Christopher Galt Novels


by Craig Russell

9.30 a.m., Wednesday, 17 March: Elbstrand beach, Blankenese, Hamburg

Fabel stroked her cheek gently with his gloved hand. A stupid gesture;
probably an inappropriate gesture, but one that he felt was somehow
necessary. He saw his finger tremble as it traced the curve of her cheek. He
felt something tight and panicky in his chest when he realised just how much
she reminded him of his daughter Gabi. He smiled a small, tight, forced
smile and felt his lips tremble as the muscles of his face strained under
the effort. She looked up at him with her large eyes. Unblinking, azure

The panic grew in Fabel. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and tell her
that it was all going to be all right. But he couldn't; and it wasn't going
to be all right. She still held him with her unblinking, unwavering azure

Fabel felt Maria Klee's presence beside him. He withdrew his hand and stood
up from his squatting position.

'How old?' he asked without turning to Maria, keeping his eyes locked with
the girl's.

'Difficult to say. Fifteen, sixteen, I'd guess. We don't have a name yet.'

The morning breeze scooped up some of the fine sand of the Blankenese beach
and swirled it like a drink stirred in a glass. Some of the grains blew into
the girl's eyes, settling on the whites, but still she did not blink. Fabel
found he could not look any more and tore his gaze away. He shoved his hands
deep into his coat pockets and turned his head, looking, for no good reason
except to fill his eyes with something other than the image of a murdered
girl, up towards the red and white striped spindle of Blankenese lighthouse.
He turned back to Maria. He stared into her pale blue-grey candid eyes that
never told you much about the person behind them; that sometimes suggested a
coldness, a lack of emotion, unless you knew her well. Fabel sighed as if
some great pain or sadness had forced the breath from him.

'Sometimes I don't know if I can do this any more, Maria.'

'I know what you mean,' she said, looking down at the girl.

'No . . . I really mean it, Maria. I've been doing this job for nearly half
my life and sometimes I feel like I've had more than a bellyful of it . . .
Christ, Maria - she's so like Gabi . . .'

'Why don't you leave this one to me?' said Maria. 'For now, at least. I'll
deal with forensics.'

Fabel shook his head. He had to stay. He had to look. He had to hurt. Fabel
was drawn back to the girl. Her eyes, her hair, her face. He would remember
every detail. This face that was too young to wear death would remain in the
galleries of his memory, along with all those other faces - some young, some
old, all dead - from years of murder inquiries. Not for the first time Fabel
found himself resenting the one-way relationship he was forced to have with
these people. He knew that, over the coming weeks and months, he would get
to know this girl: he would talk with her parents, her siblings, her
friends; he would learn her routines, the music she was into, the hobbies
she enjoyed. Then he would delve deeper: he would tease solemn secrets from
closest friends; he would read the diary she had kept hidden from the world;
he would share the thoughts she had chosen not to share; he would read the
boys' names she had doodled in secret. He would build a complete picture of
the hopes and dreams, the spirit and personality of the girl who had once
lived behind those azure eyes.

Fabel would know this girl so totally. Yet she would never know him. His
awareness of her began with the total extinction of her awareness of
anything. Her death. It was Fabel's job to know the dead.

Still she gazed at him from the sand. Her clothes were old: not rags, but
drab and worn. A baggy sweatshirt with a ghost of a design on its front, and
faded jeans. And when the clothes had been new they had been cheap.

She lay on the sand with her legs partly pulled up under her, her hands
folded and resting on her lap. It was as if she had been kneeling on the
sand and had toppled over, her posture frozen. But she hadn't died here.
Fabel was sure of it. What he wasn't sure about was whether her posture was
an accidental arrangement of limbs or a deliberate pose struck by whoever
had left her there.

Fabel was snapped back from his bitter thoughts by the approach of Brauner,
the head of the Spurensicherung forensics team. Brauner walked across the
wooden planking, elevated on bricks, that he had assembled as the sole
ingress and egress to the crime locus. Fabel nodded a grim welcome. 'What
have we got, Holger?' Fabel asked.

'Not a lot,' said Brauner, bleakly. 'The sand is dry and fine and the wind
shifts it about a bit. It literally blows away any forensic traces. I don't
think this is our primary locus . . . you?'

Fabel shook his head. Brauner looked down at the girl's body, his expression
clouded. Fabel knew that Brauner too had a daughter and he recognised the
gloom in Brauner's face as a shade of the dull ache he felt himself. Brauner
drew a long breath.

'We'll do a full forensic before we pass her on to Möller for the autopsy.'

Fabel watched in silence as the white-overalled forensic specialists of the
Spurensicherungsteam processed the scene. Like ancient Egyptian embalmers
wrapping a mummy, the SpuSi technicians worked on the body, covering every
square centimetre in strips of Tesa tape, each of which was numbered and
photographed, then transferred to a polythene sheet.

Once the scene had been processed, the girl's body was carefully lifted and
zippered into the vinyl body bag, hoisted on to a trolley and half pushed,
half carried across the yielding sand by two mortuary attendants. Fabel kept
his gaze focused on the body bag, an indistinct smudge against the pale
colours of the sand, the rocks and the uniforms of the mortuary men, until
it disappeared from view. He then turned and looked back along the clean,
blond sand towards the slender Blankenese lighthouse, out across the Elbe
towards the distant green shores of the Altes Land, then back up at the
manicured green terraces of Blankenese, with its elegant, expensive villas.

It occurred to Fabel that he had never viewed such a desolate scene.

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