Ice cold, p.1

Ice Cold, page 1

 

Ice Cold
 


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Ice Cold


  Ice Cold

  Andrea Maria Schenkel

  Translated from the German by Anthea Bell

  Cover Page

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Memorandum on the conclusion of the trial of Josef Kalteis

  Prologue

  Saturday

  Sunday morning

  Sunday

  Monday

  Tuesday and Wednesday

  Thursday and Friday

  Saturday

  Saturday

  Acknowledgements

  First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Quercus

  This ebook edition published in 2013 by

  Quercus Editions Ltd

  55 Baker Street

  7th Floor, South Block

  London

  W1U 8EW

  German original, Kalteis, first published by Edition Nautilus.

  English translation Copyright © 2009 by Anthea Bell

  Copyright © 2007 by Edition Nautilus

  Published by agreement with Edition Nautilus.

  The moral right of Andrea Maria Schenkel to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library

  ISBN 978 1 84916 769 7

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  You can find this and many other great books at:

  www.quercusbooks.co.uk

  Praise for Ice Cold

  ‘There’s far more packed into it than the average airport blockbuster … it’s a chilling portrait of a society riddled with a sickness that it refuses to acknowledge’

  Mail on Sunday

  ‘Schenkel marshals her material to fashion a novel that for all its brevity conveys an ambitious scale’

  Daily Express

  ‘This book … packs a far harder punch and lingers longer in the mind than many a longer, more convoluted work’

  Guardian

  ‘This short and brilliant ice-diamond of a book’

  Independent

  ‘Schenkel wrote the highly acclaimed The Murder Farm and her new novel is equally notable for its experimentation with a sometimes tired genre’

  Times Literary Supplement

  Praise for The Murder Farm

  ‘Brave, mesmerising … I recommend it to those who want a grown-up crime novel’

  Daily Telegraph

  ‘Remarkable, sparse, chilling … Both atmosphere and the roundabout manner of the telling, spiralling in from an almost documentary approach to the psychological and the hidden, almost chillingly mundane horror make this a curiously original literary European equivalent of The Blair Witch Project’

  The Times

  Also by Andrea Maria Schenkel

  The Murder Farm

  Ice Cold

  Memorandum on the conclusion of

  the trial of Josef Kalteis

  SECRET REICH BUSINESS

  The condemned man is not to be granted a reprieve. The sentence of execution is to be carried out in Stadelheim prison without delay. No public announcement is to be made.

  Explanatory note: many crimes of this nature, dating from the beginning of the 1930s, are on the files. Such acts could thrive only on the barren ground of the Weimar Republic – democracy, that cancerous tumour, that breeding-ground of social misfits! However, the fact that, even after we took power, those crimes have not decreased in number, but continue to alarm and cause anxiety to our loyal National Comrades, is unacceptable. The National Community is healthy and must remain so in the future. Noxious parasites on the nation, like this man, ice cold in his crimes as in his very name, must therefore be removed from it. It is intolerable that such an anti-social character was able to prey on the western districts of Munich for years, soiling Munich itself, the cradle of the movement, the city so close to the heart of our beloved Führer.

  Since the murderer is an ethnic German, an Aryan, and in addition a member of the National Socialist Workers’ Party, immediate execution of the sentence and absolute silence are necessary. There is to be no announcement in organs of the German People’s press such as the Völkischer Beobachter. For this reason all reports, both oral and written, are to remain strictly confidential. Any damage that might be done to the Party and the National Socialist movement is to be pre-empted. The appeal for clemency that has been lodged is rejected. Secure detention with re-education in Dachau concentration camp is not to be considered either.

  Heil Hitler!

  Munich, 29 October 1939

  Signed: …

  He sits there. On the bed, his head in his hands. Eyes closed, open? He doesn’t know. The room is faintly illuminated by the light falling in from the yard through the small barred window.

  He sits there, he has been sitting there for hours. Always in the same position, hands folded as if in prayer, face half hidden in them, elbows propped on his thighs, motionless. Time passes. He feels as if it were running away through his fingers, along his arms, down his legs to the floor. Constantly. Incessantly. And yet however slowly it moves, he cannot remember anything. Not the day, the night, the hour, the minute … it is all blurred in that faint light, that endless grey, as if he too had dissolved, as if his life were already over.

  Nothing is left, nothing, an endless space containing nothing, only a void.

  Even fear has left his mind and his body. The fear that he was still able to feel yesterday. The fear slowly crawling up his back to his head, centimetre by centimetre. The fear holding his body, himself, captive. Lurking deep inside him, it numbed his thoughts and took possession of every single cell in his body, his whole being. Overnight, even that fear had given way to the void. Hadn’t been able to hold out, couldn’t stand up to the void now filling him, taking him over.

  At some point in the night the flap on the cell door is opened. Hearing the sound, he does not turn his head. Why would he? It means nothing any more. Nothing means anything any more. Nothing.

  When the light in the cell is switched on again at six he doesn’t notice it. Last night’s wan, grey light still lingers around him. Head in his hands again, he stays sitting there on his bed. With the emptiness, with the void that is worse than fear.

  He is still sitting like that when the two men enter the cell at around ten to seven.

  They speak to him as they come in, but whatever they are saying he doesn’t understand it. Words no longer penetrate this void, this vacuum all around him. Enveloping him, holding him in its grip.

  He reacts only when he feels the touch, the hand on his shoulder. Knows it’s time to stand up now. Slowly, mechanically, he gets to his feet. The men put his hands behind his back, and he feels the metal handcuffs on his wrists.

  It takes him four steps to leave the cell. Four steps. He counts them.

  The prison chaplain is already waiting for him at the cell door.

  Whether he goes ahead of them or walks after them he cannot say, any more than he can remember the chaplain’s words. He saw the chaplain open his mouth to speak. He remembers sounds trying to make their way to his ear. But they were disconnected, they made no sense. They didn’t get through to him. Couldn’t pass the wall of the void.

  Once again he counts the steps. E
very one of them, one, two, three, four … and then he hears the sound. The other sound, audible through his footsteps, urging itself more and more strongly on his conscious mind.

  First quietly, then louder and louder, until it occupies his head entirely. It is the sound of the prison bell tolling for the last walk he will ever take. The death-knell. Its sound fills him now and his whole body.

  Fills him as much as the void did before. He knows it will not fall silent until he is no longer alive. It will be the last thing he hears, it announces his death for everyone to hear.

  He is brought down to the prison yard. They are already waiting for him there. The Public Prosecutor, the medical officer, and the executioner with his assistants.

  Clad in black suits, the assistants receive him. They take him by both arms, one to his left, one to his right. Lay him down on his stomach on the tip board. He can still feel the firm grasp of their hands as they push the board under the guillotine.

  The executioner pulls the locking lever. The blade falls, separates his head from his body.

  The corpse, now the property of the state of Bavaria, is handed over to the City of Munich Institute of Forensic Medicine. The executed man’s family have declined to claim the body, thus avoiding any responsibility for the expenses incurred. The fee of 247 Reichsmarks is paid to the executioner Johann Reichard from the funds of the Bavarian state treasury.

  Duration of execution, from entry into the prison yard to death by the guillotine: 17 seconds.

  Saturday

  Kathie is sitting in the train to Munich. She has found a window seat, she’s looking out. Raindrops patter on the panes. Driven by the airflow, they run across the windows in slanting lines, meet other raindrops, join them, merge into streets of rain. They’re caught up against the frame, flow down the window in little streams. The landscape is hardly visible behind the wet window panes. The green of the meadows, the harvested fields, the forest, it’s all blurred by the rain.

  She sits there deep in thought. She’s already far away from the village, far away in Munich. When they arrived they’d be going to Frau Lederer’s. She and Maria. Frau Lederer is her mother’s cousin. When she left home this morning she had promised her mother to do that, she’d had to promise. But as for staying, oh no, she wasn’t going to stay there. Just leave her things and then go on. Why would she want to stay with Frau Lederer, who’d make the same rules as her father? Tell her what was right and wrong, decide on everything, her whole life. She wants to be free in Munich. Free. What about her promise? Well, she doesn’t have to keep her promise, her mother will never know, and anyway Kathie kept her fingers crossed behind her back while she promised. And her mother didn’t notice, so it was her own fault, wasn’t it?

  A few years ago, when Kathie was still a little girl, she went to Munich with her mother now and then. Not often. She was only occasionally allowed to go, and then she had to be a good girl. She had to sit by the window in the train like a good girl; hold her mother’s hand like a good girl as they walked through the big city; sit on the chair like a good girl and wait until her mother had finished making her purchases. So there sat little Kathie on chairs much too tall for her, swinging her small legs, waiting for her mother to be through with it at last, and then she’d get a special ‘town treat’ for being a good girl. A bun with sugar on top, or a couple of sticks of rock.

  Her mother bought fabric and all sorts of other items. Then she sold it on to the villagers at home in the country. She had her own little pedlar’s business. All the lovely things were stowed away in her big bags or the rucksack. Things from the city that you couldn’t get out in the country, or if you could it was only with difficulty. Buttons, fabric, sewing silks, reels of cotton. And Kathie’s mother sold a few kitchen pots and pans as well. Combs and ribbon bows, too. You could get such things from the nearest local shop, but even the nearest local shop was too far for many people to go, and ‘the Wolnzach lady’, as they called Kathie’s mother, would also take orders for this or that item and bring it back from town.

  Kathie loved searching the bags for these delights, the coloured buttons, the bows, the combs. Her mother didn’t like her to do it. ‘That stuff is for sale,’ she said. But little Kathie often opened the boxes of buttons in secret. Looked at the treasures her mother brought home from the Munich stores.

  Brightly coloured buttons, mother-of-pearl buttons, Bakelite buttons. In every hue, red, blue, green. She even had silver buttons. Silver buttons that shone in the sun. Some like coins, others like little mirrors. Kathie could gaze at it all for hours on end. The buttons, the sewing silks. It wasn’t just ordinary thread her mother bought, no, she bought expensive sewing silk too. In all colours, to match the fabrics. Coloured skeins of embroidery silks, patterns for the farmers’ daughters so that they could embroider their trousseaux. So that the bridal carts would be full of linen when they left the parental home, and everyone could see what a girl was taking to her marriage with her.

  Kathie watched to see just where her mother had placed the contents of the bags. She quickly put the boxes away when she heard her coming, put everything back in exactly the same place. Her mother mustn’t notice that she’d been exploring the treasures again. Her heart was in her mouth, beating so hard that she was afraid her mother would hear it.

  Once her mother brought a bead collar back from Munich. One of her customers had asked for it. These collars were the latest thing. You sewed them to your dresses. The glass beads were white, grey, and pink. Kathie held the collar in her hands. Felt the cool touch of the glass beads; the collar was so heavy lying there in her hands. She couldn’t resist. With the collar around her neck, she examined herself in the mirror. She looked like a real little lady, she talked to herself in the mirror like one lady talking to another. Deep in conversation with herself, she didn’t notice her mother. Never noticed her coming into the room. She was scared to bits when she heard her voice.

  ‘Keep on looking at yourself in the mirror like that and one day the Devil himself will look back at you.’

  ‘How can the Devil look back at me out of the mirror?’ Kathie asked.

  ‘Just look in it long enough and you’ll soon see. You wouldn’t be the first it happened to. And give me that collar; it’s not for you, I had to bring it back from Munich specially. It’s for a customer, and she won’t buy it if it’s grubby.’

  Reluctantly, Kathie handed the collar back. Promised herself she’d have a collar like it herself some day, and not just one either. She’ll look like the film actresses, the stars in the photos put up in the display case outside the cinema.

  But Kathie still looks for the Devil in the mirror every day. She peers into every corner of it, in case she can see him, maybe even spot him looking over her shoulder. Beelzebub. She’s never set eyes on him yet.

  The Devil, the Devil, the Devil, the words are repeated over and over in her head, in time to the rattling wheels of the train. The Devil, the Devil, the Devil.

  Maria, her companion on the way to Munich, sits opposite her. Eyes closed, tired out by the monotonous ‘chug-a-chug-a-chug’ of the train, she’s fallen asleep.

  Kathie doesn’t mind, she’s glad of it. This way she can think her own thoughts undisturbed by Maria.

  Dreaming of the job she’ll look for in Munich, of her new life. She’ll go to the Hofmanns, she wrote to them back in January. The Hofmanns know Kathie. Her mother always buys her fabric from them in Heysestrasse. And she’s taken Kathie there too, to the place where they sell the fabrics, the buttons, the coloured cotton reels. You only had to pick them up. Kathie still sees the cotton reel lying in her hand when she thinks of that. It was red, and she had closed her hand tightly over it. She didn’t want to put it back. Nobody noticed her fingers closing around the cotton reel. The treasure well hidden in her little fist. Outside in the street, she showed her mother the reel of cotton.

  ‘Stolen,’ her mother told Kathie. ‘You stole it. I can’t take you to Munich with me any more if
you’ll do a thing like that.’

  Kathie had to take her precious treasure back. Her mother propelled her into the shop ahead of her. Kathie can still feel the shame of it today, but Frau Hofmann didn’t scold her, she just laughed and said, ‘I like the red ones best myself. Let’s not take it so seriously, Frau Hertl, Kathie’s only little.’

  She wrote to the Hofmann family asking if they could help her find a job in Munich. She wanted to work as a maid. Well, to start with. A maid in the household of a lawyer or artist or some other rich Munich family. She was sure the Hofmanns would help her, they must know such people. All the ladies came to buy from them. She’s seen that for herself when she went to Munich with her mother, buying fabrics. The ladies with their hats and their furs. They all wore shoes with high heels and silk stockings. She wanted to own such things herself. She’d buy fine shoes and silk stockings. She’d buy them with the very first money she earned. She wanted to look like one of those city ladies.

  The train stops on a clear stretch of line. Kathie looks out of the window. The rain is still running down it in large, heavy drops. The train slowly starts off again. Maria sleeps deeply; neither the jolting as the train stops nor the movement when it starts again can wake her.

  Like Kathie, she plans to look for a job in Munich. Kathie is not pleased to have her tagging along. But she’ll soon shake Maria off, she’s sure of that. Once they’re in Munich.

  Kathie looks out of the window again; this time there are no thoughts in her head. She just sits there and watches the raindrops following their course down the window.

  Just before Munich, Maria wakes up at last. They help each other to get their cases down from the baggage net. Each girl has a small case with her. Not much. But the few possessions in Kathie’s case are all she owns. She’s put on her lovely green coat with the belt and the big green buttons specially for the journey, and her little blue hat with the pale ribbons, the hat she usually wears only to church on Sundays.

 
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