The mail coach arrived in Guttzeig in the late evening and deposited Drubber at the only tavern. He asked for a room, signed the guest book and was escorted upstairs by a bow-backed servant with creaking knees. Drubber elected to carry his own travel bag lest the old man collapse halfway up the stairs. Upon arriving at the attic room the servant lit the oil lantern with a quivering hand, left a small parcel upon the table beside the door, then bade Drubber a polite good night.
Drubber surveyed his accommodation and judged it adequate, though somewhat lacking in comfort. The parcel contained half a loaf of black bread and a wedge of pungent cheese with a hard skin. Hardly a gourmet feast, but after the long journey he was grateful for the cold supper. He washed it down with tepid water from his canteen flask while he pondered what his next step should be.
He'd only just finished eating when there came a knock at the door. Drubber opened it. A tall policeman stood in the hallway, the Imperial eagle crest on his polished black helmet gleaming in the lantern light.
"Herr Drubber? I am Hans Kramer, personal assistant to Chief of Police Obel. Chief Obel regrets being unable to call upon you himself, but the current situation bears careful watching."
"I have only just arrived," Drubber said, stifling a yawn. His back still ached from the mail coach's swift journey through the high mountain passes. "Perhaps you would be kind enough to explain what the 'current situation' is?"
"Certainly, sir. The murderer, Karl Stutmann, is being held at Police headquarters. A number of townspeople gathered in the square yesterday morning, shortly after Stutmann was formally charged with murder. They continue to demand his release, and say they will not leave unless their demands are met."
"They think Stutmann is innocent?"
Kramer looked surprised. "On the contrary, sir. They know he is guilty and wish Chief Obel to release him so they can effect their own brand of wild justice. Burgermeister von Dorndt is held in high esteem, and his daughter, Claudia, was very popular."
"So I understand, having read the report Herr Obel sent to High Sazburg. This fellow Stutmann, is he a local, a native of Guttzeig?"
"He belongs to a respected family that owns two mills further down the valley. As far as we know, he has never been in any kind of trouble. Until now."
"He was discovered at the scene of the crime?"
"Yes, sir. In an alleyway just off the town square, his clothing completely drenched in the young lady's blood."
It sounded like a straightforward, if bloody, crime of passion to Drubber. Yet Obel had sent a request for help, which had resulted in Drubber being dispatched to Guttzeig by fastest available transport.
"Lead the way," he said. "I'll unpack later." Drubber put his coat back on, adjusting the heavy pockets so their contents settled more comfortably, and followed Kramer downstairs.
Instead of using the main streets Kramer kept to the quiet side alleys, stopping finally at the back door of a red brick building. He rapped upon the wood. Suspicious eyes peered through a narrow spy slot, then heavy bolts were drawn and the door creaked open. The policeman on sentry duty quickly closed the door behind them, as if he feared unseen demons might follow them inside.
Kramer strode along a narrow corridor and climbed a flight of stairs leading to an upper hallway with several doors on either side. He stopped outside one of these and knocked politely. A muffled, "Come in!" invited them inside.
Obel got up and came around his desk to greet Drubber. He was a heavyset man in his mid-fifties, with a shaven head and a missing front tooth that marred his otherwise perfect smile. He offered his hand and Drubber shook it.
"Welcome to Guttzieg. Heinz Obel, Chief of Police."
"Thank you. Kapitan Franz Drubber, Ministry of State Security."
The color drained from Obel's face. He let go of Drubber's hand as if he'd realized he was touching a snake. He managed to say, "M-ministry of?" before his voice failed him.
Drubber sat down in one of the chairs and unbuttoned his coat. "Your mail dispatch to Police Headquarters in High Sazburg created quite a stir, Herr Obel," he said. "Naturally, a copy was passed to the Ministry. My superiors decided I should jump on the first coach to Guttzeig and take a look for myself. You have no objection, I hope?"
Obel and Kramer glanced at each other. Until Drubber had introduced himself they hadn't until this moment realized they were dealing with a Nosey. They'd assumed he was a policeman, like them. In actual fact he had been a policeman, until certain events brought him to the attention of the Ministry.
"Of course not," Obel said, his expression belying his words. "You are most welcome, Herr Drubber. May I offer you some refreshment after your long journey?"
"No, thank you," Drubber said, wanting to get down to business. "Why don't you tell me what this is all about? The matter as it stands seems perfectly straightforward according to what your assistant has told me."
Obel sat down behind his desk. "Ah, Herr Drubber, if only it were that simple," he said, smiling weakly. "There is a complication in the fact that young Stutmann is no killer. He was quite devoted to Claudia."
"The Burgermeister's daughter?"
"Precisely." Obel ran a hand over the top of his shaven head. "I have known Stutmann and his father for years. They are a good family and it seems unlikely he would"
The sound of breaking glass interrupted him. Footsteps echoed in the outer hallway as men ran to investigate. Kramer quickly left the room, closing the door behind him.
Obel said, "I have insufficient men to turn such a large crowd away. It was my hope that they would lose their zeal and return to their homes last night, but this hasn't happened. Instead, they have organized a mobile kitchen that serves soup and hot brandy around the clock. It is rather frustrating."
Drubber was surprised Obel was sitting here complaining about the situation instead of outside with his men, bashing the troublemakers over the head with clubs and using muskets if necessary to drive the crowd away from the building. But Guttzeig was Obel's town so Drubber kept his opinions to himself, at least for the moment.
Kramer returned. "Someone threw a stone, Herr Obel," he reported. "No one was hurt."
Obel nodded. "It isn't the first window that has been broken and it will not be the last," he said to Drubber. "The townspeople are crying out for blood. They want Karl Stutmann strung up from the nearest lamp-post and will not leave until justicemob justice, that isis done." He sighed as if their unruly behavior gave him cause for disappointment, like an adult disapproving of a particularly boisterous child.
End of sample