Monday, 23 June 2008

Nostalgia Trip #17: THE CORPSE

First published in 2004 by Thomas Deja as a Cyber Pulp Chapbook Thriller! Not for the squeamish!

The mail coach arrived in Guttzeig in the late evening and deposited Drubber at the only tavern.  He asked for a room, signed the guest book and was escorted upstairs by a bow-backed servant with creaking knees.  Drubber elected to carry his own travel bag lest the old man collapse halfway up the stairs.  Upon arriving at the attic room the servant lit the oil lantern with a quivering hand, left a small parcel upon the table beside the door, then bade Drubber a polite good night.

Drubber surveyed his accommodation and judged it adequate, though somewhat lacking in comfort.  The parcel contained half a loaf of black bread and a wedge of pungent cheese with a hard skin.  Hardly a gourmet feast, but after the long journey he was grateful for the cold supper.  He washed it down with tepid water from his canteen flask while he pondered what his next step should be.

He'd only just finished eating when there came a knock at the door.  Drubber opened it.  A tall policeman stood in the hallway, the Imperial eagle crest on his polished black helmet gleaming in the lantern light.

"Herr Drubber?  I am Hans Kramer, personal assistant to Chief of Police Obel.  Chief Obel regrets being unable to call upon you himself, but the current situation bears careful watching."

"I have only just arrived," Drubber said, stifling a yawn.  His back still ached from the mail coach's swift journey through the high mountain passes.  "Perhaps you would be kind enough to explain what the 'current situation' is?"

"Certainly, sir.  The murderer, Karl Stutmann, is being held at Police headquarters.  A number of townspeople gathered in the square yesterday morning, shortly after Stutmann was formally charged with murder.  They continue to demand his release, and say they will not leave unless their demands are met."

"They think Stutmann is innocent?"

Kramer looked surprised.  "On the contrary, sir.  They know he is guilty and wish Chief Obel to release him so they can effect their own brand of wild justice.  Burgermeister von Dorndt is held in high esteem, and his daughter, Claudia, was very popular."

"So I understand, having read the report Herr Obel sent to High Sazburg.  This fellow Stutmann, is he a local, a native of Guttzeig?"

"He belongs to a respected family that owns two mills further down the valley.  As far as we know, he has never been in any kind of trouble.  Until now."

"He was discovered at the scene of the crime?"

"Yes, sir.  In an alleyway just off the town square, his clothing completely drenched in the young lady's blood."

It sounded like a straightforward, if bloody, crime of passion to Drubber.  Yet Obel had sent a request for help, which had resulted in Drubber being dispatched to Guttzeig by fastest available transport.

"Lead the way," he said.  "I'll unpack later."  Drubber put his coat back on, adjusting the heavy pockets so their contents settled more comfortably, and followed Kramer downstairs.


Instead of using the main streets Kramer kept to the quiet side alleys, stopping finally at the back door of a red brick building.  He rapped upon the wood.  Suspicious eyes peered through a narrow spy slot, then heavy bolts were drawn and the door creaked open.  The policeman on sentry duty quickly closed the door behind them, as if he feared unseen demons might follow them inside.

Kramer strode along a narrow corridor and climbed a flight of stairs leading to an upper hallway with several doors on either side.  He stopped outside one of these and knocked politely.  A muffled, "Come in!" invited them inside.

Obel got up and came around his desk to greet Drubber.  He was a heavyset man in his mid-fifties, with a shaven head and a missing front tooth that marred his otherwise perfect smile.  He offered his hand and Drubber shook it.

"Welcome to Guttzieg.  Heinz Obel, Chief of Police."

"Thank you.  Kapitan Franz Drubber, Ministry of State Security."

The color drained from Obel's face.  He let go of Drubber's hand as if he'd realized he was touching a snake.  He managed to say, "M-ministry of—?" before his voice failed him.

Drubber sat down in one of the chairs and unbuttoned his coat.  "Your mail dispatch to Police Headquarters in High Sazburg created quite a stir, Herr Obel," he said.  "Naturally, a copy was passed to the Ministry.  My superiors decided I should jump on the first coach to Guttzeig and take a look for myself.  You have no objection, I hope?"

Obel and Kramer glanced at each other.  Until Drubber had introduced himself they hadn't until this moment realized they were dealing with a Nosey.  They'd assumed he was a policeman, like them.  In actual fact he had been a policeman, until certain events brought him to the attention of the Ministry.

"Of course not," Obel said, his expression belying his words.  "You are most welcome, Herr Drubber.  May I offer you some refreshment after your long journey?"

"No, thank you," Drubber said, wanting to get down to business.  "Why don't you tell me what this is all about?  The matter as it stands seems perfectly straightforward according to what your assistant has told me."

Obel sat down behind his desk.  "Ah, Herr Drubber, if only it were that simple," he said, smiling weakly.  "There is a complication in the fact that young Stutmann is no killer.  He was quite devoted to Claudia."

"The Burgermeister's daughter?"

"Precisely."  Obel ran a hand over the top of his shaven head.  "I have known Stutmann and his father for years.  They are a good family and it seems unlikely he would—"

The sound of breaking glass interrupted him.  Footsteps echoed in the outer hallway as men ran to investigate.  Kramer quickly left the room, closing the door behind him.

Obel said, "I have insufficient men to turn such a large crowd away.  It was my hope that they would lose their zeal and return to their homes last night, but this hasn't happened.  Instead, they have organized a mobile kitchen that serves soup and hot brandy around the clock.  It is rather frustrating."

Drubber was surprised Obel was sitting here complaining about the situation instead of outside with his men, bashing the troublemakers over the head with clubs and using muskets if necessary to drive the crowd away from the building.  But Guttzeig was Obel's town so Drubber kept his opinions to himself, at least for the moment.

Kramer returned.  "Someone threw a stone, Herr Obel," he reported.  "No one was hurt."

Obel nodded.  "It isn't the first window that has been broken and it will not be the last," he said to Drubber.  "The townspeople are crying out for blood.  They want Karl Stutmann strung up from the nearest lamp-post and will not leave until justice—mob justice, that is—is done."  He sighed as if their unruly behavior gave him cause for disappointment, like an adult disapproving of a particularly boisterous child.

"You were talking about Stutmann's family, Herr Obel?"

"It is a good family, Herr Drubber.  Karl Stutmann is not the type to harm anyone.  Frankly, I do not believe he could have murdered Claudia.  They were very much in love."

"Do you have another suspect?"

Obel shook his head.  "No."

"I understand Stutmann was found at the scene of the crime.  Covered, in fact, with blood?"

"Yes, this is so.  There are no witnesses to the murder, but Karl was indeed found at the scene."

"Then you will pardon me if I say that things are looking particularly bleak for young Stutmann."

Obel spread his hands in a gesture of complete helplessness.  "I know this, but I cannot bring myself to accept that Karl murdered Claudia.  Everything was going well for them.  Her father let slip only last week that he planned to announce their engagement shortly.  The entire family liked Karl."

Drubber held up a hand.  "Please, Herr Obel.  Of course you are entitled to your opinion as regards the suspect's worthiness, but nothing you have said thus far would convince anyone that Stutmann is not guilty of the crime.  How did the victim die?"

Obel hesitated, licking his lips nervously.  Then he said, "Claudia—the victim sustained a number of grievous injuries, any one of which would have been fatal."

"Inflicted by a weapon, one presumes?"


"What kind of weapon was used?"

"I don't know, Herr Drubber.  We have not found it yet."

"Stutmann didn't have the weapon in his possession when you arrested him?"

"My men searched diligently but found nothing at, or near, the scene of the crime."

"I see.  Yet Stutmann was there.  He'd made no attempt to run?"

Again, Obel nodded.

"Did a physician inspect the victim's body?" Drubber asked.

"Doctor Ziegler obliged us, though his examination was perfunctory.  You see, the poor girl was so mutilated that the cause of death was apparent for all to see.  I have a copy of his report here."  He opened a drawer, took out the report and gave it to Drubber, who quickly leafed through the handful of pages.  There was surprisingly little to read.  As Obel said, the examination had been perfunctory.  The report listed the number of wounds in order of severity.  The list occupied an entire page.

"I would very much like to have Doctor Ziegler carry out a full autopsy, Herr Obel."

"An autopsy, Herr Drubber?  Is there really any need?"

"If we are going to do this, Herr Obel, then we will do it properly.  Whether cause of death was obvious or not, you know very well that there are procedures laid down for this kind of thing.  Should questions be asked later and it comes to light that you have for any reason deviated from these procedures, it would be embarrassing for you.  I know it is getting late, but perhaps Doctor Ziegler is still awake?"

"You want this done tonight, Herr Drubber?"

"Unless you have any objections, yes."

Obel sighed.  "Very well," he said.  He looked at Kramer.  "Apologize to Doctor Ziegler for disturbing him at this late hour, and ask him to bring his butcher's tools.  Herr Drubber wants him to examine the body again.  Tell him that this time it is to be a full examination."

Kramer saluted and went out, closing the door again.

Obel said, "We are fortunate that Doctor Ziegler offers his services to us.  He is retired now.  Our usual physician, Doctor Steiner, is at this time touring Europa with his new wife.  They are on their honeymoon."

"How delightful.  What about Karl Stutmann?"

"He is in being held in a cell downstairs."

"I should like to speak with him."

"That may prove difficult, Herr Drubber," Obel said.  "Karl is in no condition to answer any questions.  He is quite devastated by the death of his beloved—"

Drubber banged his fist down upon Obel's desk, causing Obel to start in surprise.  "Herr Obel, I do not care a peacock's feather how upset he is.  There has been a murder! It will be investigated fully, and if Stutmann is found guilty he will be executed, regardless of your sympathies and doubts.  Lead the way, if you please."


Drubber's first impression of Karl Stutmann was that the boy would benefit from several years' service in the Imperial Army.  Stutmann sat, or rather slumped, on the cot inside his cell, a forlorn, rumpled figure with unkempt ginger hair, haunted eyes and downturned lips.  He looked like a sad scarecrow rather than a murderer.

Obel unlocked and opened the barred gate.  Stutmann didn't even look up as they entered his cell.  Obel said, "Karl, this is Herr Drubber from the—"  He caught Drubber's warning glance, and cleared his throat.  "From High Sazburg," he concluded.  He might as well not have spoken; Karl Stutmann gave no response.

"Stand up," Drubber ordered, his voice low and dangerous.  At last Stutmann raised his head.  He glanced uncertainly at Obel, then obeyed.  He stood with his large feet apart and his long arms hanging loosely by his sides.  His shoulders remained slumped and he stared at the floor, not meeting Drubber's cold gaze.

"I will now ask you some questions," Drubber said.  "You will answer them truthfully, or I shall turn my back on you and walk out of this cell, leaving you to your fate.  Which, judging from what I have heard thus far, will be to have your neck stretched by the hangman's noose."

Stutmann inhaled sharply, horror in his eyes.  His hand went to his throat and he swallowed hard.

"Answer yes or no.  Did you murder Claudia von Dorndt?"

"Yes, I did."

Drubber stared at him, uncomprehending, then turned to Obel.

"Outside, please, Herr Obel."

He left the cell and Obel meekly followed him, closing and locking the gate.  Stutmann sat down again and put his head in his hands.  Drubber walked to the end of the corridor and impatiently waited for Obel to arrive.

"Call me old-fashioned, Herr Obel, but I have always thought that someone who is innocent of a crime of which they stand accused, is supposed to say they did not do it?"

Obel shrugged.  "That's not always the case, Herr Drubber."

"Oh?  Are there instances where proclaiming one's innocence is not the norm?"

"Yes, Herr Drubber.  I should have thought it obvious."

"Enlighten me, please."

"When the accused is in no fit mental condition to make sane and logical judgment as to his own guilt."

"And you think young Stutmann falls into that category?"

"Yes, I do."

"He seems perfectly sane to me."

"Outwardly, perhaps.  But the person he loved most dearly in all the world has been taken from him.  You must bear this in mind.  The boy is devastated.  He blames himself for her death, even though he cannot remember the exact circumstances because of the terrible shock.  It is obvious, if not to you then at least to me."

Drubber stifled the impulse to tell Obel to stop wasting his time.  Instead he drew in a deep breath and then exhaled slowly, calming himself.

"Herr Obel, I must tell you, things are looking bad, both for young Stutmann and for yourself.  When I return to High Sazburg and submit my report, my superior will very likely make a complaint to the Commandant of Police about this entire shoddy business."

Obel's face took on a pained expression.  "I understand how it must look.  If I were standing in your boots and you in mine, then I would very probably feel the same way.  But I ask for your patience and, indeed, for your understanding, Herr Drubber.  Karl Stutmann no more murdered Claudia von Dorndt than I did."

"In your opinion."

"Yes, in my opinion.  Damn it, I know it sounds ridiculous! But I also know I am right.  Karl Stutmann is innocent, he did not murder Claudia.  I am certain of it."

"Assuming for one moment that what you say is true... have you any clues as to the identity of the person who did murder her?"

"None whatsoever."

Drubber stared at him for long seconds, then said, "Let's go back inside, Herr Obel.  I have more questions for him."

Obel obligingly unlocked the cell again.  This time Drubber didn't bother asking Stutmann to stand up.  "You were with Fraulein von Dorndt on the fateful night she died," he said.  "Tell me what happened."

Stutmann shook his head.  "Please, I do not wish to speak about it, or even remember."

"You have no choice, Karl," Obel said.  "Herr Drubber will help you if he can, but you must answer his questions."

"What do you want me to say?  It's my fault she's dead."

"The weather that evening was very mild for the time of year," Drubber said.  "A new Moon had risen.  It must have been very pleasant, walking arm in arm through the quiet streets."

Stutmann stared at the floor for long moments, then gave a barely perceptible nod.  "Yes, it was.  Claudia was so happy.  We talked about the wedding."

"Which route did you take?"

Stutmann looked up at him.  "Why, we came down through the Blumestrasse and across the square, heading toward the church."  He frowned, remembering.  "Claudia said she felt chilly and wanted a shawl.  We turned back to her father's house.  The moonlight illuminated everything as though it were day.  We walked alongside the cemetery, arm in arm, toward Prinz Wilhelm."

Drubber glanced at Obel.  "The public stairway that connects the lower section of Guttzeig to the upper town," the Chief of Police explained.

"And then what happened?" Drubber asked Stutmann.

"I—cannot remember."

"Tell me about the knife."

The question hung in the air for long seconds, unanswered.  Drubber was unprepared for what came next.  Karl Stutmann screamed and leapt, his hands flailing at something unseen.  Drubber opened his arms instinctively and Stutmann fell against him, his eyes wide with terror.  He struggled as if trying to escape and Drubber didn't hesitate to drive his fist into the boy's jaw.  Stutmann slumped lifelessly, his eyelids fluttering.

"My Gott!" Obel cried, moving in to grab hold of Stutmann from behind.  Together they laid him down upon the cot.  Drubber took care to turn Stutmann over onto his side lest his breathing became restricted.

"Are you all right, Herr Drubber?" Obel said, panting with the effort.

"Perfectly.  I do not believe the boy intended to attack me.  I simply happened to be standing in front of him when a very unpleasant memory surfaced."

"He has not done anything like that before, I assure you."

Drubber nodded thoughtfully.  "I believe you, Herr Obel.  We're finished here, I think.  Let's go and see if the doctor has arrived, shall we?"


Doctor Ziegler was in his sixties, white-haired and quite unintimidated by Drubber, even after Obel introduced him using his full title.  Ziegler stared at Drubber over the top of his half-moon spectacles and said, "Have you ever received medical training, Herr Drubber?"

"No, Herr Doctor."

"Then when I tell you that this poor girl was hacked to pieces by a knife, or perhaps a military bayonet, I should expect you to accept my professional judgment, not argue against it."

Drubber smiled without humor.  "I am not arguing against your judgment, Herr Doctor.  I agree, it is quite likely that Claudia von Dorndt was murdered with such a weapon, wielded by a maniac."

Ziegler looked at Obel, then back to Drubber.  "Then, pray, why have you summoned me here?  Would you not do better to look for the murderer, rather than drag an old man out of his house on a cold night?"

"Perhaps there is something you may have overlooked in your initial examination, Herr Doctor.  I would like to be sure."

Ziegler pulled back the sheet covering the body that had been laid out for re-examination.  Plainly he meant to surprise and shock Drubber with the sight of the hideously mutilated victim, but that didn't happen.  Drubber kept his expression impassive as his gaze drifted down over the girl's torso, abdomen and legs.  He'd seen similar before.  Had seen worse, in fact.

"Whoever killed her certainly did a thorough job," he said.

"Indeed," Ziegler agreed.  "There are thirty-seven deep cuts and over a hundred minor lacerations.  Although not individually fatal, the latter would collectively have resulted in the victim's eventually bleeding to death."

Drubber stared at the torn flesh in the middle of the dead girl's chest, and his stomach knotted.  Memories of Konigshaven came flooding back, the pain and the fear.  He had to take several breaths before he could bring himself to say, "Aren't you going to mention the obvious, Herr Doctor?"

"What do you mean?"

"Someone tried to cut Fraulein von Dorndt's heart from her chest.  I should say that's the most likely cause of death, wouldn't you?"

Ziegler leaned over the body and tentatively touched the torn flesh about the chest area.  The dead skin opened like the petals of an orchid and he stared at the deep, ragged wound, open-mouthed with surprise.

"How did you—?"

Obel gagged; a moment later the Chief of Police ran from the room.

"Working behind a desk for so long appears to have lent Herr Obel a weak disposition," Drubber said.  He looked at Ziegler.  "The risks involved in carrying out the most cursory medical examination are evident, Herr Doctor.  You didn't really spend much time on this one, did you?"

Ziegler sighed.  "No, I did not, Herr Drubber.  I can offer no excuses."

"I am not asking for any.  I notice that the stomach has also been opened.  Did you perform an internal examination?"

"No, I did not."

"Please do so now, Herr Doctor."

Ziegler raised an eyebrow, but did as he was told.  He opened the flap of loose skin, revealing the deep wound.  Then he pushed his hand into the opening, angling his arm while he felt around inside the cavity.

Finally he withdrew, looking somewhat paler than before.  "There is nothing in there but what Nature intended," he said gruffly.  "What exactly did you expect me to find?"

"The murder weapon."

Ziegler fixed him with a withering stare.  "You have a most vivid and unpleasant imagination, Herr Drubber.  What if I had found the weapon, and cut my hand?"

"If it had been hidden in the body cavity then you would have encountered the handle first, not the blade."

Ziegler nodded slowly.  "You are probably correct, although I still wish you had told me.  Is there anything else you wish me to do?"

"As distasteful as it must be, I require that you examine the body's natural openings, Herr Doctor."

"Distasteful is insufficient to describe my feelings, Herr Drubber.  I am revolted by the very thought that the murderer may have thought to conceal his weapon within this innocent girl's body."

"Believe me, I share your revulsion.  Nevertheless, it must be done."

"What if we find the weapon?  What does it prove?"

"I won't know that until I see it, but I am reminded of a particularly brutal murder case in Dorfund, where the murder weapon turned out to have the murderer's initials engraved upon the handle.  This evidence proved instrumental in sending the murderer to the gallows.  Please proceed as I have directed, Herr Doctor."

"Under protest, Herr Drubber."

"So noted," Drubber said wearily.

Ziegler did what Drubber had asked of him, then turned to the sink, pumped water and began washing his hands.

"How long have you lived here in Guttzeig?" Drubber asked.

"Nearly ten years, if you must know.  Before that, I served with the Imperial Medical Corps for over thirty years."

"Then you are intimate with the local community, which allows me to ask my next question.  Have you ever seen anything like this before in Guttzeig?"

"Good heavens, no.  It is uniquely appalling."

Obel emerged from a door further along the corridor, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.  "I am embarrassed beyond words, Herr Drubber," he said.

"A distressing situation, Herr Obel, which has happened to us all," Drubber said.  He stepped aside to allow him to enter the room again.  "I wondered whether the victim was wearing any jewelry?"

"I will have Kramer check.  Is this significant?"

"Probably not, but I would appreciate your finding out."  Drubber smiled at Ziegler.  "You have been most helpful, Herr Doctor.  Given the circumstances, I've changed my mind about the autopsy.  An amendment to your report detailing the attempt to remove the victim's heart will suffice."

Ziegler nodded, but said nothing else.  Drubber led Obel along the passageway, back to the stairs.  Given Obel's present condition, Drubber thought it best to keep him on the move and occupied, rather than allowing him to dwell upon what he had witnessed.

They found Kramer in his small office next to Obel's.  Obel gestured to the desk.  "Kramer, the list of the deceased's possessions, please?"

Kramer opened a drawer and extracted a file.  He opened it and turned the top page around so that Drubber could read it.  There had been three gold rings, two gold bracelets and a gold neck-chain.  The jewelry had been promptly returned to her family.

Obel was fidgeting impatiently.  "May I ask why—?" he began, but Drubber already had an answer prepared.

"I merely wished to know whether the girl had been robbed as well as murdered, Herr Obel," Drubber said, pondering Claudia von Dorndt's fondness for gold.  "How are things looking outside?"

"The good citizens of Guttzeig are still there, if that is what you mean.  Once night falls, they will be at it again."

"At what again?"

"Last night they threw an oil lamp onto the roof, attempting to start a fire.  No doubt the same thing will happen tonight.  Or worse."

Drubber nodded thoughtfully.  "How many would you say are gathered in the square, Kramer?"

"I would estimate sixty or more, Herr Drubber."

"Thank you.  Shall we say seventy for the sake of argument?  How many men are under your command, Herr Obel?"

"I have ten effectives, including Kramer."

"Let's have them all downstairs inside the main entrance in, oh, ten minutes?  Make sure each man is armed with musket, bayonet and club."

Obel blinked in surprise.  "I don't understand.  You surely cannot be suggesting I order my men to fire upon the crowd?  That's absurd.  I will not do it."

"I am not suggesting any such thing, Herr Obel.  But I am suggesting your men give the impression they mean business.  You see the necessity, I hope?"

Obel sighed.  He had little choice in the matter, and he knew it.  "Very well."  He nodded to Kramer, who went to the door.

Drubber called after him, "Kramer, if you would be so good as to draw an additional musket from the armory for myself, I should be grateful."

Kramer nodded.  "Certainly, Herr Drubber."  He went out, leaving them alone.

"What exactly is your plan, Herr Drubber?" Obel demanded.

Drubber's answer was to pull the leather blackjack from his coat pocket and strike Obel squarely across the skull.  Obel dropped like a stone and lay sprawled upon the carpet.  Aside from a devil of a headache when he woke up, he would suffer no permanent ills from the blow.  Effective use of the lead-ball blackjack was a skill Drubber had acquired while working as a policeman in the rowdy port of Konigshaven, before his unusual experiences and his exemplary record drew him to the attention of a recruitment officer from the Ministry of State Security.

Drubber used the ten minutes wisely.  He opened Obel's filing cabinets and went through his records, searching for events that fell into a particular category.  Guttzeig's Chief of Police kept excellent records, and Drubber found what he was looking for in no time at all.


Kramer and the others were understandably nervous as Drubber carried out his inspection.  Most of them had never seen a Nosey before, though of course they had heard the usual stories about the Ministry of State Security.

Drubber made the most of it, berating one man for having his collar unbuttoned and another for having his ammunition pouch open.  He scribbled their names in his notebook and both men jumped when he snapped the notebook shut and returned it to the inside pocket of his coat.  Drubber had no intention of reporting any of them, but he had their full attention now.  They were not exactly the cream of the Empire's fighting elite.  Most were beyond military service age and one was old enough to be Drubber's grandfather.

"How many of you have served in the Army?" he asked.  "Raise your hands."

Five out of the ten had served in the Army and could be expected to know how to competently handle their muskets.

"What about you others?" he said, slowly walking down the line and picking out those who hadn't raised their hands.  "You first.  What's your name, and why are you wearing corporal's stripes if you haven't served?"

"Jahn, sir.  Did serve, sir.  Imperial Kriegsmarine, sir."

"I beg your pardon, Corporal Jahn.  I should not have been so presumptuous.  Gentlemen, a show of hands for service in any branch of the Imperial Armed Forces, if you please?"

Nine out of the ten raised their hands this time and Drubber smiled.  It was much better than he'd expected.  Kramer was the odd man out.

"Straight out of University and into the Police, eh, Herr Kramer?"

"Yes, sir."

Drubber took the musket Kramer had brought for him.  He cocked the hammer and peered down the barrel.  It was clean and the mechanism appeared well-oiled.  He thumbed the hammer closed and took the leather pouch Kramer offered him, which contained cartridges and percussion caps.

"Have you any experience in suppressing riots?" he asked Kramer.

Kramer's eyebrows shot up.  "Riots, sir?"

"Over sixty people are gathered outside.  They have been breaking windows and trying to set fire to this building.  How would you describe that sort of behavior?  I call it rioting, therefore I consider my question a pertinent one.  Have you any experience?"

"No, Herr Drubber."

"Well, no matter—I shall instruct you.  If you carry out my instructions to the letter then possibly you may live to see the dawn.  On the other hand, should you for any reason hesitate to obey my orders promptly then it's likely that your lifeless body will pass into the hands of Doctor Ziegler, for post mortem examination.  Do you understand what I am saying, Herr Kramer?"

Kramer gulped.  "Yes, sir.  May I ask where Herr Obel is, sir?"

"Herr Obel argued that he should be the one who leads you outside to confront the rioters, but I managed to convince him someone must stay in the building to guard the prisoner.  He will see to that task, while I have the honor of leading you instead."

Kramer might have said more, but Drubber held up a hand, demanding silence.

"Gentlemen, load your muskets."

The veterans set to work at once.  Kramer was much slower, his hands making a fumbling job of the ritual.  Drubber loaded his musket at the same time, pushing the thick wax paper cartridge—soldiers called this the "Sazburg Sausage"—into the breech, thumbing a percussion cap against the end of the cartridge, then pulling the brass locking ring shut, trapping the cap.  The process required a certain dexterity, and much practice.  He grounded the weapon to show he was ready.  The tap of his musket's butt against the floor was echoed by taps of the veterans' muskets.  They grinned at him, recognizing his familiarity in handling the weapon.  With a relatively simple set of actions, Drubber had convinced them he wasn't a soft desk clerk from the big city.  He'd evidently had military training, and they respected that.

"Here's what we're going to do," Drubber said.  "As soon as we go out that door, you three"—he picked the men—"will go left and march to block the square's west exit.  At the same time, you three"—he selected three others—"will go right and block the east exit.  When you get there, you will fix bayonets and snarl at anyone who comes near you.  No one leaves the square, got it?  Corporal Jahn, you and two of your men will remain at the bottom of the steps.  Should anyone try to enter this building, you will shoot them."

Jahn nodded to acknowledge Drubber's instructions.

"Herr Drubber, are you certain Herr Obel has approved this action?" Kramer said, a high note of desperation in his voice.

"I can tell you that he has definitely not approved it, Herr Kramer.  Which should not affect you in the slightest.  You are under my orders now.  From this moment on, you will not speak unless I ask you a direct question.  If I give you an order, you will obey immediately and without discussion.  You understand?"

Drubber stared at him until Kramer lowered his gaze.  "Yes, Herr Drubber," he said softly.

"Good.  Hold this for me."  He passed Kramer his musket.  "Open the door, Corporal, and let's get on with it."

Jahn slid the bolts and pulled the door open.  Angry faces glared at them as they emerged from the building and went down the steps fast, splitting up as Drubber had specified.  The Burgers didn't realize what was happening until the west and east exits were blocked, at which time Drubber had walked into the center of the square and climbed up onto the base of the fountain, which carried a statue of a large fish blowing a stream of water from its open mouth.

Kramer was right, there were at least sixty men gathered in the square.  Some of them carried pitchforks and others lengths of wood that served as clubs.  Many had brought oil lanterns, which were already lit in deference to the failing light.  At the back of the crowd sat a wagon containing two large soup pots, which he assumed were filled with the soup Obel had mentioned.

"Allow me to introduce myself," he said, speaking loud enough for everyone to hear.  "My name is Drubber.  I am only recently arrived in Guttzeig and I am not entirely clear on what is going on here, but I do know one thing."

"And what's that?" someone shouted at him.  They shuffled closer to the fountain.  Some of them were looking over at the entrance, calculating the disposition of Drubber's small force. Only Kramer, Corporal Jahn and two policemen prevented them from forcing their way inside and reaching Karl Stutmann.  If they made a concerted charge, they could easily overwhelm the men guarding the stairs.

Drubber smiled at the man who had spoken.  "You are all under arrest, every last one of you.  Should you resist, the Army will march into Guttzeig, either tomorrow or the day after, and you will all be lined up against a wall and shot without trial."

He let that threat sink in.  When they began looking at each other in confusion, he said, "On the other hand, if you put down your weapons, you may live to see another day.  The choice is yours."  He paused, then added, "Oh, and by the way, there is something I forgot to mention.  I am an officer of the Ministry of State Security.  I think you know what that means?  If anything happens to me, the Army comes in.  If I don't report back to my headquarters on schedule, the Army comes in.  If I have a runny nose and no one offers me a clean handkerchief, the Army comes in.  Think it over, why don't you?"

He climbed down off the fountain and walked back to the stairs.  No one tried to stop him.  Without turning to look back at the crowd he said to Jahn, "What's happening, Corporal?  What are they doing?"

"Most are considering your warning, Herr Drubber," Jahn said, "but some are angry."

"Is there an obvious ringleader?"

"I would say yes.  His name is Vogel.  He owns leather shops in Guttzeig and Dorfund.  He is easily identifiable—he has the largest mustache I have ever seen.  They seem to be listening to him.  He is not happy, Herr Drubber, and neither are they."

"May I borrow your club, Corporal?"

Jahn pulled the long wooden stick from his belt and gave it to Drubber.  "Do you need assistance, Herr Drubber?"

"No.  Remain here."  He looked at Kramer, who was pale and shaking with fear.  "For goodness' sake, Kramer, try to look as if you are a policeman, not a frightened schoolboy."  Drubber turned away before Kramer could reply and walked across the square, toward a large group at whose center stood the mustached man Jahn had identified.  A space opened as Drubber approached.  Reaching Vogel, Drubber placed a hand upon his shoulder and said, "If you will be so kind as to come with me, Herr Vogel?  The charges are incitement to riot, causing civil unrest, and failing to have your mustache trimmed regularly."

The man growled and slapped Drubber's hand away.  Drubber immediately cracked the club against Vogel's right kneecap and the man yelped in pain, bending forward to clutch at his knee.  As he did so, Drubber raised the club and brought it down across Vogel's broad shoulders.  Vogel sprawled on the cobblestones, groaning feebly.

Drubber looked at the astonished, fearful faces around him.

"Would anyone like to join this idiot in the cells?  No?  Then stand back, if you know what is good for you."  He turned and shouted, "Kramer! Come here, please."

Kramer ran forward, still carrying Drubber's musket.

"Escort Herr Vogel inside and lock him up.  If he gives you any trouble, shoot him."

Kramer gulped and said, "Yes, Herr Drubber."  He grabbed hold of Vogel's arm and pulled the dazed man to his feet.  Vogel swayed and Kramer had to support him.  Drubber hadn't wanted to pull Jahn or any of his men out of position, so Kramer was the obvious choice for this task.

Drubber walked through the crowd until he reached the wagon containing the metal pots.  He lifted one of the lids and sniffed the contents.  A thick broth, heavy with pepper and spices.  He pulled the pot over onto its side, then did the same with the second.  The soup ran steaming and hissing among the gaps between the cobblestones.  Drubber turned to face the angry crowd again.

"Let's have a show of hands," he said.  "Raise your hand above your head if you intend to resist arrest.  That will make it easier for us to know who to shoot."

"You're bluffing," a voice said.  He couldn't identify the speaker, but that wasn't important.

"Why don't you put your theory to the test?" Drubber said.

"You don't have enough cells to hold all of us," another man called from within the crowd.

"I'm not going to lock you up.  We're just going to stand here for a while, and wait.  We're going to wait quietly, and without interruption."

He knew they wanted to ask, Wait for what? but that would be telling, and he didn't want them to panic, not just yet.  He looked to the west.  The sun was sinking below the horizon and night's black shadow crept over Guttzeig.  A soft glow began to appear behind the eastern mountains as the Moon rose.  Drubber watched the crowd and they watched him with equal suspicion.  They were growing restless; it was only a matter of time before some fool decided to take reckless action.  Then the dam would burst and he'd lose his tenuous authority.

"Can't you hear that noise?" he asked, holding a hand to his ear in a pantomime gesture of listening.  "Heavy boots, marching into Guttzeig.  You must hear them, surely?  They're coming for you, unless you behave yourselves like good lads."

The glow behind the mountains was growing steadily and he saw the first sliver of the Moon as it rose clear of the jagged peaks.  Damn, but it was taking forever.

"What I would like you to do, gentlemen, is move over to the other side of the square."  He directed them with his arms. "Just move around the fountain, quick as you like."

But they were growing even more angry and resentful and they didn't shift.  Drubber walked forward and tapped a Burger on the chest with his club.  The man glared, but sullenly did as he was told.  Others followed him.  Drubber walked slowly around the edge of the crowd, shooing them as if they were stubborn mountain goats and he the goatherd.  Pale moonlight touched the rooftops and upper floors of the buildings.  Sunset had turned the western horizon dark crimson and the clouds there appeared black against the fading light.

"What the devil are we waiting for?" someone shouted from the back of the crowd.

"Quiet, there!" Drubber shouted back at him.  "Keep your mouth shut.  You'll wait here all night if I say so.  Corporal Jahn!" he shouted across the square.

"Sir!" came an answering cry.

"If any of these idiots tries anything stupid, shoot them."

"Yes, sir!" Jahn shouted.  "I'm to shoot them if they try anything stupid, sir!"

Jahn wanted to know what Drubber was up to as much as any of the townsfolk, but he knew better than to ask—Drubber was in command and Jahn and the other veterans would do what they were told without questioning his orders.  Kramer was the unknown quantity but he was now inside, locking Vogel up.  With luck, Drubber might just get away with this.

He had pushed the crowd into the west half of the square and now, at last, the light from the new Moon fell upon them.  One or two raised their hands to shield their eyes from the glow so they could continue to scowl at Drubber, who stood in the shadowed east half, watching and waiting.  Drubber tensed as he saw the Moon's reflection in an upper floor window—that of a swollen yellow disc, surrounded by a ghostly halo.  Moonlight suddenly caught the stream of water flowing from the fish statue's mouth and turned it into green liquid fire.  Long moments passed, but nothing happened.  Drubber began to wonder if he might be wrong.

A horrendous scream from inside Police headquarters sent Drubber running for the entrance.  Jahn snapped an order to his men to remain where they were and ran up the steps.  Drubber joined him and they burst into the building together.  Jahn passed Drubber his musket, which he'd taken from Kramer.

"You check upstairs," Drubber said.  "I'll check the cells."

Jahn nodded and set off.  Drubber cocked his musket and went to the stairs that led down to the cells and the medical examination room.  The stairwell was lit by a single oil lamp that cast a weak and flickering yellow glow.  The shadows down there could easily hide a company of troops.  Drubber cautiously descended.  Jahn hadn't fired his musket, which suggested all was well upstairs.  Where the devil was Kramer?  Nowhere to be seen.  Had the scream been his?

Drubber descended cautiously to the bottom of the stairs, and immediately stopped.  Two of the cell doors lay open.  He stepped smartly forward, his musket pointing into Stutmann's cell.  Empty.  He quickly moved to cover the second cell with his musket.  A shape lay upon the floor.  Vogel, the leather shop owner.  His throat had been torn out.  His final expression was one of absolute terror.

A noise made Drubber spin round, his finger already on the musket's trigger and squeezing, but he released the pressure in time to avoid putting a lead ball into Karl Stutmann's heart.  The boy sat curled up at the far end of the corridor, sobbing like a helpless child, his arms covering his head and face.  Had he seen Vogel die?  Trying to question him at this time would be useless and extremely dangerous, Drubber knew.  Whoever had killed Vogel had to be found and stopped.

Drubber slowly advanced to the room where Ziegler had examined Claudia von Dorndt's body.  A thought occurred to him then.  Had Ziegler left the building?  Possibly not.  Which meant that Ziegler was now a suspect, too.  Drubber looked into the room.  Lamplight revealed Claudia von Dorndt's corpse still lying beneath its white sheet.  Sweat ran into his eyes and he blinked rapidly to clear his vision.  He strained to see a familiar shape in the shadows—Ziegler, or perhaps Kramer, whom he had never dismissed from his list of suspects.  One of them was surely responsible for Vogel's terrible death.  He remembered once again the horror of Konigshaven, of being pinned beneath the snarling, half-glimpsed beast that slashed at him with its razor-sharp claws, shredding his clothing and his flesh as it frantically tried to tear out his heart.

A floorboard creaked and he turned, bringing the musket up and around as fast as he could, but a powerful blow tore his weapon from his hands and sent him reeling.  Medical instruments clattered to the floor as Drubber crashed against the table, pulling the sheet from the corpse.  His breath caught in his throat.  Instead of Claudia von Dorndt it was Hans Kramer who lay upon the table, his eyes wide and unseeing.  Like Vogel, his throat had been torn out.  Blood had spread over the table and down onto the floor, which felt sticky beneath Drubber's boots.

A shadow stood just outside the circle of light.  Drubber squinted, trying to make out its features.  Ziegler?  No, and not Karl Stutmann either.  He looked down and found himself staring at a pair of pale, bare feet.  Suddenly all the clues came together.  He had to swallow hard before he could speak.

"Fraulein von Dorndt, I presume?" he said, marveling at the fact his voice didn't betray his rising fear.

Claudia von Dorndt stepped forward, naked and obscene, her body made hideous by her wounds.  She must have been a beautiful young woman before.  But not now.  The hairs on the back of Drubber's neck stood on end and his bowels threatened to release, but he controlled himself and avoided that ultimate embarrassment.  It hadn't happened in Konigshaven.  It wouldn't happen here.

"I saw what you were up to in the square," she said, her voice a throaty whisper.  "Very clever.  What a pity your plan came to nothing."

"But I was right, wasn't I?" Drubber said, desperately playing for time so he could think of a way out of this fatal situation.  "There is a werewolf, isn't there?"

She laughed, though he didn't know why.  Then she glanced over her shoulder and said, "Come in, Karl.  Herr Drubber would like to meet you."

Karl Stutmann entered the room as if he'd been waiting for her signal.  Drubber recoiled in horror at the change in him.  Stutmann grinned hugely, his lips stained with Vogel's blood.  Gott in Heaven, he'd torn Vogel's throat open with his teeth.  Stutmann's glittering eyes and the high-pitched giggling noises that escaped his throat were evidence of the fact he was quite mad.  And who could blame him?  Certainly not Drubber, who felt uncomfortably close to the edge himself.

"You are going to die, Herr Drubber," Claudia von Dorndt said.  "Nothing is more certain.  If you have any last words, now is the time to speak them."

He shook his head.  "I would only like to say that knowing you, Fraulein, even for the briefest period, has been no pleasure whatsoever."

She laughed again.  "Karl—bite him!"

Stutmann snarled like the rabid animal he resembled and leapt at Drubber.  Corporal Jahn chose that moment to fire from the hallway, putting a ball into Stutmann's head.  Stutmann collapsed in a tangle of long limbs.  Jahn immediately set to reloading his musket, working at a furious pace while he watched Claudia von Dorndt with narrowed eyes.

"You'll find I'm not as easy to kill, Herr Drubber," the girl said.  She showed not the slightest remorse at Stutmann's death, nor any interest in Jahn.  It was as if the corporal's musket posed no threat to her.  Which might very well be true, Drubber realized.

"We shall see," he said.  He pulled the twin pistols out of his coat pockets.  He'd had them specially made by a craftsman in Konigshaven some years ago.  Their short barrels and miniature locks made them perfect weapons for concealment.  He cocked the hammers and fired both at point-blank range.  The din in the enclosed room was deafening.  Seen dimly through the smoke, Claudia von Dorndt staggered.  Because of what had happened to him in Konigshaven years ago, Drubber had taken the precaution of loading his pistols with specially poured lead balls containing silver and wood fragments.  He'd come prepared, not only for werewolves, but also for vampyres.

Drubber expected her to burn and perish but to his surprise she remained standing, staring incuriously at the twin bullet holes in her chest.

Jahn finished loading.  He raised his musket to his shoulder and cocked the hammer.  Long seconds passed and Drubber, exasperated, shouted, "Shoot her! Don't you understand?  She is vampyre! Shoot her, man!"  But Jahn swallowed hard and in that awful moment Drubber knew he was doomed.  Jahn simply couldn't shoot the young woman he knew as Claudia von Dorndt, the Burgermeister's daughter.

She took another step toward Drubber.  "I told you, Herr Drubber, I'm not so easy to kill."

Doctor Ziegler wrenched the musket from Jahn's trembling hands, took aim and fired.  The heavy bullet entered the girl's back and came out through her chest, hardly slowing at all.  It struck Drubber with the force of a sledgehammer, spinning him around and throwing him down.  His head made painful contact with the hard floor.

He lay there, stunned and helpless, looking up at the girl in fascinated bewilderment.  Even now, with three gaping bullet holes in her body, she showed no sign of experiencing pain, never mind dying.  She bent forward until her face was only inches from his own.  "You have no idea how this is," she said.  "No idea at all.  If you perceived only one-thousandth of my torment, you would find a way to put me out of my misery.  Do you not understand, Herr Drubber?  I cannot die."

The depth of her suffering touched Drubber, who didn't understand any of it but nonetheless experienced a deep empathy for Claudia von Dorndt, who bowed her head and sobbed.  He wanted to reach up and touch her, wanted to brush her hair away from her tortured face and assure her that all would be well.

The barrel of the musket touched the side of her skull but she made no attempt to draw away or otherwise save herself.  "May Gott forgive me," Ziegler said.

Drubber squeezed his eyes tight shut and turned his head away an instant before the musket fired.  Jahn must have reloaded his weapon in record time.  Drubber's world turned crimson.  He floated in a kind of warm darkness, and then the ringing pain slowly faded until he could hear Jahn's voice somewhere in the distance, filled with concern:  "Are you all right, Herr Drubber?"

"No, I'm bloody well not," he said.  Jahn helped him stand.  Claudia von Dorndt lay at his feet, her head a bloody ruin, her eyes open and staring, yet seeing nothing.  A queer thought occurred to Drubber then, that Claudia von Dorndt might finally have found peace.

"What on earth just happened here?"  He directed this question at Ziegler.  "You wouldn't care to explain, would you, Herr Doctor?"

But whether Ziegler could explain or not had to remain a mystery, at least for a time.  The room spun wildly and Jahn cried out, catching Drubber as he sagged, his senses fleeing him.


Bright daylight shone between a narrow gap in the curtains. Drubber stared at the ceiling, trying to get his bearings, and finally realized he was in his room at the tavern.  His clothing had been neatly laid out over the back of a chair.  He lifted the duck feather quilt.  He wore a long nightshirt.  His shoulder was heavily bandaged, and throbbing dully.  He remembered the musket ball, and everything else that had happened.

Drubber lay there for a while, thinking, and then someone knocked gently on the door.  Ziegler opened the door a crack and peered into the room.

"Ah, you are awake, Herr Drubber.  I hope I have not disturbed you?"

"No, Herr Doctor, come in, please."  Ziegler did so, closing the door behind him.  "What hour is it?" Drubber asked.

"A quarter after five in the evening."

Drubber was surprised to learn he'd slept all night and most of the day.  "Are you here to inquire after my health?"

Ziegler smiled.  "On the contrary.  I am here to tell you that you will recover fully and should have nothing to worry about.  I removed the ball from your shoulder and cleaned the wound.  No bones were broken.  I expect it to heal nicely."

"Thank you.  Now that's out of the way, why don't you sit down and tell me what happened last night?"

Ziegler lowered himself into the chair.  "There really isn't much to tell.  I enlisted the aid of some of the townspeople to carry you here.  With Jahn's help, I tended your wound and put you to bed.  He's Sergeant Jahn now, by the way.  Herr Obel is rather annoyed with you for confining him to his office—those are his words—but he says he understands your actions, and he has acknowledged Jahn's role in the drama.  Doubtless he'll visit you and tell you all this yourself, once he learns you're awake."

Drubber nodded; he would thank Jahn personally later.  "That isn't what I meant, Herr Doctor, and well you know it," he said.

"Ah.  The Von Dorndt girl."

"Yes.  And Karl Stutmann, of course."

"May I ask a question, Herr Drubber?"

"If you must."

"Those scars on your chest and shoulders.  Where did you get them?"

Drubber smiled as if it meant nothing to him, when in fact the memory of the savage attack haunted his dreams every night.

"Inflicted by a werewolf I had the misfortune to meet when I worked as a policeman in Konigshaven," he said.  "The beast tried to tear my heart out, and very nearly succeeded.  I understand they regard the human heart as a delicacy.  As soon as I saw someone had attempted to remove Claudia von Dorndt's heart—"

"Come now, Herr Drubber, surely you cannot be serious?"

"About what?"

"Werewolves, in this day and age?  I should hope you are joking—but I can see from your expression that you are not."

"If you prefer to believe I was attacked by some madman who dressed himself in animal furs and wore gloves with razor-sharp claws then that is your choice, Herr Doctor.  As for me, I know what I know."

Ziegler nodded slowly, clearly disturbed by what Drubber was saying.  "The business in the square becomes self-explanatory.  You expected one of the townsfolk to change into a werewolf when the full Moon rose, didn't you?"

"I thought it a reasonable plan.  At worst I'd be made to look a fool if a werewolf didn't appear."

Ziegler chuckled dryly.  "Well, one did appear, after a fashion, though not quite in the way you expected?"  He shook his head in disbelief.  "Karl Stutmann.  I know the boy's father well.  You have no objections, I hope, to my fabricating a story concerning how the son died?"

"None whatsoever.  His family would not thank us for telling them the truth.  Although that truth is still hard to accept."

"The boy was insane," Ziegler said.  "Let us close the book on Karl Stutmann and allow him to rest in peace."

"I would like to, but there are still certain aspects that bear further discussion.  I should be interested to know what you think caused Stutmann to become insane.  Herr Obel was willing to risk his career to defend him."

"I remind you that I am a doctor, Herr Drubber, not a soothsayer."

"There are those who believe that the mind is the most important organ in the human body, and strive to unlock its secrets.  Unfortunately they are not yet ready to share their knowledge with us.  But I have a theory of my own.  Would you like to hear it?"  He waited, but Ziegler didn't answer.  Drubber gave him it anyway:  "I believe that his seeing Claudia von Dorndt apparently commit suicide in the most horrific manner imaginable—she literally slashed herself to death before his eyes—and later, seeing her apparently return from death—was enough to push Stutmann into a state of bestial madness from which there could be no return."

"Suicide."  Ziegler whispered the word.  "I never once considered that possibility."

"Unfortunately such an attempt was doomed to failure," he said.  "Claudia von Dorndt was unable to kill herself, although she made what can only be described as a damned good attempt.  What kind of weapon was employed, Herr Doctor?  A knife?"

Ziegler showed surprise.  "How should I know?  Herr Obel will confirm that the murder weapon was not found."

"It was not found because you concealed it—after you used it to try to remove the girl's heart.  But you were forced to flee the scene before you could complete your grisly task.  And, since Herr Obel has not released the body for burial yet, you've since been unable to get your hands on it."

Ziegler rose out of his chair, giving as fair an impersonation of outrage as Drubber had ever seen.  "How dare you make such an accusation?" he said.  "You have no proof—!"

"Sit down, Herr Doctor.  I may be lying in bed but make no mistake, this pleasant conversation has turned into official Ministry business.  Consider yourself under arrest until told otherwise.  If necessary, I'll have Herr Obel hold you in a cell until I'm fit enough to interview you."

Ziegler hesitated, then sat down again.  "You have no proof, Herr Drubber," he said.  "No proof whatsoever."

"True, and the only witness was Karl Stutmann, who is now dead.  But you do not stand before a judge.  Only you and I are in this room.  I have asked you a question—I should very much appreciate hearing a truthful answer."

"You ask too much."

"Do I?  The records in Herr Obel's office show that seventeen of Guttzeig's citizens died of heart-related causes in the past year.  In all seventeen cases, you were the physician who performed the post mortem examination.  Not Doctor Steiner, who was doubtless only too pleased to take advantage of your able assistance while he courted his future wife.  The less interesting cases, you left to him.  Is this not so?"

Ziegler's eyes narrowed and a muscle at the corner of his mouth twitched.  "You are altogether too clever, Herr Drubber."

"Shall I take that as a compliment?  No, I don't think I will, it was certainly not offered as such.  Let me guess how it was, Herr Doctor.  You came upon Claudia von Dorndt and Karl Stutmann.  She appeared to be dead and Stutmann, covered in blood, was evidently her murderer."

Long moments passed.  This time Drubber waited for Ziegler to answer.

"Stutmann was in deep shock," Ziegler said at last.  "I don't think he even knew I was there, not at first."

"Not at first?"

"Karl began to show signs of awareness."

"So you fled, but without her heart—more's the pity, eh?"

"You make me sound like a butcher! Everything I have done, I have done in the name of medical science.  What I learn from my research may one day save lives.  So very few appreciate the enormous benefits.  The very idea of permitting their deceased relatives to be dissected and examined for the future good of all is anathema to these primitive, superstitious Burgers.  It is the work of the Devil himself.  They cannot understand, let alone—"

"A fine speech, Herr Doctor," Drubber said, interrupting him.  "But that does not excuse the fact that what you have done is highly illegal.  Tell me, did you know Rudolph von Dorndt?"

Ziegler frowned, clearly caught off-guard by the unexpected change of subject.  "Only by his formidable reputation.  I never had the pleasure of meeting him."

"Claudia von Dorndt's older brother was a brave man and a fine officer, by all accounts.  His name appeared in the Ministry report I read on the way here.  He died a matter of days ago, leading his cavalry squadron in a suicidal charge against a battery of Moskovian artillery.  He was literally blown to pieces by massed cannon fire."

"How is this relevant, Herr Drubber?"

"Rudolph von Dorndt's medals spilled off his chest and ran down both arms.  His courage was beyond question.  He personally led numerous assaults against Moskovian positions during the Siege of Volgrad, receiving multiple wounds—most of which should have been fatal, according to notes made by his regimental surgeon.  And yet, in all instances he recovered.  Neither bullet nor sword wound stopped him from performing his duty, the report said.  Given what we know of his sister, I am inclined to believe that nothing short of a direct cannon barrage could have killed him."

Ziegler pursed his lips thoughtfully, but did not comment.

"Of course, all this only becomes evident with hindsight," Drubber said.  "I had no way of knowing, when I asked you to examine Claudia von Dorndt's body, that she was—in her own peculiar and inexplicable way—still alive."

The full horror of what was being suggested came to Ziegler at last.  The color drained from his face.  "She just lay there on the table," he whispered, "and allowed me to violate her."

"Oh, yes.  It is obvious that she did not feel pain in the same way as you and I.  Did news of her beloved brother's death bring about her madness?  We will never truly know.  But I believe she may have hoped your post mortem would finish the job she started herself."

Emotions played over Ziegler's face:  surprise, realization, shock.  Silence hung in the air between them for a while, and then Ziegler spoke.  "That is the most awful thing I have ever heard.  Truthfully, Herr Drubber, I wish you had not shared your ghastly theory with me."

"Consider it a form of punishment, Herr Doctor.  I fear it is the only punishment you will receive.  I have considered all aspects of this affair, and have come to the conclusion that you are correct.  I have no proof.  Nothing, in fact, that I could present to my superiors, much less to a court of law.  This interview is at an end.  You may leave."

The fob-watch in Ziegler's waistcoat pocket chimed the hour.  Ziegler gave a long, shuddering sigh, and got up.  "Thank you, Herr Drubber," he said.

"Oh, don't thank me, Herr Doctor.  I must inform Herr Obel of your activities.  He may have something to say to you about that.  And I dare say Doctor Steiner will have to put in more working hours when he returns from his honeymoon.  An unfortunate but necessary inconvenience, since you will no longer make your services available to him.  Do you understand what I am saying, Herr Doctor?"

Ziegler bared his teeth.  "Do you think, Herr Drubber, that I could ever perform a post mortem upon a human corpse again?  If so, then you are very much mistaken.  I will not... cannot...."  He broke off his anguished statement, wrenched open the door and stumbled outside.  The door slammed and his rapid footsteps faded down the hallway.

Drubber lay back against his pillows and sighed.  He doubted the wisdom of his decision, but what was done was done, and hopefully for the best.  Ziegler's name would not appear in his official report, but Drubber would ensure that Obel forwarded regular updates on Ziegler's activities directly to him at Ministry headquarters.  If and when the need arose, he'd return to Guttzeig and deal with the matter personally.

The End

...Heh, I just found the Fictionwise stats for this bestselling novelette via a cached Google page, read these incredible numbers and weep! Hey, who said it was crap? WHO SAID THAT?!

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