Read on for an exclusive extract from ‘The Silent Victims’ by Alex Coombs.
The Silent Victims
Melinda Huss was dying. She wasn’t in any pain, the local anaesthetic in her side had taken care of that, all she could feel as the blood trickled out from her right side was a faint tickling sensation as it flowed down her skin and a spreading warmth as it pooled underneath her body.
She was lying on her back on a massage table in the spa and treatment centre of the luxury hotel’s lodge. The room was small and clinical, its only decoration three severe black and white Robert Mapplethorpe photographs of flowers, their curled foliage like organs from a human body. They had an ethereal, fleshy, beauty all of their own.
There was a table with a laptop on it and two charts on the wall – one featuring traditional Chinese medicine meridian lines where chi was said to flow, another, brightly coloured, indeed almost the only other colour in the room, showed the main chakra positions from Indian yoga.
The other source of colour in the room was the enormous red stain that spread out across the white sheet covering Huss’s torso.
She was quite calm, tranquil almost, but she could feel herself becoming light-headed. She wondered how much blood she had actually lost. She felt another warm trickle down her body. It seemed to be leaving her body in irregular bursts. It wasn’t unpleasant. In fact, if you had to choose a way to die, bleeding out like this was not a bad way to go at all.
She lifted her head and looked down at the Velcro straps that secured her arms and legs. She had tried before to break her bonds or wriggle free. She had been unsuccessful. She wasn’t going to try again.
She could feel her will, and her strength, draining away. She thought of Enver Demirel, her fiancé. She thought of Hanlon. Her fierce, attractive face, and she thought of the long road that had led here.
To this place. To this death.
Kriminalkommissar Claudia Meyer of the Baden Württemberg Landeskriminalamt strode out of the foyer of the baroque building just off Karlplatz in the historic Alt centre of Heidelberg.
It was incredibly noisy. Horns were beeping in the narrow mediaeval streets where traffic had backed up. Sirens wailed, police were shouting commands at a vociferous crowd that had gathered.
The red sandstone castle on the hill above looked down on the small, picturesque town below. The scene that she had just witnessed in the first floor drawing room was as gruesome as any the castle had seen in its long history. There had been an eye-opening amount of blood.
There were a couple of blue and silver VW squad cars from the cop shop on Eppelheimer Strasse parked on the narrow cobbled street outside, and the front door of the large, detached town house had been sealed off. The blue uniformed police on the door watched her as she passed. She nodded at the driver of the van that she recognized as belonging to Forensics which was pulled up on the pavement.
The street where all this commotion was occurring was in one of Heidelberg’s most fashionable quarters. It was university land, but the house she had just left was startlingly expensive, even by Stuttgart standards. Prices had risen steeply in latter times. It was the kind of place that only fairly recently had become gentrified and was now increasingly being colonized by non-German investors. It lay in the heart of the city, near the exclusive Hauptstrasse. It wasn’t the kind of place you associated with violent death; more expensive shopping and a Kaffee and a slice of Sachertorte.
A sign of the times, she thought. Her father would be angry, as usual. ‘What is this country coming to, Claudia!’
Mind you, she thought, women in the police force made him angry too. Global warming, GM crops, refugees, transsexuals, Austrians, it was a long list that encompassed practically everything modern.
‘Hey, DI Meyer!’
She groaned. So the papers in the form of Bild, the bestselling national red-top, were already here.
Jurgen Flur, biggest sleazebag in the Rhein-Neckar area, and face to match. Late forties with long, stringy, greying hair and industrial-size pouches under his eyes, resembling an over-the-hill porn actor. He was accompanied by a tough-looking photographer in a leather jacket.
‘Is it true that’s Gunther Hart up there with his throat cut?’ His voice was eager. He so wanted it to be true, thought Meyer.
The photographer shot several images of her. ‘No comment, Jurgen.’
‘Then it is true.’ She rolled her eyes. She could really do without the press intrusion from Bild.
‘And it was Muslim extremists; they say the concierge is missing, and he’s a Turk. Is it true he’s the main suspect?’
A crowd had gathered to watch what was going on. Soon more TV stations would be arriving. Gunther Hart was a prominent member of the community. His murder by Muslim terrorists would make headlines on national news, and this at a time when racial tensions were heightened by the refugee debate.
‘Go away, Jurgen.’
‘Is it the work of Al-Ansaar al-Akhdaar?’ This new terrorist group had recently posted a death list of Germans online. Prominent among them had been Gunther Hart.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake.’
‘It is, isn’t it?’ His voice was eager, insistent, he waved his phone in front of her face, recording her voice, probably her image as well, while the cameraman clicked away. She turned her back to them and moved away.
She reached her police car, a 220 Mercedes, and got in, careful of the positioning of her legs. She was wearing a skirt and any second now, she suspected, Jurgen would fling himself on the floor and try to photograph up it. She’d known him a long time. He’d done it before.
She slammed the door shut. Lucas, her sergeant, started the car.
Jurgen Flur banged on the car’s roof and pressed his face up against the window.
‘What about Wolf Schneider? Our readers love him, or does Berlin want him dead?’
‘Drive,’ she growled to Lucas. Jurgen Flur was tapping on the window, the camera behind him was poised. She could see that her irascible subordinate’s front teeth were resting on his lip to produce the ‘ver’ syllable of verpiss dich. Not a good move to actually tell Bild to fuck off. Not with a circulation of two and a half million.
‘He’s on the hit list, when are you lot in Stuttgart going to act?’
As they drove off she could see Jurgen shouting, ‘You’ll have blood on your hands, you Saxon, Commie-loving, fag hag!’
She rolled her eyes.
Lucas said, ‘It’s a shame it had to be Gunther Hart, he was one of the good guys.’
Al-Ansaar al-Akhdaar. The Green Companions.
Green from the colour of Islam, and the Companions, named after the earliest followers of Muhammad. It was rumoured they were formed from hardened ISIS terror fighters who had joined the stream of Flüchtlinge, the refugees from Syria that Merkel had invited in. It was rumoured the group contained German-born Muslims, rebelling against the land that had sheltered them and brought them up. It was rumoured… It was all rumours really, although the death of Gunther Hart wasn’t a rumour, it was a blood-soaked reality.
She sighed irritably as the car roared off through the cobbled streets of the old town. The quiet, art deco buildings mocked the turmoil in her mind. What a bloody awful day this was turning out to be.
The Reverend Mike Andrews put his head round the door of the church hall. He did a quick head count: maybe thirty people. He closed the door and went back into the kitchen, doing a quick sum in his head: thirty people, half a litre each, fifteen litres of soup. The large stockpot they had on the stove held thirty and was two thirds full, plenty for everyone. Then bread. They had sliced white – brown had proved unpopular – whose sell-by date was the previous day, donated by a local supermarket. It was still perfectly fine to eat. There were twenty slices per loaf and they had five.
He thanked God; Jesus had loaves and fishes, they had loaves and leek and potato soup made by Rowenna that morning. He said a quick prayer of gratitude for the unlikely assistance of the diminutive anarchist activist, who although a self-professed atheist, was perfectly willing to help out the forlorn souls, a mixture of rough sleepers, street drinkers and a sprinkling of sad-eyed refugees who were the customers. That was more than could be said of his regular congregation, more’s the pity.
He went back inside the kitchen. ‘Thirty, Rowenna.’
She was standing on a stool stirring the soup, so it didn’t catch and burn on the bottom of the pan, with a long-handled metal spoon.
She nodded and picked up the ladle. ‘Ready to go when you are…’
The Revd Mike gave her the thumbs up. He disapproved of her politics and certainly felt alarmed by her anti C of E rhetoric, but he felt that there was more innate goodness in this multi-pierced tattooed girl in her ragged clothes than in the majority of his well-heeled sanctimonious flock.
He started pulling the screens up.
* * *
Old Harry said to Elsa, ‘Oi, oi, darling, here comes lunch!’ He looked with affection at his companion. If only she’d take care of herself, he thought with concern. She was only seventy-something, a spring chicken. He was eighty-five. He didn’t need to use the soup kitchen but if he stayed at home round the corner all he would see was his carer once a day and she only stayed about ten minutes. Got to keep busy, he told himself, got to keep the mind active.
Elsa certainly helped there, when she wasn’t ‘tired’, as he thought of it.
She had been lecturing him on an artist called Frank Auerbach. Harry had never heard of him. He didn’t know many painters; he’d heard of Constable and his mum had had two pictures in the parlour: Bubbles, a little Victorian girl blowing a bubble with a clay pipe, and Rannoch Moor, some Highland cows in Scotland. Elsa was saying,
‘… and he returned to the same subject over and over again, not everyone liked his thick use of paint…’ She fell silent and her kindly blue eyes grew puzzled. Harry could see that she’d forgotten what she was talking about.
‘What’s happening, dear?’ she asked him. He mentally shook his head, what a waste. She had once lectured in Art History at one of the colleges, he’d forgotten which one, but now her mind had gone. She was still attractive, or rather she would be if she had a clean-up. He was glad that after his bad fall a couple of years ago that had left him with a six month concussion, blinding headaches and confusion, he had lost all sense of smell. He suspected that Elsa might whiff a bit.
He had tried to take her home, but she had grown frightened. She had lived so long on the streets that indoors physically scared her. She was like a rare bird that you couldn’t put in a house.
‘… I’m hungry, Harry, oh, I do hope it’s soup! I like soup.’ He loved her girlish enthusiasm for things.
He looked at the queue forming and stood up. ‘I’ll go and fetch you some, me old Dutch.’
‘That’d be nice, Harry, you’re such a kind man.’ She beamed at him. She had a dazzling smile.
Old Harry got slowly, awkwardly to his feet, pushing himself up with his arms, feeling the habitual fizzing pain in his left knee from arthritis, and straightened his back. He looked down at the thick white hair of Elsa, her Roman nose and beautiful large eyes. If only they had met when they were younger.
You stupid old fool, he thought to himself, like she’d have given the likes of you the time of day.
He handed her his stick to look after, he’d need both hands for the tray.
‘All aboard the Skylark,’ he said. He knew that she liked simple, optimistic declarations, no matter how meaningless.
Now she was beaming at him. ‘What fun, Harry, what fun!’
Slowly, he went to take his place in the queue.
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