Authors: Nele Neuhaus
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Crime
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:
No one in his family could understand his decision to spend the twilight of his life in Germany; he certainly couldn’t, either. All of a sudden he had felt that he didn’t want to die in this country, which had been so good to him for more than sixty years. He longed to read German newspapers and to have the sound of the German language in his ears. David Goldberg had not left Germany voluntarily. At the time, in 1945, it had been a matter of life and death, and he had made the best out of losing his homeland. But now there was nothing left to keep him in America. He had bought the house near Frankfurt almost twenty years ago, shortly after Sarah’s death, so that he wouldn’t have to stay in anonymous hotels when his numerous business or social obligations took him to Germany.
Goldberg gave a deep sigh and looked out the big picture windows at the Taunus hills, bathed in a golden light by the setting sun. He could hardly remember Sarah’s face. The sixty-plus years he had spent in the States often seemed erased from his memory, and he had a hard time even recalling the names of his grandchildren. But his memories of the years before he went to America, which he hadn’t thought about in a long time, were that much sharper. Sometimes when he woke up from a brief nap, it took him a few minutes to realize where he was. Then he would look with contempt at his gnarled, trembling old-man hands, the scaly skin covered with age spots. Getting old was no picnic—what nonsense to think otherwise. At least fate had spared him from becoming a slobbering, helpless vegetable, like so many of his friends and acquaintances who hadn’t been fortunate enough to be carried off in time by a heart attack. He had a solid constitution, which kept astounding his doctors, and he seemed immune to most signs of old age—thanks to the iron discipline with which he had mastered every challenge in his life. He had never let himself go, and even today he paid attention to correct attire and the proper appearance. Goldberg shuddered at the thought of his last unpleasant visit to an old folks’ home. He was repelled by the sight of the aged people shuffling along the corridors in bathrobes and slippers, their hair wild and their eyes empty, like ghosts from another world, or simply sitting around forlornly. Most of them were younger than he was, and yet he wouldn’t for a moment have stood for being lumped into the same category with them.
He gave a start and turned his head. The housekeeper, whose name and presence he forgot from time to time, was standing in the doorway. What was her name? Elvira, Edith … it didn’t matter. His family had insisted that he not live alone, and had hired this woman for him. Goldberg had rejected five applicants. He didn’t want to live under the same roof with a Pole or an Asian, and looks did matter to him. He had liked her at once: big, blond, forceful. She was German, with degrees in home economics and nursing. Covering all the bases, Goldberg’s eldest son, Sal, had said. He was undoubtedly paying this woman a princely salary, because she put up with his quirks and disposed of the traces of his increasing frailty without ever batting an eye. She came over to his easy chair and scrutinized him. Goldberg returned her stare. She had makeup on, and the neckline of her blouse revealed the roundness of her breasts, which sometimes appeared in his dreams. Where could she be going? Did she have a boyfriend she met on her evenings off? She was no more than forty and very attractive. But he wasn’t going to ask her. He didn’t want to be on familiar terms with her.
“Is it all right if I go now?” Her voice had a slight hint of impatience. “Do you have everything you need? I’ve prepared your supper and your pills, and—”
Goldberg cut her off with a wave of his hand. Sometimes she treated him like a mentally disabled child.
“Just go,” he snapped. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be here tomorrow morning at seven-thirty.”
He didn’t doubt it. German punctuality.
“I’ve already pressed your dark suit for tomorrow, and the shirt, too.”
“Yes, all right. Thank you.”
“Should I turn on the security alarm?”
“No, I’ll do it later. Just go. And have fun.”
“Thank you.” She sounded surprised. He had never before told her to have fun. Goldberg heard the heels of her shoes clack across the marble floor of the foyer; then the heavy front door closed. The sun had vanished behind the hills of the Taunus, and it was twilight. He stared out the window with a somber expression. Outside, millions of young people were heading off on dates, seeking carefree amusement. Once he had been one of them: a good-looking man, well-off, influential, admired. At Elvira’s age, he had wasted no thoughts on the old men who sat shivering with aching bones in their easy chairs, a woolen blanket over arthritic knees, waiting for the last great event in their lives: death. He could hardly comprehend how time had caught up with him. Now he, too, was one of those old fossils, a remnant of the dim past, whose friends, acquaintances, and companions had long since left him behind. There were three people left in this world with whom he could speak about the old days, people who remembered him when he’d been young and strong.
The sound of the doorbell tore him out of his reverie. Was it already eight-thirty? Probably. She was always on time, just like the housekeeper. Goldberg got up from his chair with a muted groan. She had wanted to speak with him urgently again before the birthday party, in private. It was hard to believe that she was already eighty-five, the one little. He crossed the living room and hall with stiff steps, casting a glance in the mirror next to the door, reaching both hands up to smooth back his still quite full head of white hair. Even though he knew that she would be arguing with him, he still looked forward to seeing her. Always. She was the most important reason why he had come back to Germany. With a smile, he opened the front door.
Oliver von Bodenstein took the saucepan of hot milk off the burner, stirred in two spoonfuls of cocoa powder, and poured the steaming mixture into a pitcher. As long as Cosima was breast-feeding, she did without her beloved coffee, and he occasionally showed solidarity with her. Besides, a cup of hot chocolate was nothing to be scoffed at. His eyes met those of Rosalie, and he grinned when he saw the critical expression on his nineteen-year-old daughter’s face.
“That’s got to be at least two thousand calories,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “How can you!”
“Now you see what sacrifices we make for our children’s sake,” he replied.
“I certainly wouldn’t do without my coffee,” she said, demonstratively taking a sip from her cup.
“Just you wait.” Oliver took two mugs from the cupboard and set them on a tray next to the pitcher of cocoa. Cosima had gone back to bed because the baby had roused her at 5:00
Her whole life had changed completely since the birth of Sophia Gabriela last December. The first shock at the news that he and Cosima were going to be parents again had brought a sense of happy anticipation, which then gave way to apprehension. Lorenz and Rosalie were twenty-three and nineteen, respectively, grown up and done with school. How would it be to start over again? Could he and Cosima even do it? Would the child be healthy? Bodenstein’s secret concerns had proved groundless. Cosima had continued to work until the day before the delivery, and the reassuring results from a test of her amniotic fluid had been confirmed when Sophia was born: The baby was perfect in every way. And now, after scarcely four months, Cosima was going to the office every day, taking the baby with her in a carrier. Actually, Oliver mused, it was all much easier than it had been with Lorenz and Rosalie. Sure, he and Cosima had been younger then and more energetic, but they hadn’t had much money and lived in a small apartment. At the time, he had also sensed that Cosima was depressed about having to give up her job as a TV reporter, which she loved.
“Why are you up so early anyway?” he asked his eldest daughter. “It’s Saturday.”
“I have to be at the castle at nine,” Rosalie replied. “We have a gigantic event today. A champagne reception and then a six-course dinner for thirty-five people. We’re giving a party for one of Grandma’s friends who is celebrating her eighty-fifth birthday.”
After finishing her exams last summer, instead of going to university, Rosalie had decided to serve an apprenticeship as a cook at the elegant restaurant owned by Oliver’s brother Quentin and his wife, Marie-Louise. To her parents’ surprise, Rosalie was full of enthusiasm about the job. She never complained about the barbaric working hours or her strict and choleric boss. Cosima suspected that it was this very boss, the temperamental star chef Jean-Yves St. Clair, who was the real reason behind Rosalie’s choice of work.
“They’ve changed the menu, the wine list, and the number of guests at least ten times.” Rosalie put her coffee cup in the dishwasher. “I’m anxious to know whether they’ve come up with any more changes.”
The telephone rang. At 8:30 on a Saturday morning, that seldom boded well. Rosalie picked it up and soon returned to the kitchen with the cordless phone. “For you, Dad,” she said, holding the phone out to him and then leaving with a brief wave. Oliver sighed. He supposed nothing was going to come of his planned walk in the Taunus and a pleasant dinner with Cosima and Sophia. His fears were confirmed when he heard the tense voice of Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff.
“We’ve got a body. I know I’m on call today, but maybe you should take a brief look, boss. The man was a big shot, and an American.”
It was sounding a lot like a ruined weekend.
“Where?” Bodenstein asked curtly.
“It’s not far. Kelkheim. The address is Drosselweg Thirty-nine a. David Goldberg. His housekeeper found him at around seven-thirty this morning.”
Bodenstein promised to hurry, then took Cosima her hot chocolate and broke the bad news to her.
“Dead bodies should be banned on weekends,” Cosima murmured with a big yawn. Oliver smiled. Not once in their twenty-four years of marriage had his wife ever reacted with anger or displeasure when he suddenly had to leave, ruining their plans for the day. She sat up straight and grabbed the cup. “Thanks. Where do you have to go?”
Oliver took a shirt from the wardrobe. “Over to Drosselweg. I could actually walk. The man is named Goldberg, an American. Pia Kirchhoff is afraid it might get complicated.”
“Goldberg,” Cosima said with a frown. “I’ve heard that name recently, but I can’t remember where.”
“Apparently he’s some big shot.” Oliver decided on a tie with a blue pattern and slipped on a jacket.
“Oh yes, now I remember,” said Cosima. “It was Mrs. Schönermark at the flower shop. Her husband delivers fresh flowers to Goldberg every other day. Six months ago, he moved here for good. Before that, he stayed at the house only occasionally, whenever he was visiting Germany. She said she’d heard he was once an adviser to President Reagan.”