Christopher Galt Novels



by Craig Russell


Twenty-Eight Days After the First Murder: Thursday, 15 September 2005.

Nordenham Railway Station, Nordenham, 145 Kilometres West of Hamburg

Fabel could not help but reflect on the irony that Nordenham railway station was a terminus. In so many ways, this was where their journey ended. From here, there was nowhere else left to go.

The headlights of the police cars ranged on the other side of the tracks illuminated the platform as if it were a stage. It was a crystal moment: diamond-sharp and clear and hard. Even the painted plaster façade of the turn-of-the-century station seemed bleached of colour: its edges etched with artificial clarity, like an architectural drawing, or a theatre set against which were cast the giant shadows of the two figures on the platform, one standing, the other forced to its knees.

And nothing was sharper or clearer than the bright, eager gleam on the blade in the hand that hung at the side of the figure who stood, illuminated, behind the kneeling man.

Fabel’s mind raced through the thousand possible ways this could all end. Whatever his next words were, whatever action he now took, would have consequences; would set in train a sequence of events. And an all too conceivable consequence would be the death of more than one person.

His head ached with the weight of it. Despite the time of year, the night air felt meagre and sterile in his mouth and made grey ghosts of his breath, as if in coming together to this moment, to this low-lying landscape, they had actually reached a great altitude. It seemed as if the air was too thin to carry any sound other than the desperate half-sobbed breathing of the kneeling man. Fabel glanced across at his officers, who stood, taking aim in the hard, locked-muscle stance of those who stand on the edge of the decision to kill. It was Maria he paid most attention to: her face bloodless, her eyes glittering ice-blue, the bone and sinew of her hands straining against the taut skin as she gripped her SIG-Sauer automatic.

Fabel made an almost imperceptible movement of his head, hoping that his team would interpret his signal to hold back.

He stared hard at the man who stood in the centre of the harsh cast light. Fabel and his team had struggled for months to put a name, an identity, to the killer they had hunted. He had turned out to be a man of many names: the name he had given himself in his perverted sense of crusade was ‘Red Franz’; while the media, in their enthusiastic determination to spread fear and anxiety as far as possible, had christened him the ‘Hamburg Hairdresser’. But now Fabel knew his real name.

In front of Red Franz, facing in the same direction, was the middle-aged man whom he had forced to his knees. Red Franz held the kneeling man by a fistful of grey hair, angling his head back so that the throat lay exposed and white. Above the throat, above the terror-contorted face, the flesh of his forehead had been sliced across in a straight line the full width of his brow, just below the hairline, and the wound gaped slightly as Red Franz yanked his head back by the hair. A pulse of blood cascaded down the kneeling man’s face and he let out a high-pitched animal yelp.

And all the time the blade by Red Franz’s side sparkled and gleamed with malevolent intent in the night.

‘For Christ’s sake, Fabel.’ The kneeling man’s voice was tight and shrill with terror. ‘Help me . . . Please . . . Help me, Fabel . . .’

Fabel ignored the pleading and kept his gaze locked like a searchlight on Red Franz. He held his hand out into empty air, as if halting traffic. ‘Easy . . . take it easy. I’m not playing along with any of this. No one here is. We’re not going to act out the parts you want us to play. Tonight, history is not going to repeat itself.’

Red Franz gave a bitter laugh. The hand that held the knife twitched and again the blade flashed bright and stark.

‘Do you honestly think that I am going to walk away? This bastard . . .’ He yanked again on the hair and the kneeling man yelped again through a curtain of his own blood. ‘This bastard betrayed me and all that we stood for. He thought that my death would buy him a new life. Just like the others did.’

‘This is pure fantasy . . .’ said Fabel. ‘That was not your death.’

‘Oh no? Then how is it that you started to doubt what you believe while you searched for me? There is no such thing as death; there’s only remembrance. The only difference between me and anyone else is that I have been allowed to remember, like looking through a hall of windows. I remember everything.’ He paused, the small silence broken only by the distant sound of a late-night car passing through the town of Nordenham, behind the station and a universe away. ‘Of course history will repeat itself. That’s what history does. It repeated me . . . You’re so proud that you studied history in your youth. But did you ever truly understand it? We’re all just variations on the same theme – all of us. What was before will be again. He who was before shall be again. Over and over. History is all about beginnings. History is made, not unmade.’

‘Then make it your own history,’ said Fabel. ‘Change things. Give it up, man. Tonight history won’t repeat itself. Tonight no one dies.’

Red Franz smiled. A smile that was as scalpel-bright and hard and cold as the knife in his hand. ‘Really? Then we must see, Herr Chief Commissar.’ The blade flashed upwards to the kneeling man’s throat.

There was a scream. And the sound of gunfire.


Vernal Equinox, AD 324.

One Thousand, Six Hundred and Eighty-One Years Before the First Murder: Bourtanger Moor, East Frisia

The sky was pale and blank and gazed down on the flat, featureless moor with a cloudless eye.

He walked with pride and dignity. His nakedness did not embarrass him nor demean him: he wore the air and the sun on his skin as if they were royal robes. His thick newly washed and scented hair shone gold in the bright day. Faces he had known for a lifetime lined the route he took, ranged along the edges of the wooden walkway that led over and across the marshy ground, and they cheered to salute his naked procession.

He walked with his attendants beside and behind him: the priest, the chieftain, the priestess and the honour guard. And all along the way, voices were raised in adulation. Among the faces and the voices were those of the women who had been wives to him in the preceding days, some of whom were of noble rank. As, now, was he: his low-born status forgotten, meaningless. This day, this act, elevated him above the stature of a chief or a king. He was, himself, almost a god.

And as he passed, they started to sing. They sang of beginnings and ends; of rebirths; of suns and moons and of seasons renewed. Of the great, wondrous, mysterious cycle. And the rebirth of which they sang most was that which was to be his. A glorious rebirth. He would be renewed. He would be brought again to a better, purer life.

He and his attendants neared the end of the wooden causeway and he saw where they had gathered to one side the hazel branches that would be laid over him and weighted with rocks, so that he would not rise again until his true time had come. They reached the causeway’s end and the sleek obsidian surface of the pool opened out before them and offered up a dark reflection of the bright sky.

Now was the time.

He felt his heart begin to pound in his chest. He stepped from the wooden causeway and perceived the world around him with a vivid keenness: the damp, yielding mulch and hard marsh grass beneath his naked feet; the air and the sun on his skin; the strong hands of his honour guards as they grasped his upper arms tightly. Together, the three men stepped forward and into the pool. They sank to their waists and he felt the cold of the water tingle on his naked legs and on his genitals.

He started to breathe hard and the rhythm of his heart increased even more, as if aware that it would soon be still and was trying to squeeze as many beats as possible into these few, final seconds. He had to believe. He forced himself to believe. It was the only way to keep a step beyond the panic that seemed to be running screaming towards him, racing along the wooden causeway, unheard by and invisible to the onlookers.

The priestess slipped the gown from her body and stepped naked into the pool. She held the sacrificial knife tight in her fist, which in turn she held pressed to her breast. The blade glittered in the bright day. Such a small knife: he had been a warrior and could not equate this ornament with the ending of his life. The priestess stood before him, the water around the tight circle of her waist; dark against her pale skin. She reached up and laid the palm of her hand on his forehead, incanting the words of the ritual. He succumbed, as he knew he must, to the gentle pressure of her hand and he lay back into the water. His head sank slowly and the water pulled a murky, peat-coloured curtain across the light of the day.

The two attendants still held his upper arms firm, and he now felt other hands on his body, on his legs. His eyes were open. All around him the bog swirled dark and thick, as if undecided as to which element it truly belonged: earth or water. His golden hair billowed and writhed around his head, its lustre dimmed by the peaty water.

He held his breath. He knew he should not do so, but instinct told him to hold onto the air in his lungs, the life in his body. His lungs started to scream for more air and, for the first time, he pushed against the priestess’s hand. She pushed back only slightly, but the grips on his arms and legs tightened and he felt himself pushed deeper, until the sunken bracken and stones at the bottom of the pool scraped at his back.

The panic that he had sensed hurtling towards him now caught up with him and screamed that there would be no rebirth, no new beginning. Only death. It was his turn to scream, and his cry exploded into a huge cluster of bubbles that frothed through the murk and up to the day that he would never again see. The cold brackish water flooded his mouth and throat. It tasted of soil and worms, of roots and decaying vegetation. Of death. It surged into the protesting lungs. He convulsed and writhed but now more hands were upon him, pressing down on him and binding him to his death.

It was then that he felt the kiss of the priestess’s blade on his throat and the swirl of water around him clouded even darker. Redder.

* * *

But he had been wrong: there would, after all, be rebirth. However, before he would again come out into the light of day, more than sixteen centuries would pass, and his golden hair would become changed to a burning red.

Only then would he be reborn. As Red Franz.

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all material © Craig Russell