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Babylon Berlin: Book 1 of the Gereon Rath Mystery Series
THE DEAD MAN IN THE LANDWEHR CANAL
28th April—10thMay 1929
When would they return?In the darkness even the smallest noise seemed infernal; the quietest of whispersgrew to a roar. Silence itself became an interminable throb in the ears. He hadto pull himself together but the pain was driving him mad. He had to pull himselftogether, to ignore the dripping sound of his own blood as it hit the hard, dampfloor.
He had no idea where they had dragged him. Somewhere no-one could hear. A cellar perhaps? A warehouse?The room had no windows and there was only a faint glimmer of light, the same glimmer he had seen from the bridge as he gazed at the lights of a departing train, lost in thought. About the plan. About her. The blow had plunged him into darkness.
He shuddered against the ropes, the only things holding him up. His feet couldn’t carry him, they hardly resembled feet anymore, and his hands no longer functioned. He put all his weight onto his arms to avoid touching the floor. The rope chafed. He was sweating all over his body.
The images kept reappearing: the heavy hammer, his hand, tied to the steel girder, the sound of his bones splintering and the unbearable pain, his cries that had grown into a single, loud cry. Unconsciousness. Then waking from the dark night, his extremities wrenched in pain. But the pain hadn’t penetrated to his core.
They had enticed him with pain-removing drugs, trying to bend him to their will. He had to fight against his weakness. The sound of his own language had almost overwhelmed him, but their voices sounded colder and more sinister than the ones he remembered.
Svetlana had spoken the same language, but how different she had sounded! Her voice had sworn love, divulged secrets, been intimacy and promise itself, brought the great city to life once more. Even in foreign parts he could not forget the city. It was still his city: a city that had deserved a better future. Still his country: a country that had deserved a better future.
Hadn’t she wanted the same thing? To oust the rogues who had seized power. He thought of the night they had spent lying awake in her bed, a warm summer’s night that now seemed an eternity away. They had made love and confided their secrets, melded them into one big secret so that they might realise their dreams.
Everything had gone so well, but someone betrayed them. They had abducted him. And Svetlana? If only he knew what had become of her. Their enemies were everywhere.
He had known their questions in advance, answered without giving anything away. They hadn’t even realised. They were stupid. Their greed made them blind. He couldn’t let them know the train was already on its way. Not when the plan was almost complete.
The first blow was the worst. Everything that came afterwards merely served to disperse the pain.
Now, the certainty that he would die made him strong enough to endure never walking, never writing, never touching her again. He had made his peace with memories, but she was a memory he would never betray.
He had to get to his jacket and the capsule in its lining. If he had realised it was a trap, he would have bitten it long ago. In the darkness, he could just make out the outline of the chair it was resting on.
They hadn’t tied him. After they had pulverised his hands and feet, they had simply hung him on the ropes so that they could work on him again when the pain roused him from unconsciousness. They hadn’t left a guard behind, so certain were they that no-one would hear his cries. This was his last chance. The effect of the drugs was waning and, without the support of the ropes, the pain would be so unbearable that he would probably faint. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. Now!
He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, stretched out both arms. First his elbows and then his whole body lost their hold and the lumps of mash that were once his feet touched the ground first. He cried out even before his upper body smacked against the concrete floor, where he writhed until the pain finally began to subside. Now he could move, could crawl forward on his elbows and knees, leaving a trail of blood behind him.
Soon he reached thechair and dragged down the jacket with his teeth, secured it with his right elbow and tore at the lining. The pain only made him angrier until he prised it open witha loud rip.
All at once he was sobbing uncontrollably and memory seized him, just as a predatory cat seizes and shakes its prey. He would never see her again. He had known it ever since they lured him into their trap, but now all of a sudden it was brutally clear, and he loved her so much. So very much!
Slowly he regained his composure. His tongue searched for the capsule, tasting dirt and lint, before it finally alighted on the smooth, cool surface. With his incisors, he carefully removed it from the lining. It was in his mouth now, the capsule that would end everything. A triumphant smile flickered across his pain-stricken face.
They wouldn’t find anything. They would blame themselves. They were stupid.
He heard a door slam shut above him, resounding like a peal of thunder. Steps on the concrete. They were coming back. Had they heard him cry out? His teeth held the capsule, ready to bite down. He was ready now. He could end it anytime. He waited a little longer. Let them come in! He wanted to bask in his triumph until the final moment. He wanted them to see it. To stand by helplessly and watch as he escaped them.
He closed his eyes as they opened the door and bright light flooded the darkness. Then he bit down. With a quiet click, the glass shattered in his mouth.
Excerpt from Babylon Berlin, copyright © 2007, 2008 by Volker Kutscher. English translation copyright © 2016 by Niall Sellar. All rights reserved.