Prologue – The Last Chapter
No dreams. Blank mind. Only darkness.
And suddenly a piercing noise, somewhere out there. But in here he was safely hidden. His eyelids heavy, so heavy. The rest of his body leaden. His heart beating the steady rhythm of a slave galley.
The noise grew louder. LOUDER.
Stop – my ears!
His eyelids seemed stitched together, and he had to separate them forcefully. Opening his eyes, he squinted into glaring white. Anything was better than this erratic noise blaring on and off. He must find the source and switch it off, return to blissful sleep here in –
Where the hell was he?
Slowly things took shape around him. Iron everywhere. Weights, on the floor and on bars. This definitely wasn’t his study. It wasn’t a room he had ever seen before.
The slave galley in his chest skipped a few beats. Adrenaline leaked through a hole somwhere. Not enough for coordinated action but enough to start him thinking. He closed his eyes again. First things first.
– My name is Tarek Waldmann.
Good start. Now slowly put together what had happened last, one step at a time. This routine had been drilled into him when he was a child, for the times when he had carelessly lost his leather E.T.
Last recollection before everything went dark?
– I am a murder suspect.
The leak in the galley got bigger. Panic flooded in.
– Right, how about some more concrete memories?
Let’s start again. Last memory before it all went dark?
– I was in Helga’s flat. Helga, who is supposed to be my mother all of a sudden. She had wanted to tell me the last chapter of my story and explain everything to me.
He snorted a laugh. Now that it was too late, they wanted to explain everything to him.
He had pushed open the door to Helga’s kitchen, his insides bubbling like lava. Calmly, Helga had shut the door of the little stove in the corner and turned to face him, glancing up as she wiped her sooty fingers on her navy-blue trousers. A smile that could read him.
And suddenly he was lying here, a bottomless chasm between the kitchen, and him and Helga. How to bridge that gap now? Too much work. Much better to go back to sleep. He shifted into a more comfortable position, but his back bumped into something soft.
Someone else, right beside him. A heavy arm draped possessively across his upper body, a hand curled around his chest. He took it, chuckling. Lina and her desperate need for physical contact. Her embraces had turned into something like a Heimlich maneuver. He pulled the hand and arm tighter across his chest, like the edge of a blanket, wanting to huddle up against the body behind him. No resistance.
Does that really feel like Lina? something inside him whispered. Or even someone alive?
He blinked, drew himself up, and looked at the hand in his. Strong, straight fingers. Age spots. Definitely not Lina. Without letting go of the hand, he looked over his shoulder.
It was Helga alright. There was his mother, sleeping, her arm strangely twisted in his grasp. She didn’t seem to mind. He pulled at it and shook her, but he suspected what would come next. He knew a few things about dead people by this point. They didn’t wake up in a hurry.
Two in two days, Tarek. What will the two friendly Viennese police inspectors say to that?
Once more, double-edged blades pierced his eardrums. A doorbell, jarring and demanding. Somebody banging on the sturdy door with hands and fists, making it shake. Tarek’s name – Open the damn door!
Adrenaline coursed through his heart, roaring at him to finally feel fear. It was time to accept that no one in Helga’s story was going to live happily ever after, especially someone who was up to his neck in everything. He had to do something, dammit, and at once!
He couldn’t. It was as if someone had shackled his energy and brain, and dumped them into a glassy tank of water. And now here he was, watching the two of them make a last ditch attempt to explain to him who had gotten him into this mess, urging him to get out before it was too late. It certainly didn’t look like a lesson in escapology. With a resigned smile, he patted Helga’s hand.
Oh, Mom, he thought hazily. What have we done?