The Waiting Man
by Kat Benedict
Day and Night One
Klaus wondered if perhaps there were times when the human soul was closer to death than at others. That is to say, if the scales were, at times, more precariously balanced than at others. When a man could be walking along and only a tip of the scales dictated whether a car hit him, he had a massive coronary, or he made it home safely. And if there were such times, if one could sense them. Perhaps he was just being paranoid. For the last week or so, Klaus had had the feeling of impending doom, as if disaster waited just around the corner, or to be more precise, was hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles. There was no call for the feeling; things were going fine. No financial troubles, his job was secure, he hadn't been bothered by Eroica in months, and now he was off on a rather intriguing mission. Things were just as he liked them. So why this feeling of doom?
The NO SMOKING sign blinked on, accompanied by a soft "ping". Klaus ground out his cigarette and peered out of his window as the plane circled round for its landing at Freiburg Im Breigau. The city was rather picturesque, even at 15,000 feet. Freiburg lay nestled between the Western slope of the Black Forest and the upper Rhine River, and was a bustling, colorful center of tourism, education and commerce. Klaus liked Freiburg Im Breigau, but it wasn't Freiburg Klaus and his agents had come to investigate.
"Meinen Damen und Herren," came the captain's voice over the intercom, "Wir nähern uns dem Flugplatz. Bitte legen Sie Ihre Sicherheitsgurte wieder an. Vielen Dank, dass Sie mit Lufthansa geflogen sind." Klaus fastened his seatbelt, then nudged a sleeping Agent J beside himself and told him to do likewise.
It was fascinating still, after all his years of flying, to watch the indistinguishable landscape form into patches of color, lines of rivers, then to be able to discern streets, buildings, then cars. Like a mystery when all the little pieces become clear and fit together to make a scene.
The plane's dark twin raced across the ground below, through streets, over houses, and across schoolyards. The landscape then smoothed out into the familiar geometric patterns of an airport. The shadow grew closer, larger, sharper. Like a mystery solved. Klaus smiled privately. He'd had tougher cases. Most a lot less pleasant. Not that investigating the murder of eleven Jewish students from Turkey was in any way pleasant. Especially when the new wave of Nazism was said to be the motive.
The plane bumped and jolted along the runway. Agent M gave a weak moan. Poor fellow. Flying did not agree with him at all. He was not only terrified of being trapped in a big hunk of metal that was several thousands of feet higher up than it ought to be, but was also prone to have terrible earaches and travel sickness. This trip, short as it may have been, had been rough on the young man. Seated beside nauseated M, Agent L hadn't been able to enjoy it either. Klaus wished he'd gotten a seat in first class. No agent sleeping on his shoulder and no puking, whimpering agent behind him. Meanwhile, Agents K and N had been across the aisle playing some sort of stupid digital game, hooting and squabbling like little boys. Thoroughly embarrassing!
Agent J rubbed his eyes. "Are we going to the hotel right away?" he asked, and Klaus detected a note of hopefulness in his voice.
"Nein. At least we are not. Agents M and L will go to the hotel and check us in. You, K, N, and I will go to the castle. I want to make a quick search of the place."
Agent J glanced back between the seats as M gave another groan. "Sir, that's a forty mile drive. It will be dark by the time--"
"Thank you for the information, J. Now be sure and get the bags from the overhead compartment when we stop."
When they were safely moored to Gate 18, Klaus and his five agents rose and made their way down the aisle, crowding along with the rest of the herd of tourists and businessmen. A priest in his black vestments rose suddenly to Klaus' right. The Major jumped away and jostled into the back of a large matronly woman dressed in pink polyester. She turned a sour glare over her shoulder. Her white hat looked like an angel food cake set atop her dark grey hair.
"I beg your pardon," Klaus said perfunctorily, still unsettled. He felt stupid for being startled and hoped none of his agents or anyone else had seen him jump. A NATO enforcer must have a cool head and nerves of steel. Maybe the stress of his job was getting to him. Always ready for an attack, ready to act on a moment's notice. Maybe now any sudden movement would trigger his internal alarm system. He'd heard of soldiers and policemen suffering such things.
He knew somehow that wasn't it. He wouldn't worry about it. It didn't warrant his attention, he decided. Deeper down, he didn't want to think about it. He didn't want to look up and see the sword.
Klaus and his agents J, K, and N turned off the main road that twisted through the Black Forest and drove along a small path indicated only by worn tire marks. This road led deep into the dark woods, and the ground below was rough and uneven. He was glad he decided to leave Agent M behind. In the distance he could see bands of yellow and knew he was close.
They stopped the minivan just short of the police tape and walked the rest of the way. J, K, and N stooped under the yellow tape but leggy Major von Eberbach stepped over it easily. Up a steep slope stood the castle, or what was left of it. Schloss Durdenstein was not a particularly large castle. It had been built in the late Middle Ages as a monastery, then remained unoccupied for centuries until, during World War II, it had been an outpost for Nazis. It was almost destroyed at the end of the war. Now it was only so much historical rubble. The top floors were mostly gone and the huge stones of the remaining structure looked like a row of crooked teeth. There was a tower at either end of the facade, one practically halved lengthwise, the other still in fairly good shape. What had brought the scholars all the way here? A history lesson?
There was a single policeman there to guard the place. Klaus flashed his I.D. and went inside.
Schloss Durdenstein had long ago fallen to plunder and souvenir seekers. Nothing remained inside except rubble and dead foliage. Klaus kicked through the debris as he wandered from room to room. Evening birds sang from their perches above and the susurrus of the forest echoed throughout, sounding like the whispers of ghosts.
He came upon a long, wide hallway that still had its ceiling. At the end of the hall stood an open wooden door and the room beyond it was dark as pitch. It was somehow sinister, gaped open like the mouth of a monster, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to wander inside.
Klaus nearly jumped out of his skin that time. He had Agent K by the neck before he knew what he was doing.
"Sorry sir," the man croaked, his face ghostly pale.
Klaus dropped him. "Do not creep up on me," he growled through clenched teeth.
"Y-yes sir. Sorry sir," gasped K, rubbing his throat.
Klaus turned his face back to the door where solid black stood pressed to its opening, eating the light. Klaus wished the door was closed. Closed doors were often safer to approach. And less eerie.
Eerie does not matter, he told himself. You must investigate, and investigate you shall. Especially with his subordinates there. He could never let the men see him quail in front of something so ridiculous as a dark room. He strode purposefully down the hall. His steps sounded like a misfiring revolver on the stone floor.
Agents K, L and N made plenty of noise as they followed. No one dared startle the Major again.
Klaus stopped at the entrance. The blackness seemed so corporeal, like if he placed his hand to it, he could feel it. It might even reach back. He took the flashlight from agent N and aimed it into the darkness. Even the beam of light seemed to smother in the gloom. Still, he could make out the stone steps that led down, down, to a depth that the light couldn't reach.
"Agent N, you stay up here. J and K, come with me."
J and K switched on their flashlights and followed him down.
They had only gone down a few steps when Klaus noticed a sharp climate change. The castle above had been drafty and cool, but it was downright icy in this underground... whatever.
He reached a landing in the corner where the stairway turned and went down further. He stopped and shone his light around. He caught a glimpse of stone floor, and something thin and white lying on it. They continued down, Klaus keeping his light on the steps before him. When they reached the bottom, he swept the beam across the floor again, found the white thing, and realized at once it was part of a chalk outline. J and K's light joined his and they picked out the outlines of several bodies and parts of bodies. These scholars hadn't just been killed; they'd been mutilated.
"There must be a light switch or a lamp somewhere," said K, and his light went sweeping around the room. Klaus couldn't take his eyes off of the chalk outlines. The stones were dark with bloodstains. What had they died for? Was it just a hate crime? Had they discovered something which someone else wished to hide?
"Sir, look at this," said K. Klaus looked up and followed K's beam to where it shone on the wall above him. Filling the circle of yellow light was a black swastika, spray-painted about six feet across. There were bloodstains there as well.
"My God," gasped J. "Please tell me this isn't happening again."
Klaus turned away and continued investigating the room. There were bloodstains everywhere, even on the ceiling. And still the blackness pressed in on them, trying to smother the light. This was a room in Hell.
At the base of the wall with the swastika was a hole where it seemed the stone floor had been broken apart. The rubble lay to one side of the small hole.
"So they were killed by Neo-Nazis," said N from above. "Can't the local police take care of this? After all, the Neo-Nazis are just a bunch of punk kids."
Klaus looked up at the figure silhouetted in the doorway that seemed a hundred yards away, "The students were from Turkey. We act on behalf of both countries. And since a rise in Neo-Nazism would be a threat to all of Europe--"
"Do you think it is?" asked J, lost in the darkness. Klaus found him with a beam of light. The young man looked pensive.
"Of course not. I do not think most people would make the same mistake again."
"I hope not."
It was really too dark to have a better look. Klaus decided to call it a night and made Agent J drive back to the hotel in Freiburg while he rested in the passenger seat. He wasn't really dozing, he was thinking.
His grandparents, when they had been the lord and lady of Schloss Eberbach, had been generous contributors to Hitler's regime. Not that they necessarily agreed with all of his policies, but it was the thing to do. It was an easy way to avoid the whole situation. Better to appease the Fuehrer and be ignored than to oppose him and come under the harsh spotlight of public scrutiny. So the von Eberbachs had funded the schools, the weaponry, the gas chambers.
And there were still those who would not admit the whole nightmare had ever happened. They denied it all, insisted it was propaganda cooked up by the Allies to gain support. But there were the victims. Men and women with numbers on the arms and ghosts in their eyes. They weren't lies. They were Germany's shame. So Germany denied them, suppressed them, refused to take the blame. The sins of the Fatherland.
And now there were those who held to those ideals. Young, stupid boys who made heroes out of the likes of Hitler, Himmler, and the SS, never really knowing what it was all about, just looking to hate. Klaus didn't know which was worse: the denial of the horror or the pride in it.
And those students. Klaus tried not to think too hard about what they must have thought in those last terrifying moments. Probably the same thing J had: "Please tell me this isn't happening again."
Klaus was lying in bed later that night when the feeling of impending disaster hit him again. It made his heart pound almost painfully and he was sure something terrible waited, jaws wide and black. A gaping chasm somewhere waiting for him to wander inside. Paranoia. This had to stop.
He began to sing to himself:
"Mary gehabt eine Kliene
Ihr Vlies so Weiss wie Schnee
Und wohin die Mary ist
Die Lamm ging jeden folgen sie"
It didn't soothe him. In fact, his customary retreat into childhood comfort this night only increased his anxiety. He lay on his back, his hands over his palpitating heart.
"Flimmer, flimmer, kleiner Stern..."
He sat up and fumbled on the bedside table. His hands wandered over the pack of cigarettes, paused, then passed them over for the little bottle of sleeping pills that had become a bedtime staple of late. He dry-swallowed two and lay back down. Another nursery rhyme drifted through his mind, but he didn't sing aloud. Instead, he let it play inside his head, background music for his troubled thoughts. Thoughts not of the case, of Nazis or of Turkish Jews, but of his own sanity. Was he cracking up? What exactly was eating at him?
Klaus felt himself falling down into a solid blackness which vibrated around him. He welcomed the oblivion.
But then he dreamed.
He was alone at his Swiss cabin in the Alps. He'd never been there before; it was a gift from his godmother, who always told him he looked like he needed a holiday, but he'd never found the time or the desire to go. Nevertheless, he was there in his dream and saw the cabin in lush detail: the smooth, dark walls, the carved mantle above the stone fireplace, the fragrant cedar floors. There was furniture there as well. The place looked warm and lived in.
For some reason, Klaus had the impression that he had helped build the cabin. In dreams, these things go unquestioned. He also knew that something was missing. Something small but important. Next to the narrow featherbed with its handmade quilt, he spied an empty picture frame. Dorian's picture! That's what was missing. He was furious that someone had stolen it. It was his after all.
Klaus stood at the fireplace, looking back across the room. Snow fell thick and heavy outside, piling up on the windowsills. It was too thick. Too heavy. Surely the roof couldn't hold up under such weight. Just as soon as the thought occurred to him, the roof began to creak. The rafter across the cabin began to buckle. Quickly, Klaus ran over to the bed below it, threw the mattress and covers to the floor, and stood the narrow bed on end, propping up the rafter.
The other rafter began to give then. He looked around himself for something to support it. Nothing he could use. He stood up on a chair and held the rafter up with his own hands. The roof sagged. His arms strained. He knew the roof was going to come crashing down on him but he wouldn't let go and run. He had to stay in the cabin.
There was a loud crash as the bed snapped apart. The far side of the cabin caved in, lost suddenly in a blinding cloud of snow. Klaus shut his eyes and felt the roof above him give way. He shouted.
He woke up.
Dorian hadn't realized he'd fallen asleep until he jerked awake at his library table, knocking over a stack of Spanish doubloons. Only a moment ago he'd been counting coins, the next, he found himself watching Klaus get crushed to death by wood and snow. Shaken, Dorian bent down to pick up doubloons off the Persian rug. The clock struck three a.m. He sat up so fast that he bashed his head on the table.
"Owshit!" he cried, momentarily stunned. Then he remembered why he'd sat up so fast. He knew for sure that he'd glanced up at the clock at two-fifty, because he'd heard Bonham in the hallway. Surely he couldn't have fallen asleep and started dreaming in only ten minutes. Especially when he wasn't even sleepy.
A vision! He'd had a vision! Klaus had been killed! Dorian gave a cry of horror.
Bonham paused on the stairs, hot toddy in one hand. So what little disaster had befallen the squirrelly Earl? A chip in a Ming vase? A tear in the corner of a van Gogh? Dutifully, Bonham set the cup down and went to check on the Earl.
His Lordship was kneeling on the rug, clutching his head and staring into space.
"Sir!" Bonham gasped, "Are you all right?" He stooped over Dorian and put his hand on the master's back.
Dorian looked up at Bonham. There were tears in his eyes. "I just had a vision! Klaus is dead! I saw it! He's dead!"
"'Ere, 'ere, what's all this?" Bonham soothed. "Hit your 'ead, Your Grace? I think you've knocked yourself silly. Now come on, upsy-daisy."
Dorian tried to stand, but staggered against Bonham. "I saw it clear as I'm seeing you'"
Bonham wasn't sure how clear that could possibly be, between the blow to the head and the tears. The Earl continued, "He was crushed to death inside some house or something! Oh, God..." he let out a breath that was more like a sob.
Bonham wasn't sure how to feel. Pity for the shaken Earl. Glad if it was true.
"There, there, Your Grace. You mustn't give 'eed to such nonsense. You fell asleep and had a dream. I'm sure your Major is fine."
"I didn't fall asleep! I know I didn't!" Dorian insisted. "I looked at the clock! I know!"
"All right, all right," replied Bonham. "If that's so, then get in touch with 'is Chief. "E'll know if anything's happened to Uncle NATO."
Dorian struggled to his feet. "Yes! Of course. Right, then!" He ran upstairs to his phone and phone-number file.
Bonham followed at his own pace, retrieving the hot toddy as he did so. Might as well give it to His Grace now. The poor boy looked like he could use it.