encounters with Hermannsohn. Still, Fichte knew to be wary. “I need a bit more under my belt before I start thinking about any of that.” He took a sip.

Braun nodded. “That’s your Kommissar Hoffner speaking now.” Braun corrected himself. “Your Oberkommissar. Pardon me. How can we forget the great promotion ceremony at the Royal Palace? Quite a show they put on.”

The word “show” pricked at Fichte. It reminded him who was sitting across the table. “Yes,” he said. “The Kripo spares no expense.”

Braun seemed surprised by the answer. He smiled. “I’ve offended you again. My apologies.” He took a slow pull on his cigarette. “I’d like to say it’s the whiskey, but we both know it’s that jealousy rearing its ugly head. Ignore it, Hans. I do.”

This time Braun’s mea culpa seemed more contrived. Fichte returned a bland smile and took another sip.

Braun said, “You’re quite devoted to your Herr Hoffner, aren’t you?”

The tone of the conversation had shifted, and Fichte was strangely aware of it. He knew that Braun was hinting at something. Even so, Fichte took his time. He placed his glass on the table and said, “He was my Kriminal-Kommissar, and he remains my partner. I’ve learned a great deal working with him.” He looked across at Braun. “He also happens to be a brilliant detective.”

“Your loyalty is admirable.”

“Thank you.”

“If a bit nave.”

This time the word more than pricked. Fichte was not terribly good at hiding his resentment, especially with a few drinks in him. “I’m not sure what you mean by that, Herr Oberkommissar.

Braun was more direct. “We don’t like letting the good ones get away, Hans. And we’re very persistent.”

Fichte waited. “Why nave?”

“Herr Hoffner is an excellent detective. No question about that.”

“And yet you don’t let the good ones get away.”

“We don’t. But you have to understand that it’s more than just detective work up on the fourth floor. It’s a man’s character, his past. Herr Hoffner. . well, he comes up a bit short on both counts.”

Fichte was amazed at Braun’s candor. “We’re talking about my partner, Herr Braun.”

“Yes,” said Braun unapologetically. “I know.”

Fichte felt suddenly ashamed for having let it get this far. There was something decidedly petty in Braun’s style. Fichte reached for his glass and downed the whiskey. It was a mistake. He instantly felt the effects. “It’s been a pleasure, Herr Braun. Thank you for the drinks.” He started to get up.

Braun said calmly, “He’s fucking your girl, Hans. Not much character in that.”

Fichte stared across the table. He was certain he had misheard. “Excuse me?”

“Your girl,” said Braun no less directly. “Lina. Herr Hoffner’s been screwing her ever since your little trip to Belgium, or didn’t you know that? There’s your Kripo, Hans. There’s your loyalty.”

Fichte felt his legs begin to slip out from under him; luckily, he was still only a few centimeters above the banquette. It did nothing to help the sudden throbbing in the back of his head. Fichte wanted to answer, make a joke, but he was swimming in booze, drowning under the image of Hoffner with Lina. He felt his neck constrict, his lungs tighten, and he began to gasp for breath. He thought Braun was saying something, reaching out a hand, but he could hardly see him. Fichte fumbled in his pocket for his inhaler. He took in a long, deep suck and his lungs began to open; he could breathe again. He felt himself standing. Not sure what was coming out, he said, “Thank you for the drinks, Herr Oberkommissar.” He tried to regain his focus. “You’ll excuse me.”

Without waiting for a response, Fichte made his way for the front doors. His head was clearing, but his face felt as if it were on fire. He needed cold air, anything to be away from this noise and the crush of bodies. He began to push his way through the crowd, when he saw little Elise, Lina’s roommate, standing alone inside the coat-check room. The sight of her was like another crack to his skull. Fichte barreled his way over.

Her expression soured the instant she saw him. “Ticket, sir,” she said sharply,

Fichte steadied himself on the counter. “Is she fucking someone?” he said loudly.

Elise looked past him, afraid that someone might have heard. “Keep your voice down, Hans.”

Fichte was no less insistent in a whisper. “Is she fucking my partner?”

It was clear that Elise had been waiting weeks to hear the question. She now took her time in answering. “What do you care?” she said in a hushed, nasty tone. “You’ve been screwing everything that walks through that door in the last month. Serves you right.”

Fichte held himself rigidly at the counter. He wanted to reach over and slap her to the ground. With a sudden jab, he thrust his hand into his pocket. He saw her flinch, and he laughed sloppily. He then pulled out his ticket and tossed it on the counter. His words were growing more slurred. “My coat, you fucking bitch.”

Elise had shown all the fight she had. She backed away slowly and turned to the rack. She laid the coat on the counter and again stepped away.

Fichte teetered momentarily. He tasted a dry sourness in his throat. “Bitch,” he said. He then grabbed his coat and headed for the doors.

AS BRITTLE AS PAPER

Sometimes you need a bit of good fortune, and today it was Hoffner’s turn.

A cable had arrived in the morning from Belgium: van Acker had come up with a name for the substitute Wouters. He was a Konrad Urlicher, a German from Bonn. Strangely enough, it was Urlicher’s anatomy that had been the key to his identity. During the autopsy of the body, the doctors had discovered that Urlicher had suffered from a rare bone disease. This discovery might have meant nothing had there not also been indications that Urlicher had been treated for the disease using somewhat innovative if experimental techniques: something to do with marrow extracts. The upshot was that only a handful of clinics in Europe had been using the new techniques. Photographs of the man had been sent out to each of them. Within a week, Urlicher’s name had come back.

What was more startling was that Urlicher had not been insane. He had simply been dying. Who better, then, thought Hoffner, to take the place of a madman? Van Acker had sent along as much information as he could on Urlicher-and his stay at Bonn’s Fritsch Clinic-including background, family, and recent past. He had also included the names of those who had visited Urlicher while he had been hospitalized, and it was there that Hoffner had turned up gold.

Two names appeared on both the Sint-Walburga and clinic sheets: a Joachim Manstein and an Erich Oster. Both men had visited Urlicher one week before his disappearance from the Bonn clinic in October of 1918, and again two days before he had killed himself at Sint-Walburga in January of 1919. Hoffner had also discovered that Manstein had made a solo trip to the asylum in June of 1918, some six months before the suicide, and it was the tracking of that first visit that had brought the picture into focus.

Whatever these men had had in mind, their plan had been initiated as of June 1918. It was at that time, according to the doctors at Sint-Walburga, that the real Wouters had begun to let himself go: no bathing, no cutting of the hair. It was clear now that the purpose of Manstein’s first visit in June had been to prepare Wouters for the switch to come in October. By then Wouters would be unrecognizable, allowing for a reasonable facsimile-long hair, etc.-to take his place. The visit to the Bonn clinic in October had been to alert Urlicher that the switch was coming. And the last visit to Sint-Walburga in January had been to give Urlicher his final orders. That he had wrapped a rope around his neck was proof enough that Urlicher had been willing to follow them to the letter.

The precision of the operation-and it was an operation, in Hoffner’s mind-led him to conclude that the military connection extended beyond the Ascomycete 4. That Manstein and Oster had been able to cross into Belgium on two separate occasions during the war-one to prepare Wouters, the other to make the switch-could have been possible only with military credentials. A single man without papers might have been able to slip across the border. Three men-one of them looking like a raving lunatic-would not.

With the names in hand, Hoffner now knew where to start digging: the Office of the General Staff.

Fichte, of course, had yet to appear this morning. These late arrivals were becoming irritatingly commonplace. Hoffner was about to write him a note when there was a knock at the door. He looked up to see Polpo Direktor Gerhard Weigland standing in the hall.

“Busy, Nikolai?” Hoffner’s mistrust must have registered on his face. “Just to talk,” said Weigland. “If you have a minute?”

Hoffner placed the pages in a drawer and motioned Weigland to take a seat. “Of course, Herr Direktor.

Weigland glanced around the office and then sat. “As organized as ever.” Hoffner remained silent. “A chief inspector should have a bigger place, don’t you think?”

“This suits me fine, Herr Direktor.

“Yes,” said Weigland. “I imagine it does.” He shifted tone. “Nice bit of press for you and young Fichte. Quite the heroes, these days.”

“The press believes what it wants to believe, Herr Direktor.

“Does it?” Weigland nodded knowingly. “So, no heroes, then?”

“You’d do better to ask Fichte about that, Herr Direktor. I’m sure you see more of him than I do.”

Weigland ignored the jab. “The boy has ambition. Not such a bad thing.”

Hoffner cut to it. “What is it that I can do for you, Herr Direktor?”

Weigland nodded knowingly. “No time for chitchat. Of course. All those murders to get to.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver medallion that hung on a ribbon. He placed it on the desk. “I’ve had this for a good many years. It was your father’s.”

Hoffner barely moved as he glanced down at the small pendant. He looked across at Weigland and said coldly, “It’s very nice. Was there anything else, Herr Direktor?”

“It’s meant for you, Nikolai.”

Hoffner nodded to himself. “And is there a reason it’s coming to me now?”

Weigland reached for the pendant and flipped it over. “There’s an inscription.” He read: “‘Third Highest Marks, Political Police Entrance Examination, Martin Hoffner, 1877.’ Your father gave it to me.” Weigland stared a moment longer at the silver finish. “He didn’t want it after all that business.” Weigland set it down and looked across at Hoffner. “It was a long time ago. I thought you might want it.”

There was never any subtlety with Weigland: no doubt someone had been standing by the wire room, Weigland now aware that the lines between Berlin and Bruges were still very much open. It was a further reminder for Hoffner not to step where he wasn’t welcome. “You’ve been waiting for the right moment, is that it, Herr Direktor?”

Weigland looked as if he might reply with equal callousness; instead he said, “I just thought you might want it. A medal for a hero. Silly, I suppose. But then one can’t always be a hero. Best to make the most of it while you can.” Subtlety, thought Hoffner. Always subtlety. Weigland stood. “Well. . please pass on my congratulations to Kriminal-Bezirkssekretr Fichte. When you see him.”

Hoffner stood. The two men exchanged a nod and Weigland moved to the corridor. He was at the door when he turned back and said, “I imagine it’s time for a new map, Nikolai. Keep to what you do best.” Weigland waited a moment and then headed out.

Hoffner listened for the footfalls to recede before he sat and reached across the desk for the medal. It was a cheap little thing, silver plate, something to be won at any school outing. Hoffner read the inscription: the lettering had blackened over the years.

He found himself staring at the date. His father had been a young man then, and ambitious. Hoffner could hardly imagine it. It was not the man he had ever known: Weigland had seen to that. For a moment Hoffner felt his father’s bitterness as his own. He tossed the thing onto the papers and slammed the drawer shut.

Regimental Affairs was a relatively small office on the third floor of the General Staff building. None of its occupants looked up as Hoffner stepped inside: a distinguished-looking major sat at the far end-beyond a waist-high partition that ran the width of the room-his desk piled high with thick volumes; four lieutenants, also at desks and just this side of the partition, were leafing through mysterious reams of paper; and a young clerk-his coat off, his rank another mystery-sat closest to the door and was typing up the pages as they came down the line. The walls were nothing but floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, each filled with tall brown volumes with dates and regiment numbers etched across their spines. It might have been a university reading room-the air had that musty, academic smell to it-if not for the ramrod-straight backs of the men: these were soldiers, not scholars.

Hoffner pulled out his badge and said to the clerk, “I need a word with your Herr Major.”

The boy looked up. “May I ask what business the Herr Chief Inspector has with the Herr Major?”

“Personnel.”

The boy stood and moved briskly through the swinging half-door to the other side of the partition. Hoffner watched as the boy waited for the Herr Major to acknowledge him. The two exchanged a few words, and the clerk returned. “The Herr Major wishes to inform the Herr Chief Inspector that the Personnel Office is located-”

“On the third floor,” Hoffner cut in. “Yes. I’ve just had the pleasure of your Captain Strasser’s assistance. I’m not interested in the personnel of the General Staff. I’m looking for specific regimental members.”

Again the clerk made his way back. This time the Herr Major looked up and gazed out at Hoffner. Half a minute later, Hoffner was seated in front of his desk.

“This is a criminal investigation, yes, Herr Inspector?”

“I’m afraid I can’t say.”

The man showed no reaction. “All investigations of personnel, criminal or not, are handled internally, Herr Inspector. I don’t think we can be of any help to you.”

Hoffner wondered if men like this ever got tired of giving the same answer. “We’re interested in this man after his service, Herr Major. When he was a civilian. We’re simply trying to track him down. We don’t consider this a military affair.”

The Herr Major answered coolly. “Then I fail to see why you are troubling us with your investigation.”

“He’s not your responsibility, Herr Major. This happened after he was discharged.”

“So, again, I fail to see why you are troubling us.”

This, thought Hoffner, was why the war had been lost. “Our dossier is incomplete, Herr Major. Any information would be most helpful. However, I wouldn’t want to tax the General Staff beyond its limits. Perhaps the Polpo might be a better place for me to begin?” Hoffner began to get up. “Thank you for your time, Herr Major.”

This was not the first time the man had played at this game. He said calmly, “Have a seat, Herr Inspector.” He waited until he had Hoffner’s full attention. “The General Staff is, of course, eager to do what it can in the aid of a political case.”

It was remarkable to see the effects of one little word, thought Hoffner. Even the high walls of army insularity buckled at the prospect of the political police. “I didn’t say it was a political case, Herr Major.”

“No, of course not,” the man answered. “You have a regiment number, Herr Inspector?”

“No.” Somewhere behind the eyes, Hoffner saw a look of mild surprise.

“Of course you know a name will be of no help,” said the Herr Major. “We file everything according to regiment number. It would be impossible to wade through over a thousand volumes in search of a particular name.”

Hoffner-of course-did not know this. He nodded anyway and, thinking as he spoke, opted for the only other detail he had. “But you do list discharges by date, isn’t that right, Herr Major?”

“Those volumes are kept in a separate office, yes.”

Again Hoffner nodded, so as to give himself time to calculate. Van Acker had placed Urlicher’s arrival at the Bonn clinic in the third week of March 1918. Figuring on time for dismissal, transportation. . “March seventh, 1918.” Hoffner spoke as if he were reading the date from a file. “The name is Urlicher. Konrad Urlicher.”

The information was written down and the clerk called over. The Herr Major then went back to his books, and fifteen minutes later the clerk returned with two large volumes. Hoffner had been spending his time alternating between counting the number of books on various shelves and the number of times the Herr Major blinked in any given minute. The books had won out eight to one.

The clerk handed the first of the volumes to the Herr Major an