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Brüggenthies, Stephan
(Sample Translation)

Der geheimnislose Junge
(The Boy With No Secrets)

Eichborn, July 2009, 512 pp.
ISBN: 978-3-8218-5849-4


He hated his name. His mother, who hailed from landed Polish gentry, had acted in a fit of nostalgic confusion. True, at the time she had already been living in Germany for eight years, but when she officially registered his birth she had suddenly been seized by the idea that she had to emphasize her Polish roots. Once his father had digested the shock that his son would not be called Christoph, the boy's future was sealed. An adolescence full of embarrassing moments. Zbigniew Meier; what girl would kiss a Zah-big-nie-ev Meier of her own free will?
"Tickets, please."
The voice of the official from the Municipal Transportation Authority snapped Zbigniew out of his thoughts. Several old ladies were willingly holding up their tickets. Zbigniew pictured how riding the subway, strictly a pastime at first in the life of a widow, could turn into a passion. With the kick of an occasional ticket check by a man in uniform, in this city where ticket checks were as frequent as snow.
It made Zbigniew grin, although he quickly put an end to this burst of levity. Reverence, please. Then he was gripped by a certain uneasiness. Did he actually have his monthly ticket on him? Zbigniew felt his temperature rising. The puny, uniformed man was coming closer, followed by two even punier bodyguards with all the more impressive German Shepherds. They never came by themselves.
Zbigniew nervously rummaged through his pants pockets. He had put on a different pair of pants today, like every Thursday. But he had not switched over his monthly ticket. Zbigniew's razor-sharp mind told him that the document which would prove the legality of his presence here was still in his old black jeans. At home in the bedroom, together with his wallet. He would have noticed it if he had put the pants right into the laundry hamper, which he otherwise did. But he’d been running somewhat late so he had simply tossed the pants onto the valet stand. Not the optimal place for a monthly ticket.
"Tickets, please."
Across from him a couple of very fashionably dressed teenagers took their brand-name sneakers off the padded bench seats and held up their student tickets without any real interest in the ticket inspector. Zbigniew momentarily caught the eye of a laid-back 16-year-old girl who was returning her ticket to her backpack. Then the girl looked at him again with a kind of superiority in her facial expression. Zbigniew realized only now that the first glance had not been a flirt, but instead the anticipation of what was about to happen right there in her own subway car. Across from her, where Zbigniew was sitting. Did it actually show that he didn't have a ticket?
"And might I also see your ticket," the inspector asked with great politeness, which didn't mask the underlying sediment of sarcasm in his voice, adding “please?" to underscore his request even more.
Zbigniew was sweating. He never would have wanted to trade jobs with a ticket inspector. Not because he considered the profession fundamentally despicable – which he did – but because the excuses of the fare dodgers would have turned his stomach. The ticket machine was broken; didn't have any change; the wife was pregnant; train was just pulling in and had to catch it . . . Zbigniew could imagine how narrow a bandwidth of ideas these mobile petty crooks would use. So you put on a different pair of pants, did you? Ha ha, of course. Put on a different pair of pants. Sure.
"I, uh," Zbigniew saw the gloating look in the ticket inspector's eye. Even the German shepherds in the background had curled their muzzles into triumphant smiles. At that moment, the train pulled into the Breslauer Platz station. The girl across from him, meanwhile, was now openly grinning at Zbigniew.
"I actually should get off here," Zbigniew lied, to which the ticket inspector replied in an imperturbable tone of voice that this did not pose a problem – all they needed, after all, was to see his ticket. Zbigniew got up, the inspector and his two bodyguards formed a semicircle around him and accompanied him to the door of the car. The doors ejected Zbigniew and the Transportation Authority service team. As the train rumbled off, Zbigniew had the feeling that a few of the passengers who hadn't been checked yet were grateful to him. Grateful that he’d lured the ticket inspector out of the train. And if he could now, at this very moment, magically produce a ticket, you could even say his act had been "cool."
"Very well, young man, we have now exited the train, but I would still ask to see your ticket."
Zbigniew hated it when someone called him "young man." First, he was no longer young, and second, it was always a condescending form of address.
"Young man ... , " the ticket inspector admonished him once again.
"I'm sorry ... but I'm afraid I left my monthly ticket in the wrong pants."
Zbigniew's swallowed. Was he completely off his rocker? ‘I left my monthly ticket in the wrong pants.’ How could he come up with anything that embarrassing? In public? To a ticket inspector?
The uniform! flashed through Zbigniew's mind. That blind subordination to representatives of the government.
From the corner of his eye he could see that one of the two bodyguards was breaking into a broad grin. Meanwhile, the ticket inspector himself made no face at all. That was not a problem, he explained to Zbigniew in a professional manner. Once his personal information had been checked and he actually was in possession of a monthly ticket, it would only cost him an administrative fee of five Euros. Just then, the next train pulled into the subway station, and for a short time the screeching of the wheels drowned out everything else.
"Well, then, if I could see your ID."
Zbigniew explained that the monthly ticket was in his wallet, along with his ID, car registration and everything else.
"So you have no form of ID you can show me?"
Zbigniew shook his head. No. Then it occurred to him that he did have one document on him, in his jacket pocket. And just as he wanted to take it out he saw Silvia Pütz waving and tapping on the window of the train that had just pulled in.
And now that.
Silvia Pütz had seen him. Ten minutes from now, the whole town would know. And now she even bounded over to the door of the subway car, where she remained standing on the running board.
"Need help?" she yelled in concern.
Zbigniew vehemently shook his head. It was a black morning. Caught without a ticket and then discovered by Silvia Pütz on top of that. It couldn't get any worse.
The subway door closed, and Silvia pulled her head back just in time. The train disappeared into the black tube that continued on and ran underneath the main train station.
"All I have is this," Zbigniew squeezed out, producing his service ID from his jacket. "Everything else is ... uh, in the wrong pair of pants."
There they were again, the wrong pants. The ticket inspector looked at Zbigniew's small ID, and then something happened that Zbigniew wouldn’t forget for the rest of his life. Today, on this black Thursday, when Silvia Pütz had seen him being caught for fare dodging, he also received a demonstration of how debased the world was in general. The ticket inspector’s expression had been marked by heartlessness, but it now relaxed and turned into a babyface.
"Oh, I didn't realize that. Why didn't you say something right away? Sorry ... new in town?"
Openmouthed, Zbigniew looked at the ticket inspector. Then it occurred to him that he had to give some kind of answer.
"Yeah, kind of, six months."
"OK, boys, we're on our way," the ticket inspector said to his henchmen. At least that’s the way it seemed to Zbigniew. "No hard feelings, Boss. Look forward to working with you in the future.”
The ticket inspector and his troop disappeared into the void from which they had emerged. Ever hunting for further illegal passengers, preferably the ones who didn’t have such an impressive service ID as Zbigniew. The next train disappeared into the subway tunnel, and for a moment Zbigniew was alone at the station. Silence inundated him. A mole smiled at him from an advertising poster, touting a local brand of beer.
Actually, he needed to go one stop further to the main train station. But in light of the circumstances he had no desire to tempt his fate a second time. Zbigniew headed for the exit. For once, the escalator was working, but he trudged up the stairs anyway. As a small reparation to the Municipal Transportation Authority.
"Look forward to working with you in the future." That topped everything. As if he would be making a common cause with some ticket inspector, who could be presumed corrupt – if one generalized from his reaction to Zbigniew's ID. Zbigniew wondered whether his sense of right or wrong wasn't too small minded. After all, he’d offered no objection to the ticket inspector's undogmatic solution.
Zbigniew blamed it on the element of surprise and held his sense of justice for dead right.
Daylight slowly mixed with the neon glow of the dingy, orange-tiled corridors in the subway station. One more escalator, but this time really the escalator, enough is enough, and Zbigniew was disgorged from the subterranean transportation system.
It wasn't often that Zbigniew found himself at Breslauer Platz. Time and again he was overwhelmed by the extravagant ugliness of the place. And yet it had a certain morbid charm, Zbigniew felt. Buildings in a peculiar shade of orange and an even uglier blue, all these shameless, faceless postwar buildings and, as if in contrast, the dolled-up glass and steel rear entrances to the Cologne Central Train Station, which were fit for a prince. Nothing matched, and yet it did.
Instead of taking the prettier route through the sparkling shopping arcades inside the station, Zbigniew took the track underpass south of Eigelstein Gate. It smelled like urine, but that's what he deserved.
He would really have been better off on foot that day.
"Get caught dodging the fare?" a voice rang out as Zbigniew stepped off the elevator on the sixth floor of the remodeled, former publishing building in Stolkgasse. Edwin, one of the younger employees in Crime Division 51, Cologne Inner-City, greeted the chief inspector with a roar of laughter. Maybe the conversational tone Zbigniew maintained was too informal.
He sat down in his office which was located on the unattractive side of the building, without a view of the cathedral. A cathedral view was reserved for the established, handlebar mustache faction of Division 51, all of them men over 50 and, of course, the station chief and his receptionist, Silvia Pütz.
What was on the agenda for today? Nothing, actually. A couple of protocols and a final report he had to write on the robbery and murder of the old lady. Silvia Pütz was sweeping through the hallways and asked whether Zbigniew would like some coffee, too. He said he would, although it was clear to him that she had only offered so she could come and have a cup with him. In other words, so that they could have a little chat about Zbigniew's encounter with the ticket inspector in the subway.
The day turned out to be every bit as awful as Zbigniew had feared. By lunch time the entire staff of the inner-city police station at Stolkgasse had heard the story about the fare-dodging chief inspector. And naturally, everyone who crossed Zbigniew's path had to make some comment about it. At two o'clock Zbigniew closed his office door behind himself and didn't come out again. He received another two calls on the subject, one of them from his former station chief at the crime division in Bonn, and then it was quiet. Zbigniew wrote his protocols. At 4 p.m. he was finished with that and was desperately trying to figure out a way to spend his final half-hour. Ever since the State of North Rhine-Westphalia’s police administration authority had installed route tracers in every police computer, you couldn't even aimlessly surf the Internet anymore.
Zbigniew was on the verge of dozing off with his head on his desk, when there was a knock at the door. Inspector Zeynel Aspendos, his favorite colleague, made a hangdog face and sat down on the chair across from him. Zbigniew was expecting him to say something, but nothing came out. Not even a wisecrack about the criminal fare dodger, as Zbigniew registered with relief — he couldn’t even sense irony in Zeynel’s look.
"Oh, nothing really," Zeynel answered, and Zbigniew felt the word "really" sending a chill down his spine.
Zbigniew leaned back and relaxed.
"A 15-year-old boy disappeared," Zeynel mumbled, a strange helplessness in his voice.
Zbigniew was irritated. Within the space of two seconds, his mind had classified the disappearance of the boy as insignificant. So a 15-year-old boy had disappeared; sometimes they just did that, and then they reappeared again. With a 15-year-old boy the risk of a sex crime was minimal, even in gay inner-city Cologne. At that age, boys have a certain yen for freedom, and parents tend to overreact. Zbigniew had experienced one 13-year-old who had gotten it into his head to take off for Munich. They had found him just outside of Stuttgart, in the men’s room of the “Oskar Schlemmer” intercity express train, back when trains still had names. The boy was reading an Asterix comic.
Zeynel seemed to notice the "so what?" in Zbigniew's expression. "Katrin and I already checked into it a little bit, with the parents and stuff. I think there's something wrong."
"With the parents?"
"No, with the disappearing. I was in the kid's room. He's a bookworm. Doesn't go to parties. Doesn't smoke, drink, no girlfriend, but thousands of books. And classical music."
"Doesn't surprise me that he’d want to take off once in a while."
Even as he spoke, Zbigniew was already sorry for saying that sentence. If Zeynel's nose was telling him that something didn't smell right, a person shouldn't be making jokes about it – which explains why Zeynel took Zbigniew's remark seriously, and not as humor.
"I don't think so. His father is fairly open-minded. Architect, listens to rock. The parents are normal, a little on the aloof side, maybe. Well-to-do situation."
"Who saw the boy last?”
"The parents had to go to Berlin on business yesterday. Timo stayed home alone during the day; it probably happens that way very rarely. Well, and then in the evening he wasn't home anymore."
"So in other words its been about 24 hours now."
"Right. The parents were worried and called up here."
"When was that?"
"This morning. Seems like the mother wanted to call last night right after they got back, but the father calmed her down. And then at 4 a.m. this morning her call came in."
Zbigniew nodded. And asked himself why he was only hearing about the case now. Presumably because he had missed the morning conference with the station chief in the Blue Room at eight o'clock. There was no doubt that they had discussed the boy who disappeared. Zeynel continued.
"Katrin and I combed the entire neighborhood today, kiosks, supermarkets, there’s a café across the street. Negative. Nobody saw Timo leaving the house yesterday; he's simply not there anymore."
It seemed incredible to Zbigniew that nobody had seen the boy. But Zeynel was the most meticulous investigator he knew, including Zbigniew himself.
"Does the kid go online? Chat with any crazies, sex games, death wishes, anything like that?"
"He doesn't have an Internet connection of his own. We checked the cyber cafés in the area, too. Nobody knows him."
"Does he have a girlfriend?"
"I already told you that. No."
"Male friends?"
"Male friends, probably not really."
Zbigniew knit his brow.
"What about his classmates?"
"The parents called some of Timo's classmates before school this morning; nobody knew anything about anything."
"So you haven't questioned them yourself yet?"
Zeynel grimaced.
"The parents are afraid we'll cause too much of a stir. And the people at school are even more concerned. Basically, we discreetly went over the neighborhood, paid a visit to his classroom teacher in the afternoon. Which was dumb because the parents had only called their son in sick and the teacher was clueless."
Zbigniew frowned morosely. If the boy had really disappeared, then "causing a stir" was the least of their problems. It did occur on occasion that the senseless discretion and secrecy of family members surrounding a missing persons report were the only reason the case wasn’t cleared up in just a matter of days.
"Well, OK. Role-playing games?"
"Doesn't look that way."
"No girlfriend, no girls."
"No way. If, then girls."
"No girls, I thought."
"He is not gay," Zeynel groaned. "But he's not involved with girls, either, as far as we know."
"Then we don't know enough yet. A 15-year-old boy and no girls, that doesn't exist. Fantasies at least."
"I don't know his fantasies, Boss."
Zbigniew loved it when Zeynel called him Boss. It made the fact that the station chief was the only boss on the sixth floor recede into the background so nicely.
There was a moment of silence. The clock read 4:20 p.m.
"Katrin and I have a feeling that something's not right," Zeynel said once again. And since Zbigniew didn't respond, "The boy's name is Timo Lindner, 6 Lübecker Straße.”
“Ugh, that’s right around the corner from my place.”
“I know.”
For a moment there was silence and Zbigniew suspected why. Zeynel was looking into his eyes, Zbigniew read his mind. It was all perfectly obvious. Zeynel had taken a liking to Timo Lindner’s family and thought that Zbigniew would look after his near-neighbors with particular zeal.
"I think you and Katrin should investigate."
It was correct that – contrary to television fiction – there were no set investigator twosomes, but Zeynel and Katrin shared an office, and on the smaller cases they often collaborated as a mixed team. As “case officers,” a laconic title that could be read on all of the office doors in Crime Division 51.
"Yeah, but Katrin has a week off now." Zeynel hesitated. "Besides, this is a case for you."
It was plain to see in Zeynel's eyes that he would like nothing better than to immediately drive over to Timo Lindner’s family again and keep investigating. Together with Zbigniew, that is. If a child had seriously gone missing, the time factor played a crucial role. Zbigniew didn't have anything else to do anyway, although he was scheduled to meet Lena at five. And Lena only had until seven. And if Zbigniew needed longer, this would be another evening together that fell through.
"After all, you don't have a wife waiting for you," Zeynel grinned. Zbigniew tried to put on as neutral and unfazed an expression as possible. Zeynel didn't know everything about Zbigniew's personal life, and it was better that way, too.
"At least your wife waits for you," Zbigniew grumbled as a riposte, which was intended more for himself. Or for Lena, if she had been there. He put on his coat, secretly wrote Lena a quick, frustrated text message, and set out with his colleague.
When Zbigniew moved from Bonn to Cologne, the apartment he found wasn't bad at all, but the Lindner’s apartment made him a little envious. It was an example of the discretion that money can buy. Spreading over two floors, it was lodged underneath the roof of the building. There was a terrace in the front overlooking the spires of Cologne Cathedral, and a balcony facing the back with a view of a surprisingly quiet courtyard. Naturally, all of this was invisible to people on the street below. Zbigniew had often walked past the building without noticing anything. Inside the apartment, glass predominated; it was furnished in excellent taste, and everything seemed clean and well cared for. Zbigniew's first impression was that something had to be concealed behind a façade like that. But he realized that this notion drew more on a cinema cliché than it corresponded with reality. At least as far as it concerned the percentage of high-income households seen in crime statistics, which was very low.
Zbigniew shook hands with Olaf Lindner, a tall man of about 45 with graying temples. A chief physician suddenly sprang to Zbigniew's mind, although he then remembered that Lindner was an architect. Lindner led the detectives into the spacious living room. Zeynel was talking with him so they could mutually assure one another that nobody had anything new to report. Zbigniew noticed the enormous collection of records Timo Lindner's father owned. The solid wood shelving covered almost an entire side of the room. Could a person who collected vinyl LPs be bad?
And then Timo's mother, Tonia Lindner, a delicate person, sat down and joined them. She was in tears almost the entire time. Lindner put his arm around his wife. Helplessness, Zbigniew thought, that's the dominant factor in this room, pure helplessness. But Zbigniew was also aware that first impressions can occasionally be deceptive.
At the worst possible moment, Zbigniew's cell phone beeped to announce an incoming text message. Damn!, why hadn't he shut down his cell? Zbigniew turned it off without looking at the display and apologized to the family. Tonia Lindner seemed to be in a trance anyway, but the tactless beeping, the sound of 14-year-old girls, hadn't exactly endeared Zbigniew to Timo’s father. That much was clear. While Zeynel and the father continued to talk, Zbigniew couldn’t get the text message off his mind. Was it Lena? What had she said? Was she mad at him? Probably. She had every right in the world to be sore at him; he had to stand her up the last time, too. And when her time with him was so limited.
Zbigniew realized that he didn't stand a chance of being able to remain focused as long as he didn't know the contents of the message. For a time, he wondered what to do and then politely asked for the toilet. The father, with a neutral look, showed him the way down the hall. Zbigniew walked through the doorway and into the bathroom and tried to close the strangely constructed door. Olaf Lindner showed him the trick: there was a metal lever of brushed chrome next to the door that replaced the commonplace everyday household solution consisting of a lock and key.
Zbigniew breathed a sigh of relief when he was alone. He took a look around. The Lindner's bathroom was almost as big as his living room. Zbigniew sat down on the toilet lid and turned on his cell phone. Please don't ring immediately this very minute, he implored his (mobile) service provider's electronic control system, and happily it granted his wish. He quickly set his receiver to mute. Then he went into the message box. Lena, of course. A text message from Lena.
"Kiss my ass."
Zbigniew took a deep breath. Kiss my ass. Nothing sexual about that. It was anger. And when Lena was angry, she was usually unbearable for weeks. "Bitchy," shot into Zbigniew's mind, and he remembered one of the many different slogans on her T-shirts: 10% Bitch. That ten percent was now activated, that was obvious. And Lena was right. How could he have stood her up twice in a row? For a 15-year-old rascal suffering from affluenza, an architect's son who had probably taken off with some hot flame for a few days in Paris. As far as he could possibly get from this enormous record collection. How horrible for an adolescent: not even being able to rebel against your father because he's OK, because he’s got the biggest collection of vinyls in Cologne, wears jeans, has a totally cool job, and doesn't even hit you. So your only option is to take off.
What were the police doing here? And that was the reason why Zbigniew had to stand up Lena?
It wasn't fair.
Zbigniew stood up from the toilet and wandered around. There was a huge, octagonal shaped bathtub, in navy blue. He would have enjoyed having something like that at home, too. Zbigniew hesitated briefly, then flushed the toilet in case anyone was listening outside the bathroom door. If you could even call that designer contraption a bathroom door. Water swished through the toilet, but it was quieter than Zbigniew remembered from his own apartment. Everything was optimized in this place.
And then Zbigniew's cell phone announced itself. The vibrator. Zbigniew was so startled that he dropped the phone. It landed behind the toilet, as he had expected. As he bent down and reached for it, he marveled at the cleanliness. In his apartment, it would be better if a person didn’t take a soil sample from the same location. He reached for the phone and looked at the display. Lena, of course, on the telephone this time and even angrier for sure. Zbigniew hastily turned the phone off again and put it into his pocket. He had a sense that he should leave the bathroom as quickly as possible. And at that very moment he heard Zeynel at the door, asking whether everything was all right. Zbigniew mumbled "Yeah, yeah," washed his hands and unlocked the door.
Zbigniew was no less impressed than Zeynel by Timo Lindner's room, although Zeynel had already described it to him on the way over. Zeynel hadn't exaggerated on a single point. The room was filled with books upon books and furnished, other than that, only with a desk, a wardrobe, and a bed. Zbigniew looked under the bed and discovered a stack of opera scores. Timo's father explained that classical music was Timo's great interest. But Timo must have had a lot of interests. The shelves were bulging with historical atlases lying one on top of the other, art books – including painters whose names Zbigniew hadn’t even heard of – and countless novels. At age 15, Timo had read more than Zbigniew would ever manage to read in his entire lifetime, although he absolutely viewed himself as a reader. Zbigniew’s first thought was that the kind of personality this room indicated would not disappear without a trace by itself.
For the second time, it entered Zbigniew’s mind that Timo could perhaps have become involved in some kind of real-life role-playing games. A few months earlier, four highly educated students had been arrested for role-playing in real life and not just on a game board. The first played a magician, the second a wizard, the third a knight, and the fourth . . . Zbigniew had forgotten what. It had gone so far – in a church where the final duel of the game was apparently to take place – that the knight had hacked off the magician’s hand. In real life. After his seven years in the Bonn Crime Division there was actually nothing left that could shock Zbigniew; he could imagine just about anything a person would be capable of. Crime in Cologne was generally of a more straightforward nature than in Bonn.
If Timo lived that intensively in a world of books, then it was possible that he’d lost his sense of reality. In the event that he had not become involved in a role-playing game, then the Wicked Witch of the West had spirited him away to her fantasy world, Zbigniew thought and had to suppress a grin.
As Zbigniew examined the books more closely, though, he backed away from that line of reasoning. There was no fantasy literature in Timo’s room, everything held water culturally, historically, or politically. The novels were by Tolstoy, Hemingway, and Le Carré. There wasn’t even a Tolkien or a Harry Potter to be found here. Sherlock Holmes, yes. Just what kind of boy was this Timo?
Damn, he had said that out loud.
“Just what kind of boy was he?”
The blood froze in the mother’s face. Zbigniew found her quite attractive; she had short almost black hair and very fine features. Tonia was her name, Tonia, a pretty, out-of-the ordinary name. Zbigniew especially liked her turned-up nose.
"What do you mean by ‘was he’?"
It was only now that Zbigniew understood. Timo’s mother had turned extremely pale. "My apologies, that was an awkward way of putting it," he stammered. "I mean, after all, I don't know your son, and for me as an investigator you might say these are traces of his past."
Zeynel looked at his boss aghast and threw himself into the breach with some flattery to distract her.
"The chief inspector is simply as genuinely impressed as I am – by your son's interests and education.”
"Yes, Timo is a very special boy."
That caught Zbigniew's attention. The comment came from behind, from Timo's father, Olaf.
"If he's read everything here, and knows all this, then isn't he kind of a wunderkind?"
"He attends the Hildegard School," his mother answered as if that explained everything. Zbigniew hesitated a moment too long, Zeynel gave him a helping hand.
"A school for the highly gifted in Lindenthal."
Zbigniew nodded. He had heard about it, a new state-run education project aimed at stimulating the advancement of highly gifted individuals. And would probably just open the gap within society even wider. Zbigniew had to think of Crime Division 57, Cologne’s juvenile crime division, that was quartered under the same roof as Division 51 in Stolkgasse, along with all of the inner-city police stations. His colleagues there – Zbigniew often had discussions with them in the canteen – were focused on the next generation in society, and hopefully it wasn't representative for all of Germany. Juvenile assault, stabbings, hooligans, sprayers, sneaker thieves, and drug dealers were the order of the day. Maybe normal schools were no longer responsible for transmitting values.
No, naturally Timo attended the Hildegard School. That's where the country's future elite would come from.
"Does your son have a computer? Internet access?" he asked.
Timo's father shook his head uncomprehendingly.
"The Hildegard School provides a classical education, it is an institution based on ancient languages. Latin, ancient Greek, musical education, genuine education. Then, during the two final years, information science is added, where the children learn everything they'll need in life about computers. We consider it wise for that subject only to be offered later on, after a foundation in the intellectual traditions of Western civilization.
Zbigniew nodded. Secretly, he also believed that it made sense, but didn't want to ingratiate himself with the parents. His eyes quickly scanned the room one more time.
Something wasn't right here. Something in the room was fundamentally amiss. Zbigniew sensed it but he couldn't put his finger on it. Was it the books? No, certainly not that, even though the number of them was unusual. The window? Zbigniew went to the window and pulled back the dark curtain. It faced Lübecker Straße, with magnificent old buildings on the other side. It looked almost like the view from Zbigniew's own window.
Pleasant surroundings.
"And you really have no explanation for why he disappeared?" Zbigniew asked. It was a senseless question he asked only so that he could breathe in the atmosphere of the room a little longer.
"No. It's entirely inexplicable to us."
Entirely inexplicable. Zbigniew said goodbye to Zeynel downstairs in front of the building. They decided to drive over to Timo Lindner's school the next day.
"Where did you put the missing persons report?" he asked Zeynel, who blushed slightly.
"Don’t have one yet."
"And so what’s the reason for that?"
"Because ... the parents didn't want, I mean, that ... "
"... didn't want that ... “
"Well, otherwise we could have taken it to the press and ...
Zbigniew shook his head irritably.
"And you went along with that? What if the kid really has been kidnapped? You think the parents' peace of mind is worth more than the life of their son?"
"No ... I mean, I suggested to them that we should first ..."
Zbigniew waved his hands wildly. Zeynel knew the gesture. It meant: no details, Zbigniew didn't want to hear it. When he had first arrived in Cologne, he would add “no details." In the meantime waving his hands was enough.
"Does the (station) chief know that?”
The station chief at the 51st Crime Division was named Müller, but everyone just called him the (station) chief.
"So then we should have a missing persons report on our desk by tomorrow morning, right?"
Zeynel gave him a reluctant look.
"Yes," he said, in spite of himself.
Zbigniew had become a little gruff, which he now already began to regret.
"Want to get a beer?"
Zeynel hemmed and hawed.
"Maybe not today, it's getting late, and Laila ... "
"Yeah, all right."
Zbigniew said goodbye to Zeynel, and each of them went their separate ways. Why did Zbigniew mention the beer? Because he had raised his voice a little at Zeynel? No, was the diagnosis of his inner psychiatrist; it was because he wanted to postpone facing up to Lena's anger.
Zbigniew left his cell phone turned off. It wasn’t far to his apartment, it was about 200 meters. Did he have anything left to eat in the refrigerator? Zbigniew lived on the third floor of a somewhat neglected older building, and it had no elevator. He hated to arrive upstairs and then remember something he still needed to do. All those stairs.
There was nothing else he needed to buy today, Zbigniew decided, and opened the front door. Mrs. Junkersdorf from the first floor who was the guardian of order in the building shot him a somewhat peculiar look. Zbigniew naïvely greeted her in return.
He checked his mailbox – nothing – then trudged up the stairs. And almost had a heart attack as he rounded the final turn before his apartment and saw someone sitting on the stairs in the semi-darkness. A second shock followed the first. Zbigniew realized it was Lena. Her arms were propped on her knees with her head resting on her hands, and she stared at him motionlessly. After the fright, Zbigniew's first thought was that Lena was emanating an aura and had filled the entire third floor stairwell with it. An aura of defiance. A little bit of anger, but mostly defiance. Here I am, you traitor, and just so you know: kiss my ass. Defiance from her every pore, all the way to the stucco decoration on the wall.
What would be the optimal form of greeting for a situation like this? Lena, I'm sorry ... No. In a somewhat challenging tone he said:
Hopefully this day would be over soon.
Lena gave him a look of disbelief. She was apparently pondering what Zbigniew could have meant by his "So?" So, what are you trying to demonstrate by this? Or: So, does it make you feel any better to ambush me in front of my apartment? Zbigniew himself knew what he meant by his "So?" But he was smart enough not to put it into words. And actually he didn't really mean it anyway.
"So what. Is that all you can come up with?" she hissed at him.
Zbigniew considered that. For the moment he really couldn't come up with anything else. He wished he could, from the bottom is heart, but nothing came to mind. What was he supposed to say? Lena, a boy has gone missing, we still had to talk with the parents? A boy or a girl or an adult, missing, dead, raped, kidnapped, robbed, anything. Just something to do with his job. If Zbigniew had been a doctor, he would have had to say: it was an emergency, we had to remove his appendix. Lena was aware of that, after all. She understood what it was like for a detective, she'd read enough mysteries and knew a lot about his job. But she had no sympathy for it anyway, and Zbigniew could understand her lack of sympathy. And come to think of it, couldn't he have waited until tomorrow to question Timo's parents? A false sense of duty.
To Zbigniew's surprise, Lena now broke down in tears. Like a child. She was a child, Zbigniew admitted to himself, somewhere she was a child. For a second, he stood there as if he were rooted to the ground, but then he leaned down and took Lena in his arms.
"You don’t take me seriously at all," she reproached him sobbingly.
Now that wasn't true. Even though Lena was only 17, Zbigniew took her more than seriously. When he met her a little over a year earlier, Zbigniew could never have dreamed that a 17-year-old, 16 at the time, would have been able to impress him. Just the opposite, Zbigniew had a slight tendency to be fixated on older women. Attractive women starting at age 40 had been his domain up until he was 36.
Zbigniew’s mother would have accused him of shirking his responsibility, the responsibility of staying with one woman and establishing a family with her. A woman his age. Zbigniew knew that his mother's suspicions were correct, even though she had been dead for years and fortunately had no longer experienced his torrid bachelor phase. Meeting Lena brought about an abrupt change in Zbigniew's life. The girl had matured early and he'd fallen in love with her in a way he hadn’t experienced for a long time. Even during the phase when they were getting to know each other, which lasted almost six months, he was loyal to her. Zbigniew actually had wanted not to sleep with Lena because, after all, she was a minor and he was a police officer. But then it happened anyway, on her 17th birthday. She confronted him with a relatively unromantic choice: Lena including sexuality or no Lena at all. Zbigniew wanted to thoroughly discuss all the possible concerns for hours, but in the end Lena simply silenced him with the facts. Things had still turned romantic anyway. And in principle, Lena was now his girlfriend. In principle, because nobody could know about it, naturally, neither his colleagues on the police force nor Lena's parents. Zbigniew could live with that, but not Lena. She was constantly accusing him of not standing by her and of not taking her seriously. Meanwhile, Zbigniew felt it was merely the result of the circumstances. Making the relationship all too public was simply impossible. At least until Lena was 18. Although even then it would shed a dim light on his personality. He wasn’t a rock star, after all. And Lena was fully aware of this. It wasn't without reason that she was playing a harrowing game of hide and seek with her parents that led to peculiar time slots for their relationship. Thursdays from 5:00-7:00 p.m. was one of those time slots. Lena had invented some kind of dancing lessons for her parents. What teenagers still took dancing lessons?
"It just didn't work out. I'm sorry. A boy has gone missing ... "
Lena smiled at him through her teary puppy-dog eyes.
“At least you came home alone," she said, grinning now.
Had Lena seated herself here in the stairwell to catch him in flagranti with the woman he had stood her up for? Zbigniew shuddered at the thought that Lena could be neurotically jealous.
"You never know," Lena added with an impish grimace, pulling herself up by his hands.
"A person never knows?"
"Just open up!" she demanded, tugging him toward the door.
Zbigniew opened the door, and Lena ran past him into the apartment. He turned on the light in the hallway. The apartment had been straightened up; he'd known that Lena would be coming that evening. Zbigniew hung his jacket on a hook somewhat slowly and went into the living room where Lena was nervously lounging on the couch.
"I want to talk to you about something."
Zbigniew sat down on a chair at the dinner table and looked at Lena who was fidgeting with her short, black lacquered fingernails.
“I decided to tell my parents."
Zbigniew took a deep breath. Lena had made up her mind.
"I mean, not actually about you, but that I have a boyfriend, a sweet one and he’s on the police force, and that as of now I'll be spending time with him more often. It’s like, they don't have to meet you right away."
No, they didn't. What Lena was saying sounded logical.
"Then I can spend the night with you, too, and we can go on vacation and stuff."
Zbigniew took a deep breath. Was that a real possibility? He put himself in her parents' position: a police officer we’ve never met as a boyfriend for our 17-year-old daughter? A man they didn't know but who was presumably on the level because, after all, their little daughter had chosen him for herself?
No way. Zbigniew knew parents. He had encountered so many parents during his investigations and knew that the ominous boyfriend in the green uniform would not be allowed to remain a phantom. Parents develop immense energies to find out things about their daughters. And Lena's father was a secondary school teacher, which made matters worse.
"That would be great, of course," Zbigniew said.
He was watching Lena's mouth. She had tightened her lower lip slightly, there was something challenging in her facial expression. Zbigniew loved it when Lena had that challenging look.
"Beautiful. I was thinking you might have something to say against it, but you didn't stand a chance anyway."
"I realize that."
“I've got to run now. I'm already really late.”
"Yeah, I know. I’m really sorry."
"No problem, Chief Inspector."
Lena was moving toward him. It crossed Zbigniew's mind that there was something he still had to tell her. Gently explain to her why, under the circumstances, it might not be entirely optimal if she were to tell her parents about her unknown cop boyfriend.
"Hey, ever heard of the Hildegard School?" he asked instead.
Lena was getting dangerously close. Zbigniew moved back a little, but the edge of the table didn't give him more than a few centimeters.
"Yeah, sure. Why?"
"A boy over there ... a boy disappeared. And I'm not quite sure whether ..."
"It’s time to call it a day," Lena said with finality in her voice and perched herself on the floor in front of him, without taking her eyes off his for even a second. Zbigniew began to feel insecure, his palms became slightly moist, and he suspected that Lena was enjoying his insecurity. He didn't have the courage to waste another word about the boy. Or even about Lena's parents. It wouldn't have done much good anyway because Lena had now opened Zbigniew's fly and was very uncouthly pulling his cock out of his underpants.
"Only this guy right here, he's not done yet for the day."
And no sooner had she spoken the words than she had already put his unerect cock into her mouth. Zbigniew was overcome by a sense of helplessness. Lena was clutching his hips and had his pelvis completely under control. Zbigniew's cock got hard, of course it got hard. Zbigniew had the urgent feeling that he would have liked to wash it beforehand.
Thought fragments whisked through Zbigniew's head: a subway ticket inspector, look forward to working with you in the future, a strange room for a child, a boy with a head full of books. Zbigniew began to breathe heavily as Lena sucked his cock into herself with a certain relentlessness. An orange colored haze spread over his mind, Lena was all that existed, Lena, Lena, minutely controlling the rhythm of her actions, her tongue juggling precisely, the wetness, Lena balancing with the roof of her mouth, between unbearably sweet tightness and dreamlike wideness around the head of his cock, open sky, freedom, the red evening sky. Lena in full control, all his thoughts draining away, dissolving, in full control, more orange – a short flash of thought about Breslauer Platz – orange light floods the roof of Zbigniew's skull, Lena enclosing him, dissolving, tightly enclosing him. Orange. Orange as Zbigniew streams into her mouth, quivering, with several after-spasms until Lena eases up, licks off the head of his cock and leans back grinning.
"I’ll just take that part of you along with me," she said. It sounded like a joke but it was more real than any thought. And as Lena got up, planted an almost cursory kiss on his cheek, and headed for the door, Zbigniew sat there on the chair with his cock half hanging out of his pants and feeling as if he was moving in a complete vacuum, a space without thoughts, without objects, without time.
"I’ll text you tomorrow," she called out, still at the apartment door, which slammed shut with a loud bang a second later.
And at that instant Zbigniew realized what was wrong with Timo Lindner's room. It streaked through his mind like lightning, wiped out all of his excitement in one stroke and raised gooseflesh over his entire body.