26 October 1929
Doctorow was coming up the street, arriving for his night shift. Herr Inspektor did not react to his colleague’s typically abrupt greeting, waiting for the older man to get closer before offering a reply. He stood smoking the last of his cigarettes in the gathering dusk with his back against the wall of the Polizeipräsidium. His shift had ended nearly an hour earlier, but after a full day of waiting and feeling stifled in the confines of his office, another hour of waiting, this time in the open air, hardly made a difference.
As Doctorow drew near, the Inspector sighed, breathing smoke into the evening air. “Not a thing,” he said. “Nothing from any corner of the city. Quiet day. Peaceful, really.”
“Peaceful?” Doctorow blew air through his teeth and settled back against the wall beside the Inspector. “I doubt it. With or without any dead bodies, today would be just as miserable. The whole country’s holding its breath. Everyone’s terrified now, and not of things hiding in the dark.”
The Inspector nodded. “I know.” He passed the cigarette to Doctorow, who accepted it gratefully.
It was two days since the American stock market had crashed, and the aftershocks were still being felt. Doctorow was right: the city was thick with tension, confusion, the beginnings of panic. No one could say what was going to happen, but most were fearing the worst. The situation was bad enough that the Inspector could hardly focus on the matters at hand; the unexpected absence of murders was a blessing he wasn’t going to question, and a mystery he had no energy to explore.
“Why stop now?” murmured Doctorow. “Never thought I’d be disappointed to see no dead bodies turning up, but I don’t like it. It’s like they did it on purpose, just to toy with us.”
“Every time we think we know what to expect, it all changes,” muttered the Inspector, some of the day’s pent-up frustration seeping out in his voice. “Or maybe it’s over. Maybe that last series was the end of it.”
Doctorow grunted as he sucked on the cigarette. “You don’t really think that,” he said.
Herr Inspektor sighed and shook his head. “No, I don’t,” he said.
Doctorow nodded and handed the cigarette back. “Those enormous letters meant something. Althausen is right to feel cautious. He’s sharp, for such a pompous ass.” He paused for a moment, waiting as a pair of young women walked by. “What really gets me, though, is the timing. It feels too sinister that they’d stop now, right when we’re at our most vulnerable. Why wait? What have they got planned? That’s the question that frightens me, deep down in my gut. Because there’s going to be something.”
The Inspector said nothing, rolling the cigarette lightly between his fingers. Doctorow was right; he wanted to feel relief that no one had died during the previous night, but instead he only felt the tug of doubt and anticipation. The deeper into the investigation they got, the more lost they were. And now, it all seemed so unimportant. What did any of this matter? How could they worry about distant, otherworldly threats when there were troubles that threatened everybody, that were tangible and real, as simple as putting food on the table? All remaining hope for the mending of their country had been shattered overnight, and here he was worrying about the stuff of fantasy, adversaries well beyond his comprehension. The whole situation made him sick to his stomach. He shivered in the cold.
A nearby street lamp came sputtering to life, and the Inspector pulled himself away from the wall. He handed the cigarette back to Doctorow. “Keep that,” he said. “I should be getting home. Send for me if you learn anything.”
Doctorow nodded, and waited until the Inspector was a few paces away before saying, “I haven’t forgotten what you said in Althausen’s house.”
The Inspector stopped but didn’t turn around.
“Whatever you meant, it’s clear you don’t want to talk about it,” said Doctorow. “But sooner or later you’re going to have to tell me. You know that, don’t you?”
The Inspector stood motionless for a few moments, then turned slightly but not enough to meet Doctorow’s gaze. He did know this; he knew he had said too much, implied that he had some secret knowledge, and Doctorow was never going to let it rest. He knew soon enough the time would come to tell the truth about the man who watched him from the shadows. But not yet.
“Good evening, my friend,” the Inspector murmured, and he walked away without a backward glance.
27 October 1929
“I don’t know what to make of this.” Alma frowned at the file in her hands.
“Which part?” Herr Inspektor leaned over her shoulder to get a better look. He had brought her all the coroner’s reports they had in hopes that she would be able to shed further light on the investigation, but so far she’d had very little to say.
She furrowed her brow. “All of it.”
This was not the answer Herr Inspektor wanted. “Can you be more specific?”
She set the file down on her desk and folded her arms, looking sternly at it. “Herr Kommissar, there is quite a bit of information here. I’m not a detective. I can’t draw accurate conclusions from Fischer’s analysis.”
“But that isn’t what I’m asking you to do,” said the Inspector. “We’ve already done all the analysis we possibly can; what I need from you is help with the mythology behind it. If I’m going to get an idea of what we’re up against, I need you to glean whatever details might have escaped my comprehension.”
Alma was unmoved by his flattery. “There’s nothing much to glean,” she said. “The murders may be unnatural, but without more concrete information, I can’t reliably tie them to specific creatures. And so many of them carry no direct mythological significance at all. The asphyxiation, the poison, the aneurysm, the knife through the heart… it’s all terribly vague. None of these circumstances connect to any of the creatures I’ve read about.”
Herr Inspektor nodded, and was silent for a moment, thinking. Without realizing it, Alma had highlighted only the Schumann murders. This seemed to support the discussion he and Doctorow had had regarding the intrinsic differences between the two styles of murder; however, he had no idea what to make of this information.
He rubbed his eyes. “There has to be something,” he said. “What about the two that were killed in their sleep? They were the only other victims attacked indoors… Could that also have been the work of the vampire?”
“Certainly not,” said Alma in a probably unintentional tone that suggested this should be obvious. She flipped through the different reports, looking for the two in question. “If they were asleep when the murder took place, they could never have let the creature in.”
Herr Inspektor frowned in some confusion. “What has that got to do with it?”
“Oh,” said Alma, her train of thought momentarily broken. With a dismissive gesture, she said, “Vampires cannot enter into a home uninvited. Sometimes a vampire will seduce his victim, or he’ll create some sort of pretense in order to gain admittance. Herr Bloch never said anything about a visitor, and in the case of the servant, the vampire would never have been able to get into the villa at all. No, these were the work of something entirely different.”
“Do you have any idea what?” pressed the Inspector, taking care not to sound impatient.
Alma shook her head slowly. “This is a creature that has free access to our homes. It’s the only creature so far that has demonstrated that. It kills people in their sleep… It could be some kind of spirit, I suppose. But I can’t give you any specifics, not without more information.” She shrugged. “Perhaps if there was some specific description of the creature, like Herr Doctorow was able to give me about the Hellequin…”
“There are never any eye-witnesses,” said the Inspector dismissively, then he hesitated. “No, I’m wrong. Hermann Bloch did see something upon waking. He described it as an imp.”
“An imp?” said Alma, sounding slightly exasperated. “Well, that could be anything. A brownie, a kobold, some kind of gnome… Did he give any specifics? Was it clothed, did it have human facial features, anything like that?”
“Nothing,” said the Inspector irritably. “You can’t expect the common man to pick up on details like that. That’s why we need you.”
“With all due respect, Herr Inspektor,” said Alma, courteous but firm, “you are asking me to make wild assumptions going on very little evidence, most of which I can hardly understand. I may have read a few books, but that doesn’t qualify me to give you a full profile on every supernatural murderer you might come across.”
Herr Inspektor sighed and turned away. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry. I just wish we didn’t feel so lost. We have no idea what to expect.”
She nodded. “I understand,” she said. “I wish I could help you more, I really do.”
“It’s no matter,” said the Inspector, shaking his head. “This is a difficult point in the investigation. And in the world, it seems.”
Alma was silent, giving only a faint nod.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to help us again,” said the Inspector after a moment.
“I do hope so,” murmured Alma.
Herr Inspektor felt that he should say something else, something comforting, but he didn’t know Alma well enough for that, and he decided it might be best if he left her to her work. “In any case,” he said, “thank you for your work today.”
“Of course, sir.”
Herr Inspektor turned away to leave, then hesitated and looked back. “One more thing,” he said. “Do the letters E and S mean anything to you? In a supernatural context?”
“E and S?” Alma frowned, thinking carefully. “No, I don’t think so. Have they come up during the investigation?”
“Each of these murders is marked with one of those two letters,” said the Inspector, and he started back toward her desk. “I should have told you this earlier. I suppose it was so confounding to me I couldn’t imagine you’d know what it meant.” He went through the different reports, marking each with the appropriate letter as well as he could remember.
“Marked how?” asked Alma.
“There are cards left with the bodies,” said the Inspector. “Usually tucked into a pocket.” He chose not to mention the appearance of the vast letters painted on the ground and the wall of the servant’s room; this was information he was still not comfortable divulging.
Alma studied the different reports again for a moment. “How very odd,” she said thoughtfully. “Well, I certainly can’t think of what that could mean, but I’ll let you know if something comes to me.”
The Inspector nodded. This was disappointing, but not terribly surprising. “Thank you, Alma,” he murmured as he turned and left.
28 October 1929
“Thank you so much for being here,” said Judith softly.
Herr Inspektor nodded absently. “It’s the least I could do.”
They stood on the street outside her apartment building, watching as two hospital workers carried Klaus up the stairs. Judith’s father waited up at the apartment door, where he would help them take Klaus to his bed. The Inspector had not yet been able to speak with Klaus, but they had exchanged faint smiles as Klaus had been moved from the street to the building. Herr Inspektor had offered to help, but he hadn’t been needed, and so he waited with Judith. He observed that she was clutching a handkerchief and twisting it around in her hands, though it seemed she was hardly conscious of doing so.
“Judith,” he said gently after a moment. “He’ll be all right.”
She sighed and nodded. “I know he will,” she said. “I thank God for it. It’s just… with what’s just happened—the financial crisis, I mean—I don’t know if anyone’s going to be all right. My parents have already been struggling just to keep their shop, and now…” She shook her head. “I know I should be focusing on the good, that I still have Klaus; life is always more important than money, no matter what happens. But I can’t help it, Herr Inspektor. I’m afraid.”
“We all are,” he murmured.
There was a short silence, broken again by Judith. “Did you ever learn who paid for this?” she asked. “My parents say I shouldn’t ask; they believe it’s best not to question such generosity, especially at a time like this. But I want to know.”
The Inspector hesitated. He had been wondering all morning how he would explain this situation to Klaus and Judith, and he still hadn’t determined the best approach. “It’s… complicated,” he said.
Judith looked at him in surprise. “How do you mean?”
The Inspector rubbed at the back of his neck. “It was a man named Werner Althausen,” he said, “a private citizen who seems to have been keeping a close watch over us for weeks.”
“What?” Judith frowned slightly, perplexed. “How did he even know about what happened to Klaus?”
“I’m not certain,” admitted the Inspector. “He seems to have a lot of connections with the police, perhaps with the Kriminalpolizei as well. I suppose the accident provided him with… an opportunity to become an active participant.”
“I see.” Judith hesitated, absorbing this. “So in other words, he didn’t do it for Klaus at all,” she said. “He was just trying to get on your good side.”
“Well…” The Inspector was somewhat startled by her grim view of the matter, but it seemed like a fairly accurate assessment; there was no sense in trying to deny it. “Yes. I think that’s about right.”
She nodded, her arms folded tightly, her gaze fixed on the ground. “If it had been you, or another of Klaus’s colleagues, that would be one thing,” she said, “but this… I don’t like being in debt to a stranger, not about something so important. Especially not a stranger who would use what happened to Klaus for his own personal gain.”
“I don’t think he expects to be repaid,” said the Inspector tentatively. “It was a gift, whatever the motivation.”
“He’ll want something,” said Judith. “The way things are now, I doubt even the rich can afford to just give money away like that. He doesn’t care about us; he’s playing games, and Klaus and I are just the small pieces. Sooner or later, people like that always want something from you. Trust me, I know.”
The Inspector didn’t know what to say to that, and he was somewhat relieved when Judith’s father came down to fetch them. He led them up to the apartment, where Judith went to the kitchen to prepare some soup for Klaus. The Inspector was invited to go into the bedroom.
Klaus was sitting up in bed, gazing out the window. He was looking much better, less pale, some of his bandages removed. He turned as the Inspector came in and offered him another smile.
“I’ve missed my view,” he said, gesturing to the window. “Or a view of any kind, really. Not that this is a particularly good one, but anything is better than four white walls for days on end.”
“I’m glad to see you back at home,” said the Inspector, drawing closer and sitting down in a chair that had been placed at the bedside. “How are you faring?”
“The doctors say I should be on my feet again within a few weeks,” said Klaus, “though I don’t know when I’ll be able to return to work. I’m sorry I can’t be back sooner.”
“Don’t rush yourself,” said the Inspector. “It’s most important to us that you are properly healed before you go running off into the thick of things again.”
Klaus nodded and went quiet for a few moments, thinking. “Judith seemed a little troubled,” he said. “Is everything all right?”
The Inspector sighed heavily and once again told the story of Werner Althausen, this time including more details about his involvement in the case. When he was finished, Judith came in to deliver Klaus his soup. She kissed him lightly on the forehead before retreating to give them privacy. Klaus sat there in silence, his hands curled around the bowl, frowning as he digested the information.
“What do you think, Herr Inspektor?” he asked after a moment. “About Althausen?”
“It’s very hard to say,” said the Inspector. “He’s very guarded. It’s true he’s contributed a lot of ideas to the case, and his theories are all solid and well thought out. But they are unsolicited, and his persistent desire to be directly involved in the proceedings is quickly growing tiresome. In general we don’t know what to expect from him. I wish I could foresee how things are going to turn out.”
Klaus nodded. “I wish we could foresee how any of it will turn out,” he said. “I suppose we just have to do our best.” There was a brief silence, then he began to eat. The Inspector watched him idly, relieved to see him back to a hint of his old self.
“I have desperately missed her cooking,” said Klaus between mouthfuls, sighing with satisfaction. He paused, contemplating the remaining soup, then glanced up at his silent superior. “Are you all right, sir?”
The question caught the Inspector off guard, and he sat up a little straighter. “I’m well, thank you,” he said somewhat stiffly. “Why do you ask?”
Klaus tilted his head, considering the older detective. “You look tired,” he said. “And, if it’s all right for me to say so, perhaps a little sad.”
The Inspector paused, gazing dismally into the void. “You are correct,” he said quietly. “And I appreciate your concern. But as you come to know me better, Herr Reinhold, I think you’ll find that I am always tired.” He got up slowly, the chair creaking as he lifted his weight. “And perhaps a little sad.”
Klaus watched him with an inscrutable expression. “Be well, sir,” he said. “Have some of this soup before you go. It’s fantastic. It’ll lift your spirits right up.”
“I don’t doubt it,” said the Inspector gently.
“And please thank Herr Althausen for me,” said Klaus, though he sounded a little hesitant. “I wouldn’t want him to think me ungrateful, no matter his intentions.”
The Inspector nodded. “I will.”
Klaus turned his attention back to the window as the Inspector turned to leave.
Judith had a cup of the soup set out for the Inspector to take with him, and she would accept no polite refusals. The Inspector ate it on his way home. It was good, and he wished it would last; not just the soup, but the all-too-fleeting sense of comfort it provided.
29 October 1929
“This house is a damned labyrinth,” Doctorow grumbled. “There’s no way we can maintain proper security.” He frowned, looking out the kitchen door that led to a small garden. “Too many ways in and out.”
Herr Inspektor nodded, though he was somewhat distracted. Again, they had expected to find another series of murder victims that morning, and again there had been none. Having nothing else to occupy their attentions, they had returned to Althausen’s villa with the intention of preparing for the party, a seemingly insurmountable task.
“Well,” said the Inspector, “with the way things have been going, perhaps we won’t have anything to worry about when the time comes.”
“Right,” said Doctorow. “And then my eye will grow back and Ritter will take us all out for drinks.”
“Is it really so wrong to have a little optimism?” muttered the Inspector.
“Yes.” Doctorow turned away and abruptly left the kitchen, going back into the main house. The Inspector hurried after him, trying not to feel annoyed with his colleague’s curt manner. They hadn’t seen a murder in six days, a fact far less reassuring than it should have been.
Doctorow took them down a winding corridor, walking with quick, confident strides, as if he knew exactly where he was going.
“Do you have any idea where you’re going?” asked the Inspector after a moment.
“I am going north,” said Doctorow. “That’s about it.”
“Ritter and Klein.” Doctorow said their names as though he were pronouncing a curse. “Those bastards should be here. This is too much ground for us to cover on our own. What have they got to do that’s so damned important? Ever since our time here last week, they’ve been cagier than usual. Always off by themselves having their little spats. You’d think they were married or something.”
“Ritter is far more familiar with Herr Althausen than Klein,” said the Inspector with a shrug. “I think Klein may just be angry to have found out that Ritter was keeping things from him.”
Doctorow grunted. “I don’t care what’s going on between them,” he said. “All I know is they’re not taking this seriously. Oh, they’re excited to attend the party, probably out buying costumes.” He stopped short. “We’re not expected to come in costume, are we?”
“I… wouldn’t think so,” said the Inspector uncertainly. “Though we are supposed to blend in.”
“Well, to hell with that,” said Doctorow. “I’m going as myself. There’s no way I’ll blend into a crowd of Althausen’s friends anyway.” They came to the end of the hallway, which branched off in two new directions, and he looked back and forth for a few minutes. “Where the hell are we?”
“Lost already, gentlemen?”
They both turned, startled. Althausen was standing just behind them, smiling serenely. Neither of them had heard him approach; he was surprisingly light on his feet, considering his girth.
“You have quite a large house,” said the Inspector awkwardly.
“Yes,” said Althausen, “although the party itself will be limited more to the central area, the ground floor and the mezzanine. Come, I’ll take you there.”
He turned and began walking back the way they’d come. The detectives followed him slowly, keeping a few paces in between.
“Where the hell did he come from?” whispered Doctorow surreptitiously.
“I have no idea,” the Inspector murmured back.
“Terrible, what happened in America, isn’t it?” said Althausen over his shoulder. “We’re in for some difficult times, gentlemen. Adaptability is key, as is maintaining a hopeful outlook. Speaking of which, I hear there haven’t been any murders since last Wednesday.”
“Your informants continue to be reliable,” grunted Doctorow.
“Wonderful,” said Althausen brightly, unperturbed by Doctorow’s grumbling. “You see, all is not lost. Life goes on, and in the face of trouble and despair, what can we do but enjoy the lives we have? Gentlemen, really, I am sure there is nothing to worry about.”
The Inspector and Doctorow exchanged a glance. Too quietly to be heard by their host, the Inspector said, “I certainly hope you’re right.”
30 October 1929
The Inspector knew that he was there, somehow, without hearing him. He was sitting at his desk, his back to the door, carefully studying the layout of Althausen’s villa. Ibsen was sitting on the window sill, when suddenly the cat turned and looked toward the door. The atmosphere had suddenly changed, had grown colder, thicker. The silence was heavy. The Inspector felt the hair on his arm standing up.
He sat up a little straighter. The sun was just setting; this would be his first time seeing the man in anything other than darkness. Strangely enough, he was unafraid.
The silence persisted for a moment. Ibsen jumped from the window sill and hid behind the Inspector’s armchair.
“I was beginning to think I’d seen the last of you,” said the Inspector at last, turning around in his seat.
The man stood across the room, saying nothing, dressed again in his long scarf, high-collared coat and wide-brimmed hat, which he had turned down to conceal his face. His hands were buried deep in his pockets. Hot orange streaks of sunset came through the window, casting a soft glow on the chestnut brown fabric of his coat. He was leaning against the closed door of the Inspector’s apartment; the door, the Inspector noted, was still locked.
“So,” said the Inspector, shrugging. “What can I do for you?”
The man lifted his chin, though not enough for the Inspector to catch a glimpse of his face. “You aren’t afraid,” he said.
“Not today.” The Inspector leaned back in his chair, managing a weak smile. “I suppose I’ve outgrown my fear.”
“Then you remain a fool.” The man took his hands from his pockets and folded his arms. He was wearing the same gloves, the ones with the fingers cut off. “This is the third time that I will have warned you, Herr Inspektor. It is also the last time.”
“Very well.” The Inspector folded his arms as well. “Let’s have it.”
The man was silent for a long moment, and shifted his weight slightly. “You aren’t taking this seriously,” he said. Herr Inspektor thought he could hear a hint of disappointment in his voice.
“On the contrary,” said the Inspector, “I take this situation quite seriously. However I fail to see how playing along with your cryptic little games is going to benefit me in any way. I am busy and tired, and I have no energy to expend on deferring to strange men who appear in my home.” He watched the man for any sign of a reaction, but the man remained as inscrutable as ever. “Whatever you have to say, just say it, and leave me in peace.”
“Peace,” said the man with scorn. “You do not know peace. You only know quiet and solitude.”
Herr Inspektor hesitated for an instant, wondering if this stranger could possibly know how much this fairly accurate assessment hurt him. He turned away, returning to his paperwork. “Well, if that was your urgent message, consider it delivered. Thank you and good evening.”
“You aren’t prepared for tomorrow,” said the man, lowering his voice. “And you know it. You have no idea what’s coming.”
“And I take it that you do?” The Inspector looked back over his shoulder, narrowing his eyes.
The man seemed to be stalling for a moment before turning away slightly. “It would be better for you if you did not attend that party, that’s all I can say.”
“I see.” The Inspector sighed and shifted in his seat, facing the man again. “You’re saying they are planning to attack Althausen.”
“I am saying you should not attend that party,” said the man with a shrug.
The Inspector managed a short, humorless laugh. “Well,” he said. “All the same, I won’t be doing that.”
The man nodded. “I know.”
Something in the way he said this caught the Inspector off guard. He had expected more insults, more intimidation, more attempts to break his resolve, but the man only sounded sad.
“Am I to understand, then, that you have accepted my intention to see the investigation through to its end?” asked the Inspector, raising an eyebrow.
Again the man lifted his chin, and the Inspector caught a glimpse of an unpleasant smile, similar to the one he’d always detected in the man’s voice during their previous encounters. “What a question,” he said. “The only thing I have accepted is that you are the sort of man who thinks himself sensible, and then repeatedly refuses perfectly sensible advice. This is far from over; to imagine that it has an end at all is another testament to just how little you understand.”
“Meaningless,” snapped the Inspector. “If you want to make an impression on me, tell me something real, something solid. Tell me what it is that’s happening.”
“As if you could understand it,” said the man dismissively.
Out of patience, the Inspector decided to cut straight to the heart of the matter. “Is it the Wild Hunt?”
The man almost didn’t react. He tilted his head very slowly, a gesture that could have indicated surprise or interest, or perhaps amusement. “And where did you learn such big words?” he asked coolly.
“I suppose you think you’re terribly clever,” said the Inspector, beginning to get annoyed.
“I think I am far too generous for my own good,” countered the man. “Three warnings is far too many for such an insufferable man.”
“Then why bother with me at all?” The Inspector stared hard at the man, daring him to ignore this question, or to dismiss it with a typically rude remark. The man was quiet for several moments, then he let out a long, heavy sigh.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “Because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try.”
This was not the response the Inspector had expected, and he didn’t know what to say. A long silence fell between them as the Inspector studied the man, or at least what he could see of him. He was so different this time; he seemed gentler, almost melancholy, as though he genuinely did care for the Inspector’s well-being. The Inspector didn’t want to let his guard down; he wished he could see the man’s face, wished he knew for certain whether or not he was trustworthy. Still, this was the first time they’d had a direct interaction without his being physically assaulted, and although their dialogue was as circular and unproductive as ever, it was something of a relief to be able to converse on his own terms. He wondered how far this newfound dynamic would extend as he debated asking the question that was forefront on his mind.
“Who are you?” he said finally. “What’s your part in all this?”
The question seemed to throw the man off balance, and he faltered for a moment. “It doesn’t matter,” he murmured. He cleared his throat and adjusted his gloves. “Suffice to say that I, too, am busy and tired.”
Herr Inspektor frowned slightly. “You can’t answer that way forever.”
The man didn’t respond apart from a sigh as he again shifted his position, returning his hands to his pockets. “You don’t know what you’re getting into,” he said.
“I wish I did.”
“No, you don’t.” The man shook his head slightly and opened the door, which now was suddenly unlocked. As he disappeared into the growing dark of the hallway, the Inspector heard him say, “I’ll see you there.”