Ice cold, p.7

Ice Cold, page 7

 

Ice Cold
 


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  And I see the woman on her bike almost every day on the road from Germering to Munich. Always at the same time. She’s always going along that stretch of road. Same as me. You could set your watch by her. I’ve often wondered what she does. For a job, I mean. Because she’s always going the same way at the same time. She must be on her way home from work, I’ve said to myself. Because if she was on her way to visit someone she wouldn’t always be going the same way at the same time. She’d be earlier sometimes and later other times, depending. I can tell it’s the woman cyclist by her woollen jacket. She wears it every day. Well, sometimes she wears it, other days she’s strapped it on the carrier of the bike behind her.

  That girl is always on her own. Always cycling along the road from Pasing to Germering, never going the other way. I’ve never seen anyone with her either, and I see her almost every day. She cycles really fast. I’ve noticed that too. She steps on those pedals good and hard. She’s a stylish cyclist, that girl. She knows what she’s doing, she’s a good strong cyclist, I’ve told myself.

  I’d have put her age at about twenty, twenty-five at the most. That’s why I call her a girl. Can’t describe her any closer than that, though. I’ve only seen her late in the evening, and only from behind. But I’ve recognized her straight off by her cardigan.

  It’s some dark colour, I think either black or blue. Yes, I guess it would be dark blue. A dark blue woollen cardigan. The traditional kind.

  On the Tuesday, well, I was going the same way as usual and I saw the girl again.

  It was on the same stretch of road. Just after Germering and just before the road joins the state highway. I knew her at once. From her cardigan. This time it was on her carrier.

  I couldn’t see her face. Although I tried. She put her hand up to the side of her face in case the headlights dazzled her. Though I’d dimmed them on purpose, but the headlights on my truck are strong. I was thinking: there she is again. Always the same time of day. You really could set your watch by her.

  And she was cycling on her own too.

  Then I passed her quite fast.

  About a hundred metres in front of the girl on the bike, so that’d be a little closer to Germering, I did see someone else that day. On the left-hand side of the road, looking at it from the way I was going, there was a man standing behind a tree in the wood. His bike was lying in the ditch. I could see it lying there clearly in my headlights. I sit quite high up in my cab, so you have a good view. And the headlights show everything good and clear.

  When the beam of my headlights caught the man I’d have been about ten metres away from him. All of a sudden he moved away from the tree, the way I was coming from. As if he was looking out for someone. Looking exactly the way the girl on the bike was coming.

  I said to myself: seems like he’s on the look-out for someone. At least, that’s the way it looked to me. Or as if he was watching someone but didn’t want to be spotted himself.

  I wondered if he was waiting for the girl.

  I passed him too fast to be able to describe him more closely. He wore a flat cap, I’m sure of that, though. Can’t say what else he was wearing. I drove past him at quite high speed. If I was to say how tall he was, well, I’d be guessing at that too. He was standing a little way back behind that tree, easy to get it wrong. And when he peered out like that from behind the tree he was bending his knees too.

  Soon after that I turned on to the state highway, and by the time I was on Landsbergerstrasse I’d forgotten the whole thing, it’s only just come back to my mind now you ask me about it.

  This Tuesday evening had been a quiet one for Amalia Ferch, waitress at the Lochhausen station restaurant. It was usually quiet on Tuesdays, as she will tell the police officer later. People have to be at work next day, so there’s only the regulars in the restaurant. They were sitting at their usual table, same as always. Mostly the better-off locals. They’d been playing cards, the game of ‘Sheep’s Head’, as they almost always did too. The fifty-pfennig, ten-pfennig and five-pfennig coins, no single pfennig pieces, were lying in the little saucers beside the beer-mats. They met for an evening drink most evenings, argued about politics, the Party, God knows what else. Or else they just met to play ‘Sheep’s Head’ and the other Bavarian card game called ‘Watten.’

  It was different on a Friday evening, the company was usually more mixed then. The workers had been paid their wages and were mingling with the other guests and the card-players. Usually at separate tables, and the stakes were a little lower too. During the week many of them couldn’t afford more than a tankard of beer from the off-licence stall. They’d send their children for it. ‘And make sure you get good measure. Dad’s tired from his work today.’

  At weekends the customers changed again. That was when the people on outings from nearby Munich came. Many on bicycles, others by train. Sometimes, not often, fine folk with their own motor cars. Those townies came in for a bite to eat. Saturdays and Sundays were the busiest times. ‘We have the tables in the garden open then, and there’s home-made cake and coffee in the afternoons. And that’s when the customers like to order an eggnog or a nice sweet Mosel.’

  In the summer months some of the holiday-makers from Cologne, Berlin or other cities come here too. They arrive by train, stay a few days for the fresh summer air. Visit Munich, the ‘capital of the Movement’, and some come specially for the Oktoberfest.

  That day, it was the last day of August, was even quieter than usual. Amalia Ferch didn’t mind that, it meant she could at least get home in good time. She always worked at the restaurant on Tuesdays and sometimes at weekends.

  She was just wiping down the tables and tidying up the main room. The last card-players had left about ten minutes before when that man came into the restaurant at about eleven forty-five.

  Amalia asked if he’d like half a litre of beer. He just nodded. She poured him his half and took it to his table.

  She sat down herself at the side table next to the stove. He’d be going to catch the last train to Munich, that meant she’d have to wait another half hour until the train left. Not a very attractive prospect. She was tired this evening, she wanted to go home. Her legs ached after her long day’s work, and she had quite a way to go on her bicycle before she got home and could lie down in bed at last.

  She began leafing through the newspaper that was lying on the table by the stove. She could see the customer out of the corner of her eye. As he was about to drink from his glass for the first time he rose to his feet, put the glass to his mouth and drank standing.

  Then he put his glass back on the table. Sat down on his chair again. But he didn’t stay sitting for more than a moment. He reached for his glass again, stood up once more. Drank. However, this time he stayed on his feet after he had finished drinking and put the glass down on the table.

  He shifted from foot to foot. Again and again. Almost running on the spot. Then he shook one leg. Amalia got the impression that the man was vibrating all over. His restlessness seemed almost tangible. She couldn’t help looking at him all the time. Holding the newspaper, she stared over the top of it in his direction. He didn’t notice; he was standing sideways on to her. Looking straight ahead. She peered over her paper and could see his profile. His strong nose, his chin. Smooth-shaven cheeks. She could see a scab on his cheek. A scratch while shaving, she supposed. His forehead was covered by a flat cap pulled well down.

  It was also unusual for a man to be wearing an overcoat on such a mild day. A coat of some brownish colour. She thought the fabric was loden, it had no belt, it was just a loose coat smooth at the back. With long trousers, also brownish. He must have been about thirty years old. Medium height, slim build as far as she could see.

  She felt almost awkward about staring at him like that, but she couldn’t account for his nervousness. He sat down once more and seemed a little calmer. Amalia turned back to the report she was reading in the newspaper.

  Suddenly he jumped up again and hurried out of
the restaurant without a word.

  Thinking he was trying to leave without paying for his beer, Amalia dropped the newspaper and prepared to run after the stranger. But as she hurried by she cast a glance at the table with the half-empty glass on it, and saw the money he had left beside the glass.

  Two ten-pfennig pieces, one fifty, and two single pfennigs.

  She picked it up, relieved, and put it in her purse. Then she cleared away the glass, put the chairs up on the tables, seats downward, switched off the light, locked up and went home.

  She didn’t give the customer in the restaurant and his strange behaviour another thought.

  The incident came back to her mind only a few days later, when she heard about the girl.

  As Lina Führer said in her statement to the police on 1 September 1937, it was about ten in the evening when she heard the screams.

  That had been the previous evening, 31 August 1937, at about eleven o’clock. Frau Führer had gone up to the first floor of the presbytery. She was going to close the windows, the windows facing Germering. It had been a mild summer evening, so she changed her mind and didn’t close the windows at once. She had leaned on the window sill, looking out into the night.

  From that window you could see the state highway, as she told the police officer. She must have watched about twenty cars pass by as she looked out of the window. No, she hadn’t been counting them, but she thought there’d have been about twenty.

  She didn’t stay there by the window long, only for about five minutes, maybe a little longer. She was sure of that. Then, just as she was about to close the windows, she heard that screaming.

  Loud screaming and moaning, a woman’s voice. And directly afterwards the voice began saying the Lord’s Prayer.

  She was sure about the Lord’s Prayer. She could hear the opening words of the prayer clearly and distinctly. ‘Our Father, which art in heaven …’ The voice had been loud. And the prayer was the reason why she stood there and listened to it in the night.

  But after the opening she heard only fragments of the prayer. ‘Hallowed … Thy name …, and the voice sank lower and lower. ‘In Heaven … earth.’ It was almost drowned out by the sound of the trucks driving along the state highway, ‘ … Thy will be done …’ Until she lost it entirely.

  She went on standing there at the window for a while. She strained her ears, but she heard no more. Only the traffic on the road nearby, that was all. Then she closed the windows and went down to the ground floor. She kept thinking about the screaming and moaning, she couldn’t explain them to herself.

  But then she forgot them as she made preparations for what she had to do in the kitchen next day. When she finally went to bed three-quarters of an hour later, she had put it all out of her mind.

  Next morning, even before early Mass, she heard about the murder. It was Herr Mesner told her, or had it been the women in the Reverend Father’s congregation? She wasn’t sure, because the whole village was in great excitement. And then she remembered hearing that screaming and moaning, and the Lord’s Prayer.

  So she went to the Reverend Father and told him about it, and he thought she ought to go straight to the police and inform them. She was rather reluctant, didn’t want to get mixed up in anything. But the Reverend Father said it was her duty to go to the police and tell them what she had heard. She was an honest Christian woman, he said, and she might be able to help that poor girl’s soul if she assisted the police in their attempts to find the guilty man.

  So that was why she was here now in the police station, making a statement about what she had heard.

  Interrogation of Josef Kalteis, continued

  – Of course I heard about Herta’s murder, and I knew her too.

  – I was in the same gymnastics club as her brother, Franz is his name.

  – The Eichenau Gymnastics Club.

  – I’m not so active in the club now. But I still go to the regulars’ table at the inn. Always on Fridays.

  – I saw Herta now and then too. A striking brunette, she was. You could really fancy her.

  – Everyone knew about the murder, what happened to her, it went around the district like wildfire.

  – A fellow that’ll do a thing like that deserves hanging. I’d hang him upside down by his balls and cut his prick off. Chop!

  – I’d make short work of him!

  – A terrible thing, it was. I heard it was just before her wedding. Folk say she was going out with an SA man.

  Tuesday and Wednesday

  Tuesday passes much like Monday. Kathie wanders around the city during the day. For a moment she toys with the thought of looking for a job as a maid after all. Had she been too quick to crumple up the piece of paper with the address in her coat pocket? Should she go to the employment office and ask them where she can find a place? But then she doesn’t after all. What else could she do, go to the hotels and boarding houses, ask if they need a chambermaid or a general skivvy? No, she doesn’t want to work as a maid. She’ll be sure to find something else. She’ll find something better than working as a servant for other people, kowtowing to them all the time. She only has to look at Mitzi, she’s done it, and she, Kathie, would manage too. Mitzi lives very comfortably on the money she gets from her fiancé, the man in Gelsenkirchen. Why shouldn’t she try the same thing? Hadn’t Hans said what a nice clean girl she is? The city itself entices her, the sweet life of the city. Walking about, going for a stroll, looking at all the people. She’ll make it, she’s sure of that. And hasn’t she managed very well so far? She’s wanted for nothing yet, even without working she’s had enough to eat and a place to sleep. She’s young, her life lies ahead of her.

  She strolls through the city. She buys herself a patent leather belt in a shop in the city centre. It’s black. She puts it on at once. She’s seen other girls wearing belts like this, city girls. It’s modern. She puts her old belt away in her handbag. The new one looks much better. The blond man had given Kathie the money for the belt. Not that she’d asked him for anything, she wouldn’t do that, but he just gave her the money in the morning, telling her to buy herself something pretty. It wasn’t much, but enough for the black belt and something to eat, and Kathie was happy with that.

  In the evening she goes back to Soller’s. By now she knows almost everyone there. The local pedlar, Limping Anton, who does his rounds at Soller’s every evening with his vendor’s tray slung around him, is making eyes at her again. ‘So here’s our pretty Kathie back. Don’t you think we’d make a good couple?’ he calls out as she comes in through the door, winking his one eye and pursing his lips into a kissing shape.

  Kathie laughs at him. ‘Oh, go along with you! You’re far too old for me’, she tells him. She felt like saying: you limp, and you have a glass eye, and you’re a pauper, going around with your tray of shoelaces. But then she didn’t like to.

  Mitzi is there with dark-haired Hans, and she joins them. Anna only looks in for a little while this evening. But it’s still fun even without Anna, with just Hans and Mitzi. And it’s Hans who suggests that Kathie could go and sleep at Mitzi’s place tonight, since the blond man hasn’t turned up and Kathie has nowhere else to go. She’s happy with the idea, she doesn’t have to think twice about it, so she goes to Mariahilfplatz with the two of them. They leave Soller’s before closing time.

  As they unlock the apartment, there’s Anna already lying on the sofa in the kitchen-living-room. Anna is fast asleep, however hard Kathie shakes her she just keeps on sleeping. So she simply goes into the bedroom with the others. She sleeps on the join where the twin beds are pushed together, in between dark-haired Hans and Mitzi.

  In the middle of the night Hans puts his hand out to Kathie, and she doesn’t push it away. She says nothing, doesn’t move, just lies there. Keeps still. He caresses her body with his hand.

  The way Kathie lies so still is to strike the driver too, later. The driver she meets at Soller’s on Wednesday evening.

  He’s sitting at the n
ext table, and keeps looking across at the girl sitting between dark-haired Hans and Mitzi. There’s a blond man at the table with them too. His back is turned to the driver.

  The girl keeps looking at him as well, and he smiles back. Raises his glass to her. Never takes his eyes off her. She has long, dark hair, plaited into a braid. A round girlish face with rosy cheeks and round dark eyes. A big mouth with firm, full lips. He liked the look of her at once when he saw her sitting at the next table.

  Some time during the evening she stands up and goes towards the door. Just before she gets there she turns to him. He thinks she is smiling at him, just him. With her full lips and her brown eyes. Gives him a sign, a little nod, barely visible. She wants him to follow her.

  He drinks some more of his beer and then goes out. She is waiting for him there. He feels uncertain, hardly knows what to say to her. Finally he asks if that fellow at her table, the one with the fair hair, is her boyfriend?

  ‘No, just someone I know. He comes in here at Soller’s quite a bit.’

  ‘Then you could move over to my table, what do you think?’

  ‘No, you move over to us.’

  ‘But will that be all right with the others at your table?’

  ‘It’ll be fine with Hans. I’d have moved to your table before, but Hans thought I ought to wait. And he said if you liked me you’d move to our table. Otherwise it wouldn’t do.’ As she speaks she plays with the braid hanging over her shoulder. Keeps passing it through her fingers. Her eyes are on him all the time. Smiling at him.

  ‘I’m going back inside now. You wait here a moment and then come in too.’

  He does as she says. Stays in the middle of the path up to the inn. Waits, counts up to sixty the way kids do when they’re playing hide and seek, and only then does he go back to where he was sitting. He finishes his beer and looks across at the girl as he drinks it.

 
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