by Craig Russell
Days After the First Murder: Thursday, 15 September 2005.
Station, Nordenham, 145 Kilometres West of Hamburg
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.
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.
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.
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
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 mans face and
he let out a high-pitched animal yelp.
And all the
time the blade by Red Franzs side sparkled and gleamed with
malevolent intent in the night.
sake, Fabel. The kneeling mans voice was tight and shrill
with terror. Help me . . . Please . . . Help me, Fabel . .
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. Im not playing along with any
of this. No one here is. Were 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.
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.
pure fantasy . . . said Fabel. That was not your death.
Then how is it that you started to doubt what you believe while
you searched for me? There is no such thing as death; theres
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. Thats what
history does. It repeated me . . . Youre so proud that you
studied history in your youth. But did you ever truly understand
it? Were 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.
it your own history, said Fabel. Change things. Give
it up, man. Tonight history wont repeat itself. Tonight no
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 mans throat.
There was a
scream. And the sound of gunfire.
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
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 causeways 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
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
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.
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 priestesss 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 priestesss 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
Only then would
he be reborn. As Red Franz.
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