The teletype ran hot through the night shift, spewing its litany of crimes from the precinct houses of Berlin for the detectives at the Alex.
At 00.21 a runner brought the latest to the Kripo squad room – Precinct 87, possible murder in a tenement.
Kriminalkommissar Trautmann and Kriminalassistant Roth took the call and Roth cursed their luck. Trautmann knew what the younger man was thinking.
Precinct 87 meant a small-time pimp or a KPD agitator; the odds of finding the culprit were long. They’d have to talk to Fleischer, see what the usual noses were picking up.
Trautmann sent the runner to requisition an auto and then run on a little further and inform the lab.
The kommissar expected a long night. Little did he know how long.
When they arrived on the scene they saw the 87th had sent a whole squad, some of the men outside going door to door under the flickering street lamps. Word from the Schupo on the tenement door was Kessler was running things inside.
‘Not any more,’ Trautmann said, tasting sweat on his lips from the warmth of the night air. ‘Where is he?’
‘One floor up,’ said the Schupo. He smoked a cigarette, raising it to his mouth with trembling fingers. It was unprofessional but he didn’t seem to care. He chugged the smoke without pause.
‘A whole squad?’ Roth said, as they passed into the dusty tenement hallway. ‘What the hell’s going on?’
The Schupo ignored the question, eyeing a Jew who passed by on the other side of the street. A couple of the uniformed officers stopped the man and began asking questions. Trautmann shifted his attention inside.
Scuffed blood droplets on the stairs and the squeak of heavy shoes on bare floorboards overhead told Trautmann to expect a mess. Sure enough, when they entered the brightly lit apartment there were far too many uniforms in there. A crime scene needed the rigour of a Bach prelude; this was more the chaos of a Stravinsky score.
Trautmann disliked Stravinsky. He disliked procedural laxity even more. He managed a glimpse of a body lying on a blood-soaked rug near the fireplace at the end of the room before calling for Kessler.
‘So they sent me the Mule,’ said Schupo-sergeant Kessler, coming through from a connecting room with his shako dangling from his left fist. Sweat dripped from him and made dark patches in the underarms of his uniform jacket. Trautmann itched to bring out a handkerchief and mop his own face.
As Kessler came nearer, he glanced at Roth: ‘I see you brought Admiral Nelson with you.’
Roth touched the stump where his right arm had once been.
‘That’s enough of that, Kessler,’ Trautmann said, pulling the sergeant’s gaze back to him. ‘I need you to clear this apartment. There are too many people in here.’
‘We’re trying to solve this one before word gets out.’
‘You don’t solve a crime by ruining the evidence,’ Roth said with a jerk of his pomaded head.
‘Roth,’ Trautmann warned.
Kessler just smiled.
‘What do you mean, before word gets out?’ Trautmann said.
‘Victim’s a brownshirt,’ Kessler said, scratching one of his chins. ‘You know as well as I do there’ll be reprisals by tomorrow lunchtime if we don’t make an arrest…’
‘Yeah, reprisals from who,’ Roth muttered.
‘…It’s a tinderbox out there.’ Kessler led them past the body to the next room, a bedroom. Then he waited for them to catch up. ‘The trail begins in here.’
The sheets on the bed were rumpled. A brass candlestick lay in a pool of drying blood on a patch of floor between the bed and a dresser, and there were red-brown speckles on the sheets and on the walls. A picture frame had toppled from the dresser into the blood; one corner of the frame was stained with it and the glass had cracked.
‘Reckon our boy came in and caught his woman with some other chap, leading to a struggle.’
Trautmann pulled a pair of rubber gloves from his pocket and pointed at the candlestick. ‘The murder weapon?’
Kessler laughed. ‘Slow up there, Mule. I’ve got more…’
Trautmann put on the gloves and picked up the picture frame, angling it to catch the light as Kessler rattled on.
‘…So there’s a fight in here, our boy with his woman, or the gentlemen caller, or maybe both…’
The photograph showed a young woman with dark hair and eyes and a beguiling smile.
‘…Our boy takes a nasty blow to the head that knocks him to the floor. There’s a corresponding mark on his right temple, as you’ll see. Then…’
Kessler paused and made them follow him back to where the body lay. Trautmann brought the picture frame along.
‘…at some point, two shots to the torso.’
‘A gun?’ Roth asked.
‘Well, I may just be a humble Schupo,’ Kessler said, ‘but I reckon I know a fatal gunshot wound when I see one.’
Trautmann looked down at the body, a young blond male dressed in the brown uniform of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung. Dead though he was, he still oozed blood onto the rug. ‘Anyone hear anything?’
‘Round here?’ Kessler made a face. ‘What do you think?’
‘I thought you had your ways,’ Roth said.
‘Now now, Admiral. No need to get jealous because we know how to get results.’
‘So what have you found out?’ Roth snapped. ‘Anything?’
‘Do we have the boy’s name?’ Trautmann cut in.
Kessler referred to a notebook. ‘Jan Meist, according to his landlady.’
‘The old girl on the next landing up. And a real pleasure she is, too. I can’t wait for you to meet her.’
‘And the young woman here?’ Trautmann showed them the photograph. ‘She lived with him, I take it?’
‘That’s the best part.’ Kessler grinned. ‘You’ll never guess who she is. Fair gives us our killer straight out of the gate.’
‘You’re right,’ Trautmann said. ‘I won’t guess who she is. So why don’t you just tell me.’
Trautmann looked at Roth and Roth looked at Trautmann.
‘She’s related to Fleischer?’ Trautmann said.
Kessler clapped his hands. ‘I know. Great, isn’t it? I can have my squad ready to pick him up as soon as the lab boys are done here.’
Roth clicked his tongue in disgust.
‘No, you don’t,’ Trautmann said. ‘Not without we’ve spoken to him first.’
‘Oh, come on, Mule!’ Kessler said. ‘What more do you want? Meist beats up his girl, makes her go out pros-pec-ting’ – he drew out the word – ‘to pay the rent. She tells her uncle, who comes and puts two bullets in him for her. Simple.’
‘Whoa, not so simple,’ Trautmann said. ‘Beats up his girl?’
‘Ask the landlady. She’s full of it. You’ll get all you need from her.’
‘And what about this man she was supposedly with when Meist came in here?’ Roth said. ‘Anyone see what happened to him?’
‘Who else but Fleischer would be able to get hold of a gun in this part of town?’ Kessler said.
‘Maybe they didn’t get the gun in this part of town,’ Roth said. ‘Maybe this gentleman caller was an army officer. Or a pol…’ He cut himself off and regarded the knot of uniformed patrolmen standing close by.
‘Or a what?’ Kessler said.
‘We can soon settle this,’ Trautmann said. ‘Do you have the gun?’
‘Sarge,’ bellowed a voice; a young Schupoman entered the apartment with a pistol in his hand. ‘We found it! In the drains outside.’
Trautmann couldn’t contain his anger. ‘Kessler! Tell me that man isn’t contaminating evidence!’
‘That’s it!’ Trautmann shouted. ‘Everybody out – RIGHT NOW!’