Ice cold, p.11

Ice Cold, page 11

 

Ice Cold
 


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  At Soller’s they ask Gretel the waitress for a room.

  No, they don’t need two single rooms, they’ll share the room and the bed too if necessary. The main thing is somewhere to stay the night.

  Oh yes, and they need to be able to park the motorbike safely overnight. Did they have a garage or a shed at Soller’s where they could put the NSU?

  Well, there’s a room free, says Gretel, but the bed would cost them two marks for the night. Each.

  The couple agree, and get her to show them the shed where they can leave the bike. Then they order half-litres of beer from Gretel inside the inn. As they drink their beer one of them tells his friend about the girl who spoke to him just now. While the other man was putting the motorbike in the shed. Just outside their guest-room.

  She has asked him whether he’d mind if she spent the night in the room with them, his friend and him. She has nowhere to spend the night, and she was sure Gretel would have asked them about it already.

  He was taken by surprise. What could he say? She was pretty, too, so he didn’t want to say no. He told his friend to take a quick look in the direction of the toilets, inconspicuously, and then he could see her. The one in the blue dress, at the table next to the blond man.

  No, look the other way, three – no, four tables further on.

  He meant the girl with the dark braid of hair, had his friend spotted her now?

  The girl with the dark braid of hair glances at them. She is sitting between the blond man and a young woman in a pale coat and a little dark hat.

  She raises her glass to them and smiles.

  When she passes the motorcyclists’ table later, the one who has been steering the bike gets the impression that she winks at him. The pretext that he must ‘just go and take a look outside’ is all he can think of at this moment, so he follows the girl through the doorway. She is already waiting for him on the other side of the door.

  Would it be all right, she asks, for her to spend the night in the room with him and his friend? She doesn’t have anywhere else to stay the night.

  Yes, that’s fine, his friend has already mentioned it, he says. If she likes she can certainly sleep in their room that night. As he talks to her he looks at her face, sees her dark eyes, sees the hair combed back from her forehead and plaited into a braid. His friend is right, she’s a pretty girl, he likes her.

  So as not to just keep staring at her, he asks where she comes from, and what she’s doing in Munich. He doesn’t care about the answer, he just wants to keep the girl here with him outside the bar for a while. Talk to her about something, anything, just to keep her from going back inside.

  She comes from near Ingolstadt, she says, she’s looking for a job in Munich.

  But she herself doesn’t seem interested in a conversation either. Smiles at him. Well, if she could spend the night with him and his friend in their room, she says, then now she’ll go back to her acquaintances at the other table. She’ll be able to see when the two of them leave the bar and follow them. She stops once more at the door and smiles at him before going back inside. He waits a moment before rejoining his friend at their table.

  As soon as the girl is inside their room she undresses without false modesty and without hesitating. She takes off her black patent leather belt, puts it over the chair in the room. Unbuttons the blue dress, puts it down with the belt. The two beds, up against the walls, give her just enough room to undress between them. The motorcyclists sit on their beds watching her undress without haste.

  They watch her take off her stockings, put them with her dress and belt. In her vest and knickers, she slips into bed with one of the two men.

  He hears the rustle of the bedspread. Smells the warm fragrance of her skin. Closes his eyes as he breathes it in. The girl lets him put both hands under her vest to push it up, take it off over her head. He passes his hands down her body. Feels her smooth skin, her firm flesh. She lies there perfectly still. He pushes the covers down to the foot of the bed.

  He wants to see her, wants to see her naked body.

  His hands caress her white breasts. The other man sits on his bed, watching his friend. Sees him take the girl’s knickers off as well as her vest. Sees his friend touch her body with his hands, stroke her legs, feel her vulva. Sees the girl lying naked on the bed. She lies there perfectly still, with her eyes closed.

  He watches his friend lie on top of the girl, penetrate her. He sees her naked body glowing faintly white in the darkness of the room. Feels how imagining it all rather than watching it is arousing him. He hears his friend’s panting breath when he comes to orgasm. Sees him slip off the girl’s body and roll aside.

  As if it were the natural thing to do, the girl gets up directly afterwards and moves over to him, gets into his bed. Her body is still warm and damp with his friend’s sweat; he too touches her body, comes inside her. She lets him do as he likes, lies underneath him soft, warm and still.

  In the night the girl changes beds again, gets up as if nothing had happened, goes over to his friend. He sees her lie down beside him, sees his friend’s hands on her body again, hears his friend’s moaning.

  In the morning the girl is back in his bed, sleeping close to him, naked. He sees his friend getting dressed. ‘I’ll wait downstairs for you, join me when you’re ready.’ So saying, his friend closes the door behind him.

  Left on his own, he sleeps with her one last time, penetrates the drowsy girl at his side. Feels the soft, warm body under him once more. Then he gets up, gets dressed, and like his friend before him leaves the room

  Kathie lay in the bed. Watched the motorcyclist dressing. Picking up garment after garment from the floor: under-pants, undershirt, socks, trousers. She has pulled the bedspread over her breasts. She had not been ashamed to be there with her breasts uncovered, but she felt cold here in the room at Soller’s now. Cold and drained. So she’d pulled the covers up so far that her bare legs were showing. She lay there rubbing her cold feet together. The motorcyclist had turned to her.

  ‘What is it? Are you cold?’

  She just looked briefly at him, without saying a word, without even taking in what he said. She was far away; in her thoughts she was back in the summers of her childhood when she went without shoes and socks. The summers when she ran barefoot along dry, dusty paths, over meadows wet with the morning dew, through puddles with mud between her toes.

  She was remembering how her toes were always the smallest and roundest of anyone’s, just as she herself had always been the roundest and smallest of them all.

  Only when the motorcyclist let the door latch behind him did she come back from her thoughts, was back in bed in the room at Soller’s again. Before the motorcyclist left the room he had taken some money out of his jacket pocket. He put it on the bed beside her. On the place next to her feet. She, Kathie, had glanced briefly up at him and looked at him without seeing him.

  Once the door had closed Kathie got up too. She pushed the warm bedspread aside. Stood up, put on the clothes still hanging over the chair from the day before, picked up the money.

  She could wash at Mitzi’s. She wanted to be out of that room. Go through the city, cross the Viktualienmarkt to Mariahilfplatz.

  The motorcyclists were still in the yard of the inn, standing beside their bike and looking awkward. One of them tried to start a conversation with her. What was she going to do now? Where was she going?

  Kathie didn’t answer. What could she have told him – that she herself didn’t know what she was going to do today, didn’t know where she was going? What use would that have been? Or should she have told them about the summers when she went bare-legged, and the lovely time she had wading through puddles with her bare feet? Should she have told him that those summers were the best in her life, and this morning, when she had watched one of the two of them dressing, she had guessed – no, she had known – that they would always be the best summers in her entire life?

  Or should she have told them about the brill
iant red of the cotton reel in her hand? A red that warmed her, like the brief happiness she had felt out there with the driver that afternoon. What good would that have done her? She didn’t want to reply, so she said nothing. Just shrugged her shoulders briefly and walked away.

  She went towards Mariahilfplatz, the way she had gone with the driver, an eternity ago. It was only a couple of days in the past, yet it seemed a lifetime since then. She passed the market-women’s stalls. Went along Reichenbachstrasse and over the Reichenbach Bridge. She stopped for a moment on the bridge at the place where the driver had kissed her. Went on to Mariahilfplatz. Her head was empty, no thoughts in it at all.

  Mitzi opened the door wearing only her underclothes. She sat opposite Kathie at the kitchen table in her vest. She pushed a mug of coffee over to Kathie. Kathie put both hands round the mug. Drew it closer to her and felt the warmth in her clammy fingers.

  Later, Kathie took the motorcyclists’ money out of her bag and put it on the table. She got off the chair and went over to the sofa. Just as she was, she lay down on the sofa and fell asleep.

  Some time during the day Mitzi left the apartment, because when Kathie got up again she was alone. She stood up, washed her face and hands and between her legs. Dressed, put her little blue hat on, slipped into her green coat, and went out.

  Kathie

  Tuesday 13 October was a mild autumn day. The leaves on the trees and bushes had already turned russet brown. Johann Reiss rode his motorbike out along the main road towards Hohenschäftlarn with his brother Alwin in the side-car. They had set out early. The autumnal mist was just beginning to lift, the sun could already be seen here and there. It was going to be a fine day. One of the last days of late summer weather this year. They had left Munich behind them. There was hardly any traffic on the road. They both felt it was pleasant to go out for the day, riding along with no particular destination in mind, stopping for a snack, riding on, enjoying the landscape. They had all the time in the world today.

  They rode out of Hohenschäftlarn, past the abbey, and on in the direction of Säge. Just after the Bruckenfischer inn they turned off the main road. Took the little road going south. It was only a path really, not a paved road. Johann reduced speed, avoiding the potholes. They went on through fields and meadows, down to the old millstream.

  They both knew this area, they often rode out here. On almost all their days off. They came to bathe in the millstream in summer, and in autumn to pick blackberries or look for mushrooms, or just to spend a day out. Their way took them a short distance upstream along the course of the millstream. Now they decided to stop for a break, sit on the banks of the stream, have a rest, just do as they liked.

  The banks of the old millstream were densely overgrown with reeds and bushes. On both sides of the stream and up the slope. Here and there narrow tracks led from the path down to the stream, to secret places for anglers, bathers, pairs of lovers. They rode on past those because they wanted to get to the old bridge, the only place where you could sit directly on the slope by the stream, which was not overgrown there. There’d been nothing left of the bridge itself for a long time now. You could see the remains of it only in the water near the bank, where the old foundations, even though they were just a few stones, kept the vegetation from spreading. It was the one place where you had a clear view of the bank and could climb down to the stream. They were planning to get off the bike and lie on a rug in the sun. They had brought a thermos flask and sandwiches, and afterwards they would go on along the stream and pick mushrooms for their mother on the way back, as they’d promised her.

  Now they have reached the place and left the motorbike. Johann goes a little way down the slope towards the stream. Then he sees the little blue hat. More of a cap really, dark blue with pale trimmings. A ribbon bow, white ribbons drifting from it in the slowly flowing water. The cap itself is caught, stuck on a piece of wood, flotsam that has ended up beside the left-hand bank of the stream, among the twigs and soil washed up there.

  All he notices are the ribbons drifting in the water. The dancing white ribbons on the cap. Feeling curious, he goes closer for a better view. He climbs a little way down the slope until he can see the hat clearly. He looks at it in surprise, wondering whether to fish it out of the water, this little hat dancing on the current, and if so how. His eyes wander along the bank, but he can’t see any good place to climb in. He decides to try further up, climb down to the water there, wade out to the cap and retrieve it. It won’t be going anywhere in the meantime. It will stay where it is; the current is weak.

  He walks a few paces upstream, turns up his trouser-legs, takes off his shoes. Climbs down to the edge of the bank. Leans forward to see if he’s reached the little ford. No, not yet, the bank drops more steeply at this point, the water looks to him deeper than it was near the cap. His glance wanders further along the bank. The root of a tree catches his eye. There’s something white underneath it.

  Then he sees her. She is lying wedged under that root in the water. Only the white skin of her legs sticking out from under the roots is in view. The rest is out of sight.

  He calls for his brother, who comes, reluctantly. Doesn’t believe what Johann called out to him. ‘You’re seeing spooks. Where is this girl in the water?’

  ‘Here, I can see her. Hang on to me, will you? The bank’s too steep here. You’ll have to hold me so I don’t fall in.’

  Johann holds his arm out to his brother, who takes it and holds Johann firmly, bracing himself against his weight. Johann leans out as far as he can over the millstream. Looks into the deep, clear, slowly flowing water. All he can see of the body is one hand and the legs.

  The hand is lying to the side of the body. There’s something gleaming silver on the wrist. A bracelet. No, a piece of wire tying it up.

  ‘What is it?’ Alwin asks. ‘What’s happened? What can you see?’

  ‘Not much,’ says his brother. ‘It’s a woman, or a girl. She must be lying face down. She’s covered with spruce branches. I can’t see anything except her legs and one hand.’

  ‘Let me have a go – maybe I can see more,’ says Alwin.

  Johann looks for a better foothold on the bank. Cautiously, Alwin relaxes his grasp and slides down the slope too. Tries to see the girl, leans out from the bank, always taking care not to slide down it. Then he can see her too, her bare legs in the water, the glittering wire round her wrist. The wire tying the spruce branches to her body. Only now does he believe his brother, now that he sees it with his own eyes.

  It is several hours before they come back with the police. They have been home to Munich, and once there they went to the police station and reported finding the dead woman.

  ‘Why not at the scene of the crime?’ the officer on duty asked them. ‘Why didn’t you go straight to the police in Schäftlarn?’

  The brothers don’t know. They say nothing. They just wanted to get well away from what they’d found. They’d packed up their things in a hurry, Alwin tells the officer, and then Johann rode all the way home.

  They just hadn’t thought of reporting their find to the police in Schäftlarn. It simply didn’t occur to them. Because that woman, or maybe she was a girl, had been murdered.

  How did they know that? How could they be so sure the person they found was a crime victim?

  The wire, she was tied up with wire. They’d both seen the wire round her legs and her hand. They’d seen it clearly.

  Of course they were prepared to show the police the way. And so now, hours later, they are back in the same place for the second time that day. On this occasion in a Munich police car. They show the senior officer with them where she is. The dead girl. Wedged under the root, covered with branches. One of the policemen tries moving the branches on the dead girl’s back. He pushes at the body with a long stick. The branches stay put, they won’t be shifted. He tries again. Tries to fish the entire body out from under the root. He keeps pushing it with the stick, but neither the body nor the branches will
budge.

  Only next day, when the police have finally got the girl out of the water, will they see why. They discover that the branches had been tied around her body with wire. Wrapped round it. Underneath the branches are the dead girl’s dress and coat, done up in a bundle and, like the branches themselves, lashed to her body with wire. They will find the stone that was supposed to keep the body from floating to the surface; it drops back into the water as they take the dead girl out. They will find her shoes, carried away by the current, not very far downstream but a little way from the body, like her hat.

  One officer will move the branches away from her face and torso. He will see the face of a girl about twenty years old at the most. Her eye colour is brown, her eyelids only half closed in death. She has a short, snub nose. The full lips of her mouth are closed. He will see the dead girl’s dark brown hair plaited into a braid and hanging over her shoulder, falling almost down to her waist.

  She is not tall, rather small and stocky. Her torn upper garments show her bare breasts.

  They will take the dead girl out of the water and up the slope of the bank, and then lay her down on the grass. They will photograph her, and the pictures will show her lying there half-dressed, her stockings torn off, no knickers. They will show the abrasions and bruises on her skin. Her torn, broken fingernails. The marks of strangulation. She is still wearing a little bead necklace. Worthless. It will fall off her and come apart only as they lay her in a lead coffin and take her to forensics. The beads will drop on the grass and lie there.

 
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