1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 50
“Gather round, men.” Gotthilf waited until they had circled around him. “Okay, here’s the word. Walk single file through the scene over the steps that we made in the ashes until you get to where Herr Frost and Lieutenant Chieske are standing. Once you’re there, spread out where Herr Frost tells you to and start looking at the ground. Anything that is not ash or a bit of burnt wood, stand still and call out. Either Herr Frost or Detective Honister will come check it out. Don’t move again until they tell you to. Everyone got that?”
Heads nodded all around the circle.
“Good. Get out there.”
Honister stepped up beside Gotthilf as the watchmen started down the path.
“So what are we really looking for?”
Gotthilf turned his head toward the other detective. “Herr Frost will not rule that this fire was not arson without a detailed examination of the scene. This is the fastest way to do that. You are looking for anything that looks as if it might have started a fire: a match, gun powder, a magnifying lens; anything at all that is not wood or ash needs to be examined.”
Honister’s father and Gotthilf’s had occasionally joined forces on business dealings, so the two young men were slightly acquainted with each other even before they both ended up in the detective group.
Gotthilf smiled a bit as he observed the other man’s clothing. Honister was a bit on the dapper side, and he had dressed especially so today.
“You are going to wish you had dressed differently before the morning is out.”
Honister gave a rueful nod, then asked. “So what do you think?”
For all that Gotthilf was the youngest detective in the Magdeburg Polizei, he was well-respected by his peers; a respect he had earned, he admitted to himself.
“What do I think? Honestly, I don’t know what to think . . . but something about this fire does not feel right.”
Honister stared at him for a moment, gave another nod, and touched the brim of his hat with a finger before turning and following the watchmen into the crime scene.
Gotthilf waited where he was. After a couple of minutes, he could see Byron make one last comment to Herr Frost and then head his direction. “Back to Metzger?” he asked when his partner stood beside him taking futile swipes at the fine particles of ash clinging to his clothing.
Byron straightened. “Yep. Back to Metzger.”
Stephan Burckardt sighed as he tied a ribbon around a file folder and carried it from his desk to the filing cabinet in the corner. It was one of Master Schmidt’s special files — as the red ribbon color indicated — one of the files that only Stephan and the Master were supposed to see. The men who updated the regular ledgers knew that they weren’t supposed to touch any folder tied up with a red ribbon. In fact, Master Schmidt had made it very clear that anyone other than Stephan who tried to look in the red ribbon files had better leave Magdeburg. And those who had been in the office for very long took that statement seriously.
He turned away from the cabinet after locking it. To be honest, he hadn’t seen anything in those folders that was particularly risky. Nothing that couldn’t be found in any master merchant’s files, he supposed, based on things he’d heard other secretaries and accountants say. But Master Schmidt’s rules were iron hard.
Stephan tested the door to Master Schmidt’s office. Locked, as usual. The master never forgot to lock it. He closed and locked the door to his office, walked down the hall and out the building, then locked the front door.
Dark again. It had been so long since Stephan had seen the sun. Master Schmidt demanded he open the building just as the pre-dawn light was filtering into the eastern sky, and he very seldom got to leave before dusk was well settled. He turned up his collar, shoved his hands in his coat pockets, and trudged down the street.
Franz was waiting when the river boat from Halle tied up at the dock and threw its gangplank up. Two scruffy looking men, one swinging a live chicken by its feet, disembarked first. Then the man he was waiting for appeared, treading with care up the springy plank. Franz didn’t blame him for the care, because the case the man was carrying was absolutely irreplaceable up-time technology. Once the passenger had both feet on the ground, Franz stepped forward.
“Herr Cochran, I see you made it safe and sound.”
Atwood Cochran — music teacher, guitarist, radio personality, and, not least, friend — grinned at him. “Don’t call me that, Franz. People calling me ‘Herr’ is like calling me ‘Sir’ — I look around for my dad.”
Franz returned the other man’s grin. “Well enough, Atwood. Let me take one of those bags,” and he reached for one.
Atwood hastily handed him the other bag. “I’ll keep this one, if you don’t mind. It’s not that I don’t trust you, or anything, it’s just that . . .”
Franz laughed. “You would not trust your own mother with that recording equipment right now, admit it.”
Atwood laughed, and said, “You’re right.”
“This way,” Franz motioned. “We should be able to catch a cab pretty quickly.”
Atwood followed him over to the nearby street. When a pony cart stopped in response to Franz’s hail, he chuckled.