20 juin 2015

Chapter 2

My dad’s like a pendulum clock that hasn’t needed any adjusting since the day it started ticking. As always, he’s there, at the right spot on the platform, with his usual brown suede coat, waiting for me but looking elsewhere. It must make him feel less ill-at-ease to pretend to be contemplating the view, instead of seeming like he’s there exclusively for me. This always makes me smile. My dad’s even more self-conscious than I am. 

“You direly need a new coat, Erik”, I say as I get off the train.
“Yeah, missed you too kid”, he says with half a smile. And that’s all. German dads don’t hug; least of all mine. And neither do British mothers, by the way. Or just not mine. 

Erik grabs my luggage case, though tiny, and walks me to the car. I don’t try to strike up a conversation, since we don’t really feel the need to; although I could have commented on how beautiful the weather was in Stuttgart. 

Once “home” – I still haven’t figured out what to call my dad’s house – we have the usual talk about how things are going in Paris, how I’m handling music school, if I have enough money on my account, if my roommate Ginny is holding her end of the deal by paying rent and doing chores, and a brief question on my mother’s health, only.  Then he heats up some dinner and we watch the latest Tatort episode. Obviously I don’t have the slightest idea what it’s about. I just know that it’s a crime series that’s been on TV since the seventiesDoctor Who so beats that!with the exact same opening credits, and it’s set in different German cities, depending on the episode. 

“Hey dad?”

“Hmm?” he says distractedly.

“Why haven’t you ever taught me German?”

He freezes, keeping his eyes on the screen. He seems a bit lost in thought for a few minutes, then uncomfortably shifts his weight and says, “Well, I’m not much of a teacher, am I?... I just considered English as a language you’d need much more, with your mother, and professionally… And you were learning French too, inevitably. So I just didn’t want to clutter your brain with more… But you do speak a few words…”

“Food-related, mostly”.

He lets out a short guffaw, “That is vital. You also know how to say hello and all that…”

“Naturally. I’ve been coming here for two years, so I’ve caught a few words here and there… But it’s all recent.”

He seems a bit uneasy so I quickly pull him out of his misery. “I’m not blaming you for anything dad. It just frustrates me not to understand the true depths of Tatort!”

He tries to look non-amused – you do not joke about Tatort! – though the crinkles around his eyes betray him. He smiles for a second and goes back to watching young Kommissar Bootz solve crimes with incomparable skill. It’s endearing to watch my own father, a police officer who has seen it all and knows too much of crude reality, be so affected by obviously filtered fiction, depicting a dramatized version of his profession. But a more dominant thought keeps intruding and poking at me: I couldn’t help think that maybe my father had sacrificed too much for us, including who he really was. He had accepted to marry a foreigner, move to Paris, and raise a non-German-speaking child… How could these reasons not be part of why he’d left in the first place?... It makes me wonder if I’d have the courage to let go of so much, just for love. Or if I ever should.  

            For some reason, my mind suddenly jumps back to the drawing. Will this ever stop baffling me? How was that guy able to strip me of so many details? Could he see my reflection in the window perhaps? Nah… I couldn’t see his, so he logically couldn’t see mine either. Physics. But then… how? And most of all, who was he? I know how my mind works: I start with allowing a thought in, and then it takes over every inch of it. By tomorrow, I’ll have become sickeningly obsessed with it. Couldn’t I just nip this in the bud and spare myself the trouble? Sadly, there is no OFF button for my brain.

           When I finally go up to the room dad’s set up for me, I very slowly change into my PJ’s, as if delaying the moment I’d be next to the night table, where I’d delicately placed the object of my obsession. Then, once under the covers, I have a last, long stare at the drawing, as if it were the only logical end to my day, then I turn off the lights.  

Greenish glow, closed shutters, and an old dusty desk. Erik walks in, dressed in the cheesiest beige trench coat, and a hat that casts a very film-noir-esque shadow on his face. A few police officers follow him into the 80’s-decorated room. And just as he takes off his hat, he smiles at congratulations fusing at him from all sides. He addresses the officers in German, but strangely enough, I understand everything he says. “I couldn’t have done it without you, gentlemen. Today, we have managed what every police officer in this city has been drooling over: Müller is officially behind bars, thanks to your considerable effort and determination. Congratulations everyone.” 

I wake up with a smile, knowing that somewhere in my unconscious mind, my dad is my Komissar Bootz… which gives me an idea that should have been obvious: I think it’s time I’ve stopped underestimating my father, and put his skills to extensively personal use. 

“Morning dad!”

“Moin!” he says, and smiles to himself as he makes coffee. Must be German slang.

“So, slept well?” I stall.

“Mm-hm. I can’t say the same for this past week. Had a rough case…”

Ah! The perfect opening. “Are you allowed to talk about it?”

“Yeah, we’ve closed it. It was just a missing persons case. And the girl’s father is someone’s cousin, someone at the precinct. So the personal involvement got us all on edge…”

“Sheesh! So… did you find her?” I reply, still waiting for the opportunity to ask him my questions, but also genuinely interested in how his case panned out. 

“Yeah we did. She’d OD’ed at a friend’s place, and the said friend just panicked and ran, without informing anybody about it.”

My mouth pops open, but I have no words. I wonder how my dad can say such things so matter-of-factly, without seeming the least bit affected. He keeps looking me in the eye, as if sounding my reaction.

“That’s, um… horrible!” I venture.

“Kid, I need to know something,” he seems reluctant to continue, “Have you ever taken, or even just tried…”

“What, drugs?!” I suddenly understand what he’s getting at. “God, dad, of course not! I mean, you’ve raised me and know me well, don’t you? And with my condition, do you think I would react well to substances that affect the nervous system?” 

For illustrative purposes, I feel the blotches erupt angrily across my chest. He pauses, then gives one more argument, but with less conviction, “If you only saw what I see almost daily… Kids that seem to be perfectly normal… And I know you’re still dealing with the divorce…”

“Dad, you do realize I’m twenty years old, right? If I were meant to go down the wrong path, I would have already. The divorce was two years ago, and the Paris-Stuttgart agreement was my idea, if I remember correctly. So I believe I’m handling this pretty well…”

“True, but… your roommate looks like the kind…”

“What?!” I scoff in disbelief. “Ginny has never… Is it because of the purple hair?!” I can’t keep a straight face, and he almost blushes, realizing that he has no further reason to think that of her. But I feel like I’m losing my opening, so I quickly get back to the subject at hand. “So anyway… How do you do it? How do you proceed, to find a missing person?” 

At that moment I’m very happy the blushing has already started, or else I would totally have been busted.

“What do you mean? There is no step-by-step procedure…,” he replies cautiously.

“Like… If you only had a picture of the person…,” I say, smiling inwardly. 

“Well, in that case we check the database, see if we already have something on them… Do we have a name?” He’s totally in the game now, and I will definitely keep him talking.

“No, just a picture.”

“Hmm… tricky. How would we have a picture without a name? Normally, someone comes to us with a picture, and they usually have a name and some info to get us going. If not, then how would we get hold of the picture in the first place?”

Damn it, he’s smart! I fumble for more ideas, but finally decide to go a whole different way. “Okay, then how about an anonymous letter? How would you proceed to find out who wrote it?”

“Well,” he straightens his shoulders and uses a clearly professional tone, “we first speak to the recipient –– ”

“It was sent directly to the precinct.”

“Oh… In that case, some fancy precincts have graphologists working for them. You know, experts who can analyze handwriting.” I wonder how that could help me out, since I don’t have much to compare Mr. Green-Eyes’ drawing style to, and I wouldn’t even know where to start… But Erik is on a roll, “And if that doesn’t work, then we try the post office, see which box it came from. It would give us an approximation of the whereabouts. Then we try to check street cameras.” Well, the closest I can get to that is by going to the train company and asking them. They would obviously refuse to give me any information on other passengers… I start losing hope again.

“And if that doesn’t work either?”

He absent-mindedly rubs his chin, then says the only logical thing left, “Then you go back to what you have; the letter itself. You analyze the content and message behind it… Hey, what’s with the interrogation Lil’?” he winks at me.

            “Oh so that’s what I get for taking interest in what you do?” I ask, looking falsely appalled.

“Mmm-hm!” he lifts an eyebrow, in a that-won’t-work-on-me kind of way. I jokingly stick out my tongue at him, then take my coffee and quickly head back upstairs. I need to take his advice somehow. What if the drawing carried some sort of message? And what if I put all awe aside and tried to look at it objectively?

I delicately close the door, and take the portrait to my desk, putting it right under the desk lamp. The awe element is inevitable… The pixie-like aspect of the features is very pleasant to look at… The hair looks almost real, along with the minutest light reflected on every wave; then there’s the pout in the lips, the chin… And then I freeze. I’m so stupid! The only thing that stands out! The necklace!!! It must be there for a reason, I know it. Go back to what you have, analyze the content and message… God, my dad’s smart!

Quick, my laptop! All I have to do is google “chain necklace” and compare designs… I’m so amped that my fingers find it hard to hit the right keys, and my skin is covered with goose-bumps. 

Two hours later, I start to get a headache. There are so many! I could spend days comparing and squinting at the smallest links, without the slightest guarantee of finding similarities. Maybe I should speak to a jeweler or something? Aw damn… This is going to be harder than I thought! Why did this guy choose a signature that looked more like a necklace than a name?! Would that have been too prosaic for him? I cross my arms on the desk and drop my head down in frustration.

             A fraction of a second later, it dawns on me. I pop my head up, eyes wide as if I’ve just had the revelation of the century. I grab the portrait and bring it as close as possible to my eyes, and muffle a squeak when my suspicion is confirmed: these are not links in the chain! They are tiny, stylized, almost undecipherable letters!!!  


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