Ribs with Sauerkraut and Corruption

He lay on the floor of the restaurant, his legs at an odd angle owing to the way he had fallen off the chair. His eyes focused emptily on the middle distance, but his shoulders were drawn up as if he were hunching to avoid something very close. The left hand lay grotesquely twisted next to the body; the right hand clenched the handle of the steak knife in his chest – an ordinary, if sharp, steak knife of the sort often put at the disposal of a meat-eater. Except for the knife, the dead man resembled a lifesize doll that had been pushed hastily aside and left to lie as it fell.
Curious onlookers stood around him, some of the several hundred people who had been in the restaurant at the time of the murder.
“Get them out of here!” commanded Chief Superintendent Lederer, who had just now arrived on the scene. He planted himself broadly in front of the body, as if it were his duty to protect the dead man from prying eyes. Two uniformed officers undertook the thankless task of herding the onlookers out of the small side room where the body lay. Their voyeurism disgusted the head of the homicide squad. His interest lay in the victim, a man in the prime of life, a man about his own age. Early fifties. Well dressed and groomed. Even so, not a particularly memorable man, except in death, and then grotesquely: in his final moments, he must have fallen forward into his plate of ribs and sauerkraut and gripped the table, knocking several plates to the floor, because the shards lay all around him and wisps of sauerkraut framed his face, caught in the graying curls.
Lederer turned and called to his people, who were threading their way through the crowd of onlookers. They would have to question all the guests who hadn’t already left in the confusion that ensued when the murder was discovered.
Inspector Schuler pushed his way through to his superior. “It’s too bad about the food. Looks quite tasty.”
“Keep your mouth shut.”
“But it’s true! We haven’t had a thing to eat since this morning and look at all that, all over the floor…” Schuler’s gaze wandered across the murals covering the walls of the restaurant, all naturalistic landscapes of Frankfurt. It was these paintings that gave the restaurant its name, Das Gemalte Haus – The Painted House. That and the Äppelwoi, a light apple wine that was a specialty of the area and – together with the ribs and sauerkraut – brought in the tourists.
“There goes my business for the day! And with the Book Fair in town!” The manager of the restaurant pushed her way through the group and came to a stop next to the corpse, which she gazed at with pity. “Poor fellow, didn’t even get to finish eating.”
Two men in gray uniforms, each bearing the crest of the city of Frankfurt on one sleeve, appeared with a police coffin, and the onlookers squeezed together to open a narrow path for them. At their appearance, the uniformed police officers rushed to shoo the guests even further away from the body. The crime scene technicians had finished, the pathologist packed his instruments away and rose from his squat next to the body. Carefully the gray-clad men lowered the corpse into the body bag, zipped it shut, lay the bag in the coffin, closed the lid, and bore their heavy burden in the direction of the street. With the body gone, the last of the voyeurs left the room without a murmur.
“What took you so long getting here?“ asked the pathologist.
“There was a traffic accident on the bridge, everything was blocked.” Lederer was in a bad mood. He hated arriving at the scene of a murder when the victim was already being moved to the coffin.
“Well, I’m done for today. Enjoy!” The pathologist’s glance took in the crowds and all the rooms of the large restaurant. “At least there were plenty of witnesses.”
Lederer gave his annoyance full vent. “A murder in a pub, and that during the dinner hour on a day when the Book Fair’s in town. It’s a nightmare! There are probably several hundred people here, but I’d bet my entire pension that the murderer left the minute the commotion started.” Lederer hated conventions in Frankfurt. They pitched the city into traffic chaos. The Frankfurt Book Fair with 270,000 visitors and the International Motor Show were, from the point of view of traffic, major catastrophes.
“I’ve already called for backup. The boys from the Sachsenhausen station have everything under control here. They’re taking the guests’ statements. So we could just have a quiet bite to eat,” Schuler assured his boss. Having a quiet something, especially something to eat or drink, was Schuler’s favorite activity.
“Do we know who the victim is?”
“Hans-Anton Mommsen. He worked at the German Savings and Credit Bank. The headquarters are here in Frankfurt. He was one of the bank’s directors.”
“What’s a bank director doing in a madhouse like this?”
“His friend over there, the man with his head in his hands, is a publisher from New York, in town for the Book Fair. He comes here every year with the staff from his booth. There are eight of them. Mr. Mommsen and the publisher were supposed to have dinner tonight – they know each other from their student days.“
Quiet began to return to the small side room that had doubled this evening as a murder scene. A fat waiter came in and offered the two men some Äppelwoi, which they declined.
“Wouldn’t you like something to eat?” he asked, as he stood with his tray full of beer glasses and blue-gray stoneware mugs of Äppelwoi. “I’ve got a couple of hundred orders of ribs and sauerkraut in the kitchen, and nobody left to eat them!”
Chief Superintendent Lederer, with Schuler in his wake, pushed his way through the remaining clumps of diners who stood talking in the courtyard of the restaurant, making the most of the little they knew. The courtyard’s wooden picnic tables were occupied by the officers of the homicide squad, who were making every diner note his location in a seating plan of the restaurant.
“It’s the worst kind of murder,” Lederer was muttering, shaking his head.
“Why’s that?”
“We’ve got more than a hundred people here, most of whom are in town for the Book Fair and will leave this weekend. More than half of them are likely to be foreigners. The whole thing’s a nightmare. We’ve got no other choice but to work through the night.” Lederer stopped and looked into Schuler’s weary face. “Get the manager to pack up some dinner for all of us. We’ll take the statements that are already finished and go back to headquarters.“ His voice was too tired for his request to sound much like an order, but Schuler followed it wordlessly as if it were.

* * *

The Interregio train was 25 minutes late arriving at Frankfurt’s main train station. Commuters pushed their way along the platform, elbowing the unwary aside; some of them simply ran flat out. Margo tried to keep up a brisk tempo as she threaded her way through the passengers toward the exit. She had overslept and missed the right train, and this one had encountered a delay. She’d be late for work again – for the fourth time! When she considered that she’d only been with the police in Frankfurt for three months, then she might as well steel herself for a stiff tongue-lashing from her divisional director.
These early hours were her problem, she knew that. For a Greek, a job that began at 8:00 a.m. was a nightmare. The last time she’d gotten up this early in Greece was to collect her diploma from the German school in Athens. During her university days in computer science at the polytechnic, she’d avoided early courses like the plague.
Still, she told herself sternly, this was what she had always wanted: to escape the clutches of her family and move to Germany to work. At first her father simply forbid it, but when it became clear that she was not moved, his reaction progressed to storms of rage, theatrical suffering, and becoming sick with anxiety. None of it had had the desired effect, however, and eventually he had given in and agreed to help his only daughter make her way. Her satisfaction had been tempered with disappointment when she discovered that her first job would be with the police. But for her father, a prominent police officer in Athens, this was the best of all possible choices for his daughter; he couldn’t imagine anything more desirable. So now, as part of a team of young computer scientists, Margo planned projects in capacity monitoring and performance checks. Next week she was scheduled to be moved to a different department as project leader to expand and oversee the collection and cataloging of refugees’ fingerprints. Since that didn’t sound like an improvement, she had taken to reading the want ads on weekends – with no luck, so far.
She looked at her watch. Maybe she’d be lucky and not run right into her boss. That was the last thing she needed at this ungodly hour of the morning.

* * *

Chief Superintendent Lederer had a reputation as one of the most experienced and incorruptible officers in the Frankfurt police. This had been the source of some grief to him. It had resulted, for example, in his having to investigate his own people in an abuse-of-power case of which he had hated every minute, including its conclusion – the dismissal of two young officers for beating up a junkie. But he had seen it through. He had also taken on a corruption case involving some of the officers who patroled Frankfurt’s notorious train station district: for closing an eye to various goings-on, they had been the beneficiaries of free services from the local “ladies” and small amounts of cash from the bars. Lederer had then assisted a couple of profilers in finding more meaningful work after they’d gone nuts from sheer boredom and begun to develop profiles of people who throw chewing gum, cigarette butts and subway tickets on the sidewalk. But that was the price of being reliable and highly regarded by one’s superiors.
At the moment, however, he was more concerned with the symptoms of stress emerging among his team, which had worked through the night to produce, read, discuss and categorize 137 witness statements. The following had emerged: a group of men had been standing behind the victim at The Painted House. Sometime after midnight, two of them – by then in a rather well-watered state – had come forward to talk to the police. They reported that they had been waiting to occupy a table that was just being vacated. In the densely packed room with the press of people getting up from their chairs and maneuvering out from behind the tables, there had been some arguing over the available seats. The murderer must have taken advantage of the moment to bend over and stab his unsuspecting victim from below.
These statements were then supported by persons, unknown to each other, who had occupied the neighboring tables. The description of the perpetrator was as detailed as it was unfocused: small, but nearly two meters in height; thin and wiry, but possessed of an extremely large paunch; light blond hair/dark curly hair; clad in jeans and a sweater, but wearing a three-piece suit with a pale shirt and a tie.
The mood had reached a new low. Lederer looked at his watch. “Let’s go get some breakfast.”

* * *

Margo silently observed the four men who had spread themselves out wearily among the available desks and the visitors’ chairs. At this moment, their faces gray with fatigue and their clothes rumpled from the long night, they did not look like a recruitment poster for the force, but Margo knew enough not to let this show.
“We need your help.”
Schuler was aware of his boss’s aversion to both newcomers and women in the higher echelons of the police. And Lederer, of all people, had been pressed to accept this young woman with her honors degree as an assistant in his team. Schuler himself had worked his way up through the ranks, was in his late fifties and was satisfied with what he had achieved. And he was satisfied with his boss, at least most of the time. Lederer was a pragmatist. He assumed that more than 85% of murders were committed by a member of the victim’s family, just as Germany’s Federal Criminal Investigation Office claimed in its published statistics. He divided the remaining 15% among robbery with murder and opportunistic murder, according to need. However, in the sauerkraut murder, as he and his officers had taken to calling the case, all the statistics were letting them down.
“Gentlemen, may I sit down?“ Margo remained standing in the middle of the room. There wasn’t a single unoccupied chair that wasn’t piled with files or draped with carelessly tossed raincoats.
“Ms. Margoulis…”
Three of the four men jumped to their feet and offered their chairs. Lederer, who lost his train of thought in the mini-commotion that ensued, flung Schuler a contemptuous glance. Schuler read an unmistakable “Et tu, Brutus!” in the features of his superior officer as he pushed his desk chair in the direction of Margo, who sat down gratefully.
“Margo, please,” she said, looking pleasantly at Lederer.
But he had developed a bad mood. It was going to be a real pain if these fellows fell all over themselves playing the courtier for a young woman in the office. That would cause trouble. He decided, as a precaution, to dislike her.
“Ms. Margo,” he began stiffly, instantly aware of the smirks on his colleagues’ faces. “We’ve got a problem.”
Margo looked at him attentively and said nothing.
“We need a computer man with outstanding qualifications.”
Margo was silent despite the intentional provocation of the word “man”.
“Yesterday evening, a banker was stabbed in a crowded restaurant. With a steak knife.”
Margo waited patiently for Lederer to finish. Maybe not every woman’s as talkative as my wife, thought Lederer, somewhat disconcerted when she didn’t interrupt him.
“We’ve worked through the night checking out all the people who were at the restaurant. The family of the victim has been informed – not a pleasant job. Naturally we’re checking out the victim’s private life. He had the usual wife, the usual two children, who are nearly grown, and the usual mortgage. Nothing out of the ordinary! First thing this morning, we were at his workplace in the bank. We took a look, but didn’t change anything, and Schuler here has a plan for what we ought to do next.”
“The victim’s computer at the bank has multiple security features, and we can’t get into it just like that,” Schuler said, suppressing a shudder at the thought that someone found it appropriate to waste his time on this stuff. “But the victim is supposed to have private documents on his PC. We’d like to see them, because we have no ideas on motive so far.”
“However, we don’t have the password for the computer at the bank. We’re only allowed to look at the victim’s private files. The bank files are privileged information,” Lederer commented.
Schuler brought out a small spiral notebook and read off the most important information. “Mr. Mommsen, that’s the victim, got into the system using a kind of personal ID card. We found it on his body. The bank has its own encryption code, and it includes a biometric scan and a…” Schuler looked at Margo questioningly.
“And the password for the victim’s private correspondence – none of his family members knew it?”
Lederer shook his head. “Two of my men are working right now on his private life. But for the moment, there’s not a motive in sight!”
Everyone looked tensely at the newest member of the team.
“We should stop right now and go over to the bank,” suggested Margo.
“We’ve sealed Mr. Mommsen’s office,” Schuler reassured her.
“Let’s go!” said Lederer. He watched from the corner of his eye as the men fell back to let Margo leave the room first. It’s like mating season, he thought to himself, disgusted.

* * *

At the top floor of the skyscraper that housed the bank, the first crisis meeting took place at 8:00 a.m. the morning after the murder. Mr. Meyer-Münster, chair of the bank’s supervisory board, had called together his most important directors, telephoning them all personally at 7:00 a.m. The situation of the bank needed to be considered in view of the extremely unappetizing events of the previous evening. It was important to forestall unwelcome publicity.
After this first meeting, the inner circle held a second meeting. This was a group that included Mr. Meyer-Münster, Mr. Becker and Mr. Reinhard – and would still have included Mr. Mommsen if he had not shown the bad taste to go and get himself murdered. The inner circle always met when there were questions to discuss that involved a certain company, International Shares Strategy. This company was on the books as a limited company whose shareholders included Meyer-Münster, Becker, Reinhard and the murdered man. Were the police to discover this, there would be a lot of additional trouble.
Becker and Reinhard were nervous. When Meyer-Münster boomed out, “Well, sit down!”, the two men dropped hastily into the leather armchairs at the the long mahogany table. Coffee and pastries arrived, but appeared to interest nobody. Meyer-Münster had the dull suspicion that whisky was more likely to appeal to this downcast crew of demoralized bank managers. He saw that the situation called for all the therapeutic rhetoric he could muster.
“Gentlemen, dear colleagues, friends! The distraught widow informed me during the night of yesterday evening’s horrible events. It is for this reason that I have called you all here so early. Mr. Hagen, our computer specialist, has been at headquarters for half an hour now, monitoring the unsuccessful attempts of the police to break into the private files in Mr. Mommsen’s computer.”
There were approving murmurs.
“What the hell was Mommsen doing at that Äppelwoi haunt?”
“He was meeting a friend.” Mr. Reinhard was, as always, a wellspring of information on the private lives of his colleagues.
There were disapproving murmurs.
“The murderer must have meant someone else!” asserted Mr. Becker. It was his task to manage the private customers’ investment accounts. This was normally a very quiet job, but since the stock market had produced one slump after another and his customers had discovered that even the most conservative investments could lose thirty percent, Becker had gotten an unlisted home telephone number. The calls he received by day in the bank were causing him to consider a transfer to a remote foreign office.
“Can Mommsen’s murder have anything to do with his work for our bank?” asked Meyer-Münster carefully.
Mr. Reinhard, who had been a friend of Mommsen’s, stood up and positioned himself behind his chair. “His private life was just fine. His marriage was good, no playing around. He went to church every Sunday – Protestant. He even sang in the church choir; he had a very good voice. I heard him sing once, when he had a bass solo in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. It was impressive.” Reinhard began to walk up and down behind the row of chairs, and because he was a methodical man, he walked to the right precisely to the window, turned on his heel, and came back to his chair, and then did the same thing to the left.
“But who kills a man like that? God certainly didn’t do it.” Meyer-Münster hated unsolved problems. Problems were to be tackled, discussed, resolved. And besides, Reinhard hadn’t really answered the question. Surely it was clear that the important thing was whether Mommsens death had anything to do with International Shares Strategy GmbH.
“I’m convinced the murderer meant someone else.” Becker had no urge to be connected to a crime.
“The problem is this,” began Meyer-Münster, who was well versed in the sort of encouraging clichés that need never be followed by genuine action. “The police can’t be allowed to find anything. On the other hand, the longer they find nothing, the harder they’ll look. And we have to keep that from happening. Our grief at the untimely death of our colleague and friend must not be allowed to blind us to necessary action.”
“And what would that be?” Reinhard was confused. “I thought the police were investigating the visitors at The Painted House. And none of us was there!”
There were corroborating murmurs.
Uncertainty was spreading visibly. Since a crisis meant a possible loss of control and this must be avoided at all costs, the seniormost banker retreated swiftly into calumny: “We could leak the information that something was wrong with Mommsen’s work. I’ve asked Mr. Hagen to join us; maybe he can do something with the computer. The police have to find something.” At these words he looked Becker and then Reinhard in the eye. He had heard once at a management seminar that this created a feeling of trust.
“Just wait,” said Becker, unable to let go of his pet theory. “First we’ll go to all the trouble of constructing something for the police, and then it will turn out to be a case of mistaken identity. That will look pretty stupid!”
“And what will we do if the police discovers our little company? We don’t want them poking their noses in that.” Meyer-Münster pulled himself to his full height. The others fell silent. There was a knock on the thick wooden door. “We’ve got to distract them. Period. That’s the way it’s going to be,“ he disposed, before he called loudly to Mr. Hagen to come in.
The latter was a thin, pale bespectacled man in his mid-thirties, of middle height, his hair already thinning. He was the only bank employee who went around in shirt sleeves, and this enhanced the impression he made of being an introverted and duty-conscious man, if not a downright workaholic. It had astounded him that the most senior officer in the bank had called him up and ordered him to work early. And it had unnerved him that he was expected to appear personally in Meyer-Münster’s office.
“Mr. Hagen, thank you for coming. Would you like to sit down? Some coffee, a pastry?”
Hagen shook his head, and stared at Meyer-Münster as if the latter were a reptile of whom it could not be accurately predicted when it would bite.
“Mr. Hagen, we’ve got an idea,” said Meyer-Münster, starting into one of his long-winded excursions in which the words “ethics” and “responsibility” would figure prominently.

* * *

The murdered man’s office was on the twelfth floor of the bank tower. Margo stood at the window, admiring the view of the city skyline and the river, the Main. It wasn’t without considerable justification that this part of Frankfurt’s downtown was known as Mainhattan.
“I hope the beautiful view isn’t keeping you from concentrating on your work.” Lederer’s scorn was unmistakable. He made no secret of his doubts of Margo’s skill.
“I’m waiting for them to bring Mr. Mommsen’s personnel file,” she answered with composure. Just as Lederer opened his mouth to reply, Schuler came into the room bearing a file folder. “The personal information is all listed here.”
“The encryption code for the bank’s business is changed regularly, but that’s not important to us. The biometric scanner here” – next to the computer monitor was a small device of a sort Lederer had never seen before – “offers additional security for internal bank business.”
“You can’t crack that,” concluded Lederer.
“I don’t have to crack it.” Margo smiled pleasantly at Lederer. “We’re interested in Mr. Mommsen’s private use of the PC, his private e-mail.”
It took Margo more than half an hour and countless tries until she had figured out the password, which was a mixture of the name and birthdate of Mommsen’s youngest daughter. Across the screen unfolded a user interface that had been customized especially for Mommsen.
“What would you like me to open first? There are several icons here: Internal. Shares Strat., Geovalley and Priv. Corr. I’ll copy the private correspondence onto a disk for you to take with you. Geovalley could be a geographic association or a publication. Unless it’s a stock fund or something like that.”
“I’ve never heard of it, but that doesn’t mean anything,” admitted Lederer meekly.
“Shares appears to be something for work. I’ll look at the hobbies first and go to Geovalley,” said Margo, and manipulated the computer, but nothing happened. After a few more unsuccessful tries, a screen appeared and demanded a password.
“Damn,” Lederer stared helplessly at the new obstacle on the screen.
“Not necessarily.” Margo smiled. “If this has been separately encrypted, then it must be important. And if it was important to Mr. Mommsen, then it’s sure to be interesting for us.”
Her fingers typed in seven characters, and a screen saver of a rushing mountain brook spread across the screen.
“How’d you get in so fast?” asked Schuler, who had come up behind her with a thermos jug of coffee in one hand.
Margo smiled at him. “I used the same combination of name and date as before. This time it was his wife’s name combined with her birthday.”
A short time later, Geovalley had given up its secrets. Fascinated and revolted, Lederer and Schuler stared over Margo’s shoulder as she copied everything she found onto CDs and handed them to Lederer, who put them into an envelope and, with Schuler’s help, marked and sealed them as evidence. Under the cover name Geovalley, Margo had discovered a kiddie porn ring. This wasn’t just a matter of a single pedophile downloading photos from the Internet, this was a highly-skilled banker doing business with great style. What they found was so unimaginable to the two police officers that both of them were rendered speechless.
“Gentlemen,” Margo paused in her work an hour later, “I think I’ll print you a list with the cover names of all the customers. The correct names can be determined from the credit card numbers that were used to make the payments posted here.”
Lederer and Schuler nodded silently.
“We need to post a guard at the door. Now we know why Mommsen was murdered. We know the motive, but not the identity of the perpetrator. I doubt the murderer would stop at another murder to prevent more of this from being discovered.” Lederer’s voice was thick and a slight tremble betrayed his inner agitation.
Margo’s hands were shaking as she sat at the PC, try as she might to suppress any outward sign of her emotions. She focused silently on the monitor, her back rigid as she worked feverishly through files that revealed things of cruelty and perversion. No one would be able to say that she, Margo, was too young or inexperienced for police work.

* * *

The bank had closed its portals and the lights in the lower floors had been turned off. By contrast, the top floor of the bank was even more brightly lit than usual. Up there, the shareholders of International Shares Strategy were meeting in Meyer-Münster’s private conference room. There was no news yet on what had been found in Mommsen’s computer. The only thing they knew was that a young and very attractive woman police officer of presumably Mediterranean descent sat at Mommsen’s computer, manipulating the keyboard with a dizzying speed that aroused great anxiety among the three bank officers. The situation became positively frightening when, early in the afternoon, two armed, uniformed police officers took up their stations outside Mommsen’s office door.
Since Meyer-Münster did not want it said that the police had exceeded him in their efforts, he ordered that the security measures inside the bank be strengthened: he gave two of his security guards the task of keeping tabs on what the police in the building were doing.
Reinhard, who stood at the window in Meyer-Münster’s office, was pale, and his knees were shaking. Becker had stomach cramps and wanted to throw up. Meyer-Münster, who had taken three tablets for his headache, felt comparatively well.
“Gentlemen, there is really no reason to worry. The International Shares Strategy is a company in which we invest in stocks and funds profitably for our best customers and for ourselves. The company is doing fine; no one has cause for complaint. These things don’t interest the police.” Meyer-Münster spoke in measured tones, as if he could block out reality through a mantra-like repetition of his position. There was an unspoken agreement among the other shareholders that denial was a fine thing, but at the moment it was in danger of disintegrating owing to the increasing nervousness. “We are a registered company,” he went on. “We have invested money in this company, our private money, and good friends and customers have invested with us. The earnings are very good indeed, but that alone is not criminal.”
“They’ll accuse us of insider deals.” Reinhard sounded inconsolable.
“As long as nobody asks us how we got the money.” Becker inspected his fingernails. “But what happens if somebody sees the whole thing as corruption?”
“You mustn’t even think that, Becker! Making investments, achieving profits – that’s not a crime, that’s a process inherent to our economic system! If you hadn’t had private reasons for tampering with things, hadn’t taken money out, we would never have drawn attention to ourselves, but as it is…” Meyer-Münster was a master at implications of blame.
“But it just so happens that the shareholders of this investment company are employed by this bank,” said Reinhard, confirming his own doubts.
“Does anybody know what they’re doing in Mommsen’s office?“ Becker furtively wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. This had the effect of a small boy who had been prompted to shake hands with an adult and had realized too late that his fingers were dirty.
There was a short knock and Hagen came into the office. “They’ve gotten into Mommsen’s PC – the police, I mean,” he burst out. He felt responsible for what happened to the bank’s computers and regarded this intrusion into the system as a personal defeat, even if access had only been gained to Mommsen’s private documents. “I couldn’t stop them.”

* * *

“Wake up, Margo, wake up!”
Schuler’s sonorous voice was low and sounded from far away. Margo forced herself upward from dreamless depths to a surface that was pervaded by the bewitching smell of coffee. Somewhere paper crackled and the coffee aroma was joined by that of warm, fresh pastries. Something horrible had happened, she could remember that much.
“Breakfast is ready,” Schuler said softly. He wanted to give her a little time; she really had been sleeping deeply.
Suddenly Margo was wide awake, the terrible images tumbling into her conscious mind. She sat up on the couch abruptly, threw off the wool blanket, and looked searchingly around her in the darkened room.
“You wanted to get started early again. It’s only 4:00 o’clock,“ said Schuler apologetically as he handed her a cup of coffee.
“Four hours of sleep are enough. I remember that from my exam days.” Margo stood up and began doing gymnastic stretches, causing Schuler to look at her in amazement. After a few exercises to loosen up the shoulders, she turned toward him and asked, “Where did you get fresh pastries so early?”
“A patrol car had to go over to the train station anyway, and they thought of us up here. The team that relieved the guards at 4:00 brought these along.”
Margo took a croissant from the bag and thanked him with a little bow. “Thank you for keeping watch over me while I slept.”
“I even slept myself for a little while,” admitted Schuler, after considering the matter. “Can I ask why you want people to call you Margo? I mean, I think it’s a nice name, I don’t mean to criticize, I’m just curious…”
“My real name’s Maria Christina Margoulis. Maria doesn’t fit either a police officer or a city like Frankfurt, does it?”
Schuler had joined her at the window and the two looked down into empty streets. “The city looks so unreal without cars.”
“Can I interrupt your private conversation?” Lederer had come into the room. It startled him to see the two standing at the window together with their coffee, so familiar, so at ease.
“Of course!” said Margo, turning at the interruption. She moved over to the coffee, poured a cup and held it out to him. Then she ran her left hand through her disordered hair. “I slept for four hours because I just couldn’t concentrate any longer. Now we’re having some breakfast, and then I’ll get back to work.” She picked up the bag with the pastries and held it out to him.
“As long as Inspector Schuler is looking out for you, you won’t starve,” commented Lederer, and reached into the bag. “How do you feel?”
“If it were adult pornography, it probably wouldn’t bother me so much. But the children, the babies….” Margo’s voice was bleak.

* * *

Before 5:00 a.m, Meyer-Münster was at the train station, waiting at the newspaper stand for the early editions of the daily paper to be unpacked. He made his way back down the darkened streets with over two pounds of newspapers under his arm. Once arrived at his office, he made some coffee and then called one of the security guards. Thus it was that he heard that uniformed officers had spend the entire night on guard outside Mommsen’s office door, and that the team inside had worked through the night. His knees began to tremble and a wave of nausea swept over him. There was a lot in the news lately about those new specialists, those auditors that the district attorney’s office had hired…
He leafed through all the newspapers, looking for reports on the murder of bank director Mommsen. The economics section of the leading Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper ran an obituary that spoke officiously of Mommsen’s “tragic death.” Some of the newspapers described stages in his career. The sensationalistic Bild Zeitung headlined the story „Murder over Äppelwoi!“ After he had read the newspapers, he stood and went to the wall safe in his office. For an hour he read through documents, putting some of them through a shredder and hiding others in unrelated files. What could possibly interest the police about International Shares Strategy GmbH? This was a murder, not insider trading or the question of where the money to start the firm had come from. There were lots of managing directors who saw to it that the corporate loans they approved profited them personally, and he had merely offered them the opportunity to invest their private money in this extremely successful little company. Mommsen had undertaken the after-hours investments for their little venture. To the profit of all involved! A saying of Mommsen’s came into his mind: “The truly religious person thanks God in material ways.” In his thoughts, he added “…and with a knife in the back.”

* * *

The quiet in Mommsen’s office was disturbed by a knock on the door. Margo started as Schuler’s voice thundered out, “Who is it?” There was a pause, and then a voice said, “Sergeant Berg, with a hot meal.”
Schuler and Margo made themselves comfortable at the coffee table in Mommsen’s office, while Berg looked through the printed lists. Next to cover names like “Buffalo Bill” and “Speedy Gonzales” were listed sums of money. Large sums of money. “How long have you been working over the books from this den of iniquity?” asked Berg, waving the three closely-printed pages at his colleagues.
Margo looked critically at the food. Then she closed the styrofoam box again without a word and reached instead for her salad.
“Is there anything to eat here?“ said Schuler, staring in disgust at his salad.
“Ribs, sauerkraut and fake mashed potatoes,“ said Margo, shaking her head dismissively.
Schuler reached for the styrofoam box. “May I?“ Margo nodded. Schuler pushed his salad toward her with evident relief.
“Mommsen did the bookkeeping for the porn ring. You can see from looking at it who logged in, and how often and for how long. If you compare the amounts, …” Margo left her salad and joined Berg at the computer. She started the Geovalley program and clicked on the Excel table labeled “Payment.” “Here you go,” she said, inviting Berg to go on.
Berg worked for about half an hour, then copied the files onto a CD. “We can determine the identity of about ninety percent of the customers through the credit card company.” He stood, shoving the CD into his jacket pocket. “I’ll go back to my office and work through this. The district attorney’ll be pleased. With any luck, he’ll be able to put some of these animals behind bars for a long time.”
Berg went out and Schuler locked the door again from inside, staring with revulsion at the printouts littering the floor. Next to cryptic-looking lists with names and numbers there were prints of photos of small children being violated in the most horrible ways. Photos from one video showed a baby being murdered. Schuler felt his gorge rising.

* * *

Unnoticed by the press and thus the public, the state’s criminal investigation forces began their investigation under the cover name “Pippi Longstocking.” None of the officers involved would see either his bed or his family during the coming days. There were names and addresses to find, and preparations to make so that district attorneys all over the country could issue arrest and search warrants, and all of it would be done with the greatest secrecy.

* * *

Night was falling. The pink light of the evening sun lay across the city, soon to be relieved by the lights from the skyscrapers, billboards and streetlights. Meyer-Münster stood at the window in his office. Hagen leaned against the door, observing the back of the bank’s most senior officer.
“Is the police finally gone?” asked Meyer-Münster.
“It took nearly a week before they were done.”
“Are you sure that they were able to get into the International Shares Strategy files?”
“Of course I’m sure! Only internal bank files are specially encrypted. International Shares Strategy is a private company; it belongs to you and your associates. Mommsen kept the bookkeeping in the private files on his computer. Only the Shares Strategy account itself is administered by the bank. Up till now, no one could make sense of the strange movements of funds in the account ...” Hagen let a certain quiet triumph steal into his voice. He believed in cosmic justice. He had managed to make sense of those funds transfers. And the thought made him smile. But there was no danger in this; after all, he was conversing with Meyer-Münster’s back.
“Stop!” roared the chairman of the supervisory board of one of the largest German banks, staring into the evening sky as it darkened from pink to red to black. The windows of the skyscrapers stood out even more now against the dark background. A busy-worker-bee mentality and rigid, small-minded thinking were mirrored in the structure of these facades. All that glass promised transparency, but that was a lie. The highest priority was the image of perfect functioning. Management’s job was to understand things and to maintain an overview, but Meyer-Münster had long ago lost both foresight and planfulness. He hurried, uncomprehending, from appointment to appointment. Most of all, he enjoyed the flights, when he could sit in first class in a window seat, because that made all his earthly problems seem so small and unimportant. “Wouldn’t you like to work for me?” he asked Hagen. “I’d make it worth your while.”
Hagen was silent a long time before he answered. “You have absolutely no sense of responsibility.”
“Are you a socialist, Mr. Hagen?”
Hagen laughed. It was a dry, joyless noise as if something were caught in his throat. “The way you’ve harmed this bank, your days here should be numbered! No communist has ever hollowed out the capitalist system and abused it for his own interests as thoroughly as you have. You and your colleagues founded a limited company that serves no other purpose than your speculative moneymaking. The investment capital comes from bribes that big companies paid to get their loan approved. That’s known in the criminal justice system as corruption!”
The man at the window started under the weight of the word as if he had been struck, and then laid his hot forehead against the cool windowpane.
“Did you kill Mommsen?”
“Rubbish! What would I have against Mommsen?” Hagen appeared disconcerted by the question. “The most dangerous people are the ones who claim they do things with the best intentions,” he went on disjointedly. “Who would dare oppose modernization? I’ve analyzed all your speeches. The less you understand a subject, the more you talk in nouns. That’s how you neutralize what happens. You don’t actually do anything yourself. You delegate all the work and administer the resulting gridlock as though it were one of your greatest economic achievements.”
“Just who do you think you’re talking to?” The protest was feeble. Meyer-Münster wondered feverishly what this strange computer person wanted from him. Was this a blackmail attempt? “Do you want money?” he asked.
“No! But I’d expect a man like you to think that! All the way to the top, you never looked behind you. You really thought you were indefeatable. But Mr. Becker made a mistake. Two weeks ago, he transferred 500,000 euros of Shares Strategy‘s money into his private account. To buy a condominium. That drew my attention. And from that point on, I’ve been observing the strange goings-on in your company.“
Meyer-Münster groaned aloud.
“Those stocks that went into a spin? You and Mr. Becker took them out of Shares Strategy’s portfolio and after the bank was closed, you transferred them back into the bank’s investment account from the head bookkeeper’s PC. You only kept the investments that promised a good return. It must have seemed so simple to you. But your ID cards betrayed you. And after I knew that you were stealing from the bank, I began to get interested in the source of your millions. I compared the new loan contracts with the source of the deposits into Shares Strategy’s account. Sometimes your name turned up, sometimes it was one of your colleagues…”
“Stop, I said stop! What do you want from me? How much? How much do I have to pay you?“ Slowly Meyer-Münster turned from the window. What did this underdog of bits and bytes, this non-descript, shirtsleeved minion really want from him?
Hagen had meanwhile moved over to Meyer-Münster’s desk, where he spread out all the insignia of his status as upper-level bank employee: ID card, key to the bank and the computer room, the card for the parking garage, for the executive dining room.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Meyer-Münster’s voice cracked.
“I quit. I’ve made sure that the rest of the management discovers your schemes when the computers are started up tomorrow morning.” Without a word, he left the room.

* * *

“Porno ring exposed!“ reported even the conservative newspapers gleefully. Bild Zeitung claimed to know that “teachers, police officers and scientists ranked among the pedophiles who were its customers.”
Police in every German state had participated in the raid, in which thousands of people were simultaneously apprehended and interrogated and computers confiscated. In the police history of Germany there had never before been such an orchestrated police undertaking among all the state criminal investigation agencies. Yet despite this indisputably remarkable success, expressions of triumph by the police were subdued, and so it was that the one-sided press release published by the state criminal investigation office in Wiesbaden fell quickly into obscurity, displaced by an even greater stock market plunge, a plane crash in Venezuela and an armed robbery in Berlin. The newspapers reported nothing of the horror that shadowed the investigating police officers as they worked their way through the mountains of material, the computer files and photos and films of adults torturing, abusing even murdering children.

* * *

When Becker, on the morning of the ninth day after Mommsen’s murder, emerged from the elevator, turned the corner of the hall and made for his office door, two uniformed police officers came toward him. “Mr. Becker, we will be escorting you to your office. Chief Superintendent Lederer is on his way to see you.”
Once inside his office, the two police remained standing in the vicinity of the door and waited patiently. Their task was to keep Becker away from his computer. Becker paced nervously up and down in front of his desk as he waited. The two police officers studied everything with interest. Mr. Becker had obviously had a designer decorate his office. The chairs were the kind with expensive Italian aluminum frames.
“And the others?”
“What others?“ The younger of the two police officers reacted with uncertainty. “Our orders only mentioned you.”
Lederer and Schuler arrived fifteen minutes after Becker, who had become nearly frantic with worry. He suspected – no, he knew – why the cops only wanted to see him. If they had come about International Shares Strategy, then they would have gone to Meyer-Münster first. So someone must have seen and recognized him that evening at The Painted House! Was it routine legwork that had led them here? He sat down at his desk, lay his head on the glass desktop, and was motionless for some time. Then a sob, a shudder went out, traveling through his shoulders to encompass his entire body.
“I know why you’re here.” His voice was hollow. “How did you find out I was at The Painted House that evening?”
Schuler made an inarticulate noise and with one movement he turned on his heel to look at Lederer. The latter, who had been planning to interview Becker as a customer of the kiddie porn ring, was startled into silence. He had come intending to confiscate Becker’s computer – one of many – as evidence.
Lederer had himself under greater control than Schuler. “I think it’s time for you to talk, Mr. Becker!” he said, his voice as expressionless, even disinterested as he could make it.
“I needed five hundred thousand euros. For my condominium. I withdrew the money from the funds in our little company without asking either Meyer-Münster or Mommsen, who tracked the investments. I credited the funds officially to my private account. And then Mommsen got upset and said I wasn’t allowed to withdraw anything, that a direct transfer of funds could betray us all, that all the officers would have to agree to the withdrawal. He claimed that I was endangering the company with my transaction, that the Shares Strategy was in a precarious position and I needed to repay the money immediately.”
Neither Lederer nor Schuler said a word. The moment was too risky. The wrong facial expression, a triumphant smile, and it could all go wrong. Pokerface, thought Schuler. He stood motionless in the middle of Becker’s office, feeling only the presence of the two uniformed officers behind him at the door. Lederer perched on the edge of the chair directly in front of Becker’s desk, the sheer tension causing him to bend forward, all his muscles taut.
“And then?” Lederer’s voice fell into the silence, soft but vibrating with tension.
“Mommsen threatened me. About something else. It was something that I had paid for using my company credit card. I have no idea how he found out about it. He must have gotten into my private PC files. He threatened to make me the laughingstock of the bank.” Becker sniffled like a child whose mother has forgotten to give him a handkerchief. “That evening I followed him when he left the bank. I wanted to talk to him again. I caught up with him in front of The Painted House and we argued. He made fun of me, Mr. Pious, always so puritanical. He laughed at me. I had no idea how he knew all these things about me.”
“Mommsen did the accounts and the bookkeeping for the Internet porno ring, the one you probably know under the name Geovalley. He monitored the payment receipts, followed up on the credit card payments and assured the smooth transfer of the profits to the head of the child pornography ring in the states,” said Lederer.
“What? Mommsen? That sanctimonious... He did the books? You know about Geovalley?“ Becker stared at Lederer, his eyes wide with disbelief.
“He must have recognized you from your credit card information. He knew the bank’s sort code. It wasn’t hard for him to find out which of his colleagues was hiding behind the cover name ‘Speedy Gonzalez’.” Lederer had learned more from Margo in recent days about electronic communication than he cared to recall.
Becker sniffled loudly. “Mommsen refused to change his mind. He wanted to reveal my ‘predilection,’ as he called it, to Meyer-Münster. I’d have been kicked out. He went into the restaurant and I walked up and down in the street and tried to calm down. Then I went into The Painted House after him. I wanted to ask him one more time to help me. Otherwise… I squatted down next to his chair and spoke quietly to him. There was a knife lying on the floor; it must have fallen off the table. Mommsen was laughing at me again. I had picked up the knife: I wanted to put it back on the table. All of a sudden there was a lot of pushing and shoving next to us and behind us, and Mommsen turned around in his chair.”
“And that’s when you stabbed him.”
“I had no choice.”
Schuler was taken aback once again at how easily desperate people, in their attempts to find their way out of a difficult situation, see, in murder, an acceptable solution. His policeman’s brain told him that murder was, on the contrary, where the trouble really got serious. Neither victim nor perpetrator aroused his sympathy here. The sanctimonious Mommsen had, on closer view, a dark and unsavory side to his character. From that point of view, it was murder among equals in more than one respect.
The door flew open. Sergeant Berg and Margo came in, unannounced.
“Meyer-Münster’s shot himself. He’s upstairs in his office. It must have happened late last evening; his secretary found him this morning. He left a suicide note. There’s something in it about a private investment company. He appears to have been involved in a corruption scandal.”
Lederer had meanwhile risen slowly to his feet. “Ms… ah, Margo, I think we’re going to need your special skills once again.”

Published in: Murderous Collaboration, Scherz Publisher, Bern, 2003
© Jutta Motz | © Translation by Mary Tannert

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