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DOG EAT DOG WORLD
The rain creates walls in the night. Falling from the sky, they are like mirrors, reflecting and warping the blue light from the police car.
The street emerges from the darkness and loses itself between the harbour lights, and there – right in the middle, just where it suddenly drops downhill – is where it happened: a cyclist.
She's lying, twisted, on the asphalt, her strawberry-blonde hair forming a delicate pool around her head. Her pale dress is awash with blood; the blood seems to be flowing from her side, staining the concrete red. There's a black shoe – some kind of ballet flat – on her right foot and no skin at all on her left. The bike's lying a few feet away on a grass verge, as if it's been ditched.
The woman isn't moving; only her ribcage twitches desperately, as if to rise and fall, but then it doesn't move at all. Her body is trying to take in air from somewhere.
Two paramedics are leaning over and talking to her, but it doesn't look as though they're getting through. It doesn't look as though anything's getting through any more. Death is about to give her a ride.
Two police officers are cordoning off the accident site, shadows dancing on their faces. Now and then, a car comes past and drives slowly around her. The people in the cars don't want to look too closely.
The paramedics do things to their paramedic cases; then they close them, stand up.
That must be it, then.
So, thinks God, looking industrious, that's that. He picks up his well-chewed pencil, crosses the cyclist off, and wonders whose life he could play football with next.
I think: I'm not on duty. I'm just on my way to the nearest pub.
But as I'm here.
'Hello,' I say.
What else was I supposed to say?
'Move along, please,' says the more solid of the two policemen. He's pulled his cap right down over his face; raindrops are glittering on his black moustache. The other has his back to me and is on his phone.
'I certainly can,' I say, 'or I can stay and take care of a few things.' I hold out my hand. 'Chastity Riley, public prosecutor.'
He takes my hand but doesn't shake it. I feel as though he's holding it. Because that's what you do at times like this, when someone's just died – because a tiny bit of all of us dies along with them and so everything's a bit shaky. The big policeman and I seem suddenly involved in a relationship of mutual uncertainty.
'Dirk Kammann,' he says. 'Davidwache Station. My colleague's on the phone to our CID.'
'OK,' I say.
'OK,' he says, letting go of my hand.
'Hit-and-run?' I ask.
'Looks like it. She hardly drove over her own belly.'
I nod, he nods; we stop talking but stand side by side a while longer. When the dark-blue saloon draws up with the CID guys from the Davidwache, I say goodbye and go, but I look back round before turning the corner. There's a grey veil over the brightly lit scene, and it's not the rain; for once it's not even the persistent rain that falls in my head. This isn't my personal charcoal grey; it's a universal one.
I call Klatsche and tell him that there's nothing doing tonight. That I don't feel like the pub.
Then I go home, sit by the window and stare into the night.
The moon looks like it feels sick.CHAPTER 2
It makes him look so ridiculous. 'Cos he's shit-scared.
First I undressed him, then I strapped him down.
He doesn't like it, of course. Nobody would. He'd rather know the meaning of all this. Keeps asking. He's been asking constantly since he woke up half an hour ago.
But I don't tell him.
You don't always have to know the meaning of all this: the stick in my hands, the Bunsen burner, the saw.
First there's another big dose of chloroform to keep things quiet. Stop the moaning etc.
Then we'll take it from there.CHAPTER 3
SPECIALIST IN DARK HOLES
Haze lies over the city; last night's rain left it behind. It's too warm, almost twenty degrees this morning, even though it's late September.
I stand on my balcony and drink coffee with this laundry room all around me. The cranes on the horizon have vanished – the thick air's eaten them up. The shrieking of the harbour gulls sounds unusually clear, and almost too close, as if they might put aside their friendliness any minute and start pecking at someone's forehead – maybe mine.
It's just after nine. I ought to go to work.
Go on, then.
I put my coffee – half-gone-cold, half-got-lost – down in the kitchen, take a thin leather jacket from the coat hook, just in case, and set off.
Breathing this haze, which seems to soak up the big-city smog like a sponge, is a bit like smoking. I also light a cigarette – double poisoning is more reliable. I've smoked far too little in the last few days; that needs to change, and so does everything else.
On my third drag, my mobile rings; I answer reluctantly: 'Riley.'
'Good morning, Ms Riley. Kolb here.'
The attorney general. She likes me. And she doesn't like me. It's hit-and-miss. You never quite know.
'Dr Kolb, good morning. What's up?'
'I've got something for you.'
I keep walking through the cloud that's fallen from heaven and find myself thinking about last night's accident. Or, to be precise, I can't stop thinking about last night's accident.
'A hit-and-run?' I ask.
'No. Why do you say that?'
'Just wondered,' I say, drag on my cigarette again and throw it away. Sometimes I'm included in current stuff, sometimes not. I wonder what she wants.
'Where are you now?' she asks.
'On my way to the office.'
'In that case, could you please turn right, as unbureaucratically as possible, and head for the harbour?' she says. 'Outside Mohn & Wolff there's a man in a cage, right by the main entrance. The people from the local station are trying to get him out.'
I stop. 'A man in a cage?'
'That's all I know,' she says, and she sounds impatient. 'It's still very fresh. Inspector Stepanovic from SCO 44 called me – presumably they're taking the case. He's on his way, but he's stuck in traffic so he'll be a while. In the meantime, go and take a look, please; it could be a matter of public interest, which could get political.'
I nod and hang up, forgetting, as I so often do, that you can't hear a nod down the phone. But Dr Kolb isn't the kind of person who cares about niceties. Perhaps that's one of the main things we have in common.
A man in a cage outside Hamburg's biggest magazine publisher. For the moment, it sounds more like really weird guerrilla marketing than anything 'political'. 'Political' can only mean one of two things:
1. Something's happened and people might take to the barricades, so the mayor's busy getting his best troops together.
2. We don't know if there's anything funny about this, so we're keeping things quiet for the moment, but in public we want it to look like we're being totally transparent and totally on it and generally the total dog's bollocks.
In scenario one, I don't figure – I'm not one of the mayor's best people, I'm one of his best-hidden people. So it boils down to scenario two – in which Riley, specialist in dark holes, gets let out of her own dark hole.
I'm intrigued that someone from Serious Crime Office 44 is on the way. I'm still not sure exactly what their area is. But they're some kind of hardcore guys, I know that. So much for we're totally on it and totally awesome.
We'll see about that.
I step on it and break into a run, heading for the Bismarck monument.CHAPTER 4
The cage is made of black metal. It has thick, extremely robust-looking bars, and it's not particularly big. Just large enough for a grown man to fit inside if you fold him in half first. The man is about forty, maybe even forty-five, it's hard to say for sure. He's very thin and in pretty good shape, and his features are perfectly formed. His dark hair is cut short at the back and sides, but just a fraction over-long on top; strands fall onto his face. Combed back, the style demands a suit. But at the moment, the man is naked and injured and so far out of his senses that it's hard for my mind to sustain the businesslike image of the guy that it's built up without my even thinking about it. He has welts on his wrists and ankles, as if he's spent quite a while tied up. His whole body is covered with livid bruises and scratches. And, as if I'm looking at a bloody, weeping painting, somehow I get a sense of something very much like despair – but I can't say where the despair is coming from: from the man who's been stuffed in the cage like a rabid animal, or from the person who's done it. What I'm looking at seems to depict a complete absence of voluntary action.
I have to take a deep breath, and then another and another, before I can move a few steps closer.
It looks as though the naked man's consciousness is now working its way, bit by bit, to the surface. His eyes are closed and he's slowly moving his head to and fro while one of the two uniformed policemen tortures the padlock on the cage with a bolt cutter – it's obviously putting up quite a fight. It's a pretty impressive padlock – it's about the size of a small loaf of bread and it looks a couple of hundred years old. The cage has been placed right outside the main entrance to the building. If you want to go through the revolving glass door, you have to pass the cage. Seen from the harbour, the massive glass façade resembles a gigantic cruise ship; now it's reflecting the sun, which is pushing through the clouds in perfect time with the man in the cage coming round.
A sprinkling of onlookers stands round the cage. Some are smoking, and judging by their coolness and unobtrusively elegant clothes, a few are journalists. OK, they're running a bit late, but they can't just walk past this confusing arrangement on their way to work. The majority look more like tourists – part of the horde that the harbour disgorges every morning. They're wearing little rucksacks, cropped trousers and practical jackets. It always strikes me that tourists in Hamburg look completely different from tourists in Munich or Berlin, where it wouldn't occur to anybody to stick a sou'wester on their head. Some even have those mad, modern walking sticks. Perhaps they think Hamburg is already on the North Sea, although that's a good thirty to fifty years off yet. It freaks me out that some people plan so far in advance, even if it's only for one holiday. I prefer to take things as they come.
'Morning,' I say, coming to stand beside the two policemen.
'Morning, Ms Riley,' says the one standing up, who either wants to leave the other guy to get on with it or is simply above such a task. We must have met, seeing as he knows my name this early in the morning. He's definitely in his late fifties, has a mighty belly, and there are grey curls on the back of his neck, curling under his uniform cap. The name on his police jacket reads 'Flotow'. Ah, I remember: Station 16, on Lerchenstrasse.
'We met at Lerchenstrasse,' I say.
'Yeah,' he says. 'Switched six months ago. Station 14, Caffamacherreihe.' He shoves his hands in his trouser pockets in that passive-aggressive way beloved of fattish, older, not particularly tall men, and looks reproachfully at me. 'I'd had it up to here with the red-light scene in the Kiez.'
As if the Kiez were my responsibility. When it's more like the Kiez is responsible for me.
Sergeant Flotow turns back to his colleague, who's still sweating and cursing over the lock. 'Get a move on, Hoschi. The poor bloke'll wake up soon, and then he'll start screaming at us too.'
Hoschi grunts, and I imagine that it means something like 'get on with it yourself, dickhead', but, unfortunately for Hoschi, the four pale-blue stars on Sergeant Flotow's epaulets make it abundantly clear who's in charge here – and whose job it is to kindly get on with wrestling with the bloody lock.
'Officer Lienen,' says Flotow, pointing at his colleague on the pavement.
'Morning Mr Lienen,' I say, kneeling down beside him.
He's nearly got the lock.
'You've nearly got the lock,' I say, trying to look encouraging. Unfortunately, encouraging looks aren't part of my skillset, so the result is a kind of tic that nobody understands.
Lienen looks at me, his eyes narrowed to slits. His expression conveys such violent contempt for his boss that I think: Hoschi, you and I should go for a beer, preferably right now.
'Exhibiting a person in a cage,' I say. 'That's properly sick.'
'You should have seen what was going on here when we arrived,' says Lienen, shaking his head in a way that's half annoyed and half confused.
'What was going on?'
The padlock gives – crack – way and falls apart. Lienen stands up. He holds the bolt cutter like a baseball bat.
'Well,' says Flotow, 'people weren't exactly acting civilised.'
Lienen pushes back his cap and wipes the sweat from his brow.
'Meaning?' I ask.
'They were doing something very unpleasant,' says Flotow.
Aha. Doing something very unpleasant. Do I really have to winkle every detail out of him? I more or less plant myself in front of Flotow.
'Don't make me winkle every detail out of you,' I say. 'What was the situation in the moment you arrived? And what is it now?'
He sucks his teeth, nods in an oh-so-it's-like-that kind of way, straightens his trousers without taking his hands out of his pockets, which leaves them pulled up much too high, then rocks to and fro on his toes and looks at me like I'm a badly brought-up child. I look back as truculently as possible, and because he can't decide on the spot which of us is stronger, he decides not to let it come to that.
'The woman at reception rang us,' he says. 'That was about half past eight. She said something about an unpleasant crowd of people outside the building. And that she thought someone was in danger. But she wouldn't be more precise, not even when pressed.'
Lienen kneels in front of the cage again and tries to cover the naked man with one of those gold thermal blankets.
'And then?' I ask.
'We set off,' says Flotow.
He still has his hands in his trouser pockets, and he's still trying to run me aground.
But he thinks better of it.
'There were about fifty people,' he says. 'They were just standing there. And some of them – I literally had to look twice because I couldn't believe it – they were spitting at the cage. When we pulled up in the patrol car, they went into the building.'
You were lucky, old man.
'It was dead quiet,' says Lienen, 'and they were spitting. It was creepy.' He doesn't look at me – keeps his eyes on the man in the golden cape. 'I've never seen anything like it. It felt like it could escalate at any minute. They looked like predators, just before they fall on their prey. They weren't even taking photos, and people take photos of everything these days. They really were just standing there, spitting, and working the poor bloke over with their eyes.'
'Were you able to get their details?' I ask.
'A few of them,' says Lienen. 'But there were too many, and they hurried away and vanished inside.' He nods towards the glass façade. 'The place is massive. And there were only two of us. The CID guys are here now, in the foyer, still trying to pin a few people down.'
He twitches the foil blanket straight. The things are so damn slippery that a bit of the person the foil's meant to be protecting is always left sticking out.
'And somebody had to call an ambulance first,' he says.
'True,' I say. 'Where's it got to, anyway?'
The man in the cage is starting to move. He puts his left hand to his face and tries to support himself on his right. The gold foil slips. Lienen speaks softly to him.
'Call them again, please,' I say to Flotow, then I kneel in front of the cage next to Lienen.
The man opens his eyes and glances enquiringly at us: Am I dead?
Bottom left, at the foot of the steps, a brown Mercedes races into my field of vision. The driver spins the tyres with a screech, then he stops, gets out, stretches somewhat awkwardly and climbs the steps just as fast as he drove up.CHAPTER 5
CAN'T YET QUITE BE CLASSIFED
'Ivo Stepanovic,' says my new colleague, holding out his hand. 'SCO 44.'
'Chastity Riley,' I say, looking up at him. 'Public prosecutor.' Wow, he's tall.
'Sorry – Cassidy?'
'Come on, tell me your name again. I didn't quite catch it.'
His expression is on the borderline between annoyed and interested. But also 'let's not start off like this, doll'.
'Call me Riley.'
'OK, Riley, you can call me Stepi.'
'Joke.' He purses his lips and wrinkles his brow, shoves his hands in his trouser pockets and looks around.
So this is him, the guy from the 44s, our funky specialist squad – the ladies and gentlemen of serious crime, although I've never heard of a woman working there. The 44s are concerned with jewel thefts and bank robberies, hostage situations and major league blackmail, and any kind of situation that can't yet quite be classified. Something new or particularly puzzling. Something like a naked man in a cage. Something like me, maybe.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Beton Rouge"
Copyright © 2017 Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin.
Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
DOG EAT DOG WORLD,
SPECIALIST IN DARK,
CAN'T YET QUITE BE CLASSIFED,
THE MAIN THING IS TO KEEP THE FRONT GARDEN IMMACULATE,
THE SHIT'S ALWAYS PASSED DOWNWARDS,
THINGS PEOPLE DO WHEN THERE'S TROUBLE,
JUST AS WELL ALONE,
BLOOD MOON, BLONDE MOOD,
BLACK BOX ONE,
RESCUED FOR YOU,
EXECUTIVES (FUCK ALL OF YOU),
VIKTOR AND CHARITY,
IT GENERALLY RAINS CRUD,
NOBODY'LL BE ALONG TO PICK UP THE SMILE,
MEN IN CAGES ARE UNDERSTANDABLE,
DEMENTORS (THE BIRDS DIED IN TINY CRATES),
VERY BAD SECRETARY,
TWO WANNABES FOR THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT,
YOUR OWN IMPORTANCE,
OH, YOU KNOW,
BLACK BOX TWO,
START BUYING MAKE-UP,
CIGARETTES AS A WEAPON,
TUSCANY, MY ARSE,
BUT WITH A LITTLE ILL WILL, YOU COULD THINK THAT THERE'S SOMEONE LYING BEHIND THE BROKEN WINDOWS, WHO'S BEEN ROTTING IN THERE FOR YEARS,
DO YOU LIVE HERE?,
I TOLD THE CLEANING,
LADY NOT TO COME,
HOW YOU FILL THE TOES OF FOOTBALL BOOTS WITH DRAWING PINS,
MELON WOULD BE,
THE BOY DIED,
NO STARS OVER THE KAISPEICHER A,
BLACK BOX THREE,
UNCONSCIOUS ON THE SOFA,
TROUSERS AND HOLSTER,
THE SADNESS OF THE TISSUE,
STAY ON THE ROAD,
OUT, EVERYBODY OUT OF TIME, NOW,
THEN I WON'T SAY A WORD,
WE WEREN'T LIVING, WE WERE JUST WAITING FOR IT TO BE,
SOMETHING THAT COULD TIP OVER AT ANY MOMENT,
A BARE LIGHTBULB, DANGLING FROM THE CEILING,
TOGETHER, NOT GOING HOME,
SACK OF CEMENT,
THEN CRASH, HARD,
BLACK BOX FOUR,
GULL SHIT IS NO TRIFLING MATTER,
THE WILD WEST (STARTS JUST BEYOND HAMBURG),
AND WHEN ALL THE LANTERNS HAVE BEEN SHOT OUT, YOU'LL REALISE THAT YOU CAN'T EAT FOG,
I DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT,
HALF JUST TO MAKE SURE AND HALF BECAUSE THAT'S JUST WHAT I'M LIKE,
THE LIQUORICE SCHNAPPS IS TERRIFYING, BUT WHAT CAN YOU DO?,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR,