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A murder is certainly not listed on the itinerary of activities during the guided bus tour, "St. Pauli at Night." And yet partakers in this "Stroll down the most sinful mile in the world" bore witness to such a violent crime in less than half an hour.
It was early evening. The colorful neon sky shimmered above the nightclub district in all its nightly splendor. The double-decker tour bus drove slowly down the Reeperbahn in the direction of Millerntor. The deep, mellifluous voice of the city tour guide sounded from the loudspeaker.
"On the left hand side you are now seeing the side street leading to Große Freiheit. This street generated considerable fame as a result of a movie featuring Hans Albers. A square is also named after the popular actor here in St. Pauli. In Große Freiheit there were numerous night clubs with entertainment shows back then - and are still going strong today. We will also be going to see one of the shows later this evening: an authentic striptease performance..."
The tour guide interrupted his spiel. And for a very good reason, as most of the tour participants were about to observe.
The bus had slowed down in order to drive past Große Freiheit at a snail's pace. At that moment it was overtaken by a taxi and forced to brake. The bus driver stopped and angrily honked the horn.
But the double-decker bus was not the focus of attention for the taxi passengers. A young man in a stylish leather bomber jacket approached from Große Freiheit and was about to cross the Reeperbahn,
when two gunshots sounded!
The pedestrian collapsed on the spot, covered in blood. The taxi sped away with screeching tires. The quick-thinking bus driver noted the taxi's license plate number. The taxi took advantage of every gap in traffic and sped in the direction of Millerntor and turned at Hein-Hoyer-Straße, fishtailing all the way, and had meanwhile disappeared.
The bus remained where it had stopped.
"Open the door!" exclaimed one of the passengers. "I'm a doctor!"
General Practitioner Dr. Arnold Müller from Reutlingen was only in Hamburg to enjoy a long weekend with his wife, and take in a musical, a harbor tour, and a tour of St. Pauli. But now he was jumping out of the bus so that he could attend to the victim.
In vain, as it turned out. Dr. Müller could only confirm that the man was dead. One of the bullets had hit him in the chest, the other in the head.
Within less than five minutes the police arrived at the crime scene and cordoned it off to deter curious onlookers. The bus driver gave the officer the taxi's license plate number. As it turned out, the Mercedes had been stolen a few hours beforehand from a taxi company in Barmbek.
A manhunt was initiated immediately. The taxi was found twenty-two minutes after the fatal shots. It was parked on the sidewalk in front of the Museum for Hamburg History - and was unoccupied.
Detective Chief Inspector Heike Stein from the Special Task Force for Murder from the Criminal Investigation Division in Hamburg was on crime scene duty that night. She arrived from the police precinct in Alstersdorf and it took her nearly half an hour to reach the Reeperbahn.
Heike got out of the official service Audi she drove to the crime scene, and ran her fingers through her short, blond hair. She then ducked under the barrier tape, and deterred a few curious people from trespassing in the process.
The officer recognized her immediately, even though she didn't show her ID card.
"Sönke's daughter's coming!" whispered one of the officers in blue uniform to his colleague. Although he spoke quietly, Heike could hear every word.
She sighed. To many policemen in Hamburg, she would always only be regarded as "Sönke's daughter". This sentiment was especially prevalent at St. Pauli, since her father, Sönke Stein, legend of the Hamburger police force, was the departmental head of the 15th precinct in Hamburg prior to retiring. This precinct was renowned worldwide under the name, "Davidwache". At this particular station, more violent crimes were recorded every night than in all other Hamburg districts put together. It was a tough neighborhood, and would always remain as such.
Heike approached a police sergeant, who was standing directly beside the body. He was a wiry, well-toned officer in his early thirties by the name of Andreas Behn.
"Hello, Andi. Do you have any witnesses?"
"Lots of them, Heike." In fact, practically an entire busload. There were also a few passersby who were in direct proximity to the crime. Three of them sustained a shock and had to be taken to the hospital."
Andreas Behn indicated a blue and silver police vehicle with his chin in which two colleagues were taking particulars from the witnesses. It suddenly began to lightly drizzle. Heike quickly returned to her official vehicle and took out the blue nylon work jacket emblazoned with the word, POLIZEI, in white block letters, and pulled it over her anthracite colored pinstripe pantsuit. The work jacket wasn't exactly flattering, but it provided sufficient protection from the rain.
When she returned to the crime scene, the doctor from the forensics institute had arrived. He was speaking with a witness.
"This man is also a doctor and just happened to be on the tour bus when the shots were fired," the police sergeant informed Heike. She thanked him and approached both doctors.
"My name is Chief Inspector Stein, Criminal Investigation Division, Hamburg. I hear you're the doctor and examined the victim right after the crime took place?"
"Yes, I'm a general practitioner." Dr. Müller wiped the sweat from his brow, although it wasn't especially warm on this spring evening in northern Germany. "Death must have occurred instantly. I don't need a laboratory examination to confirm this. My God, all we wanted was to enjoy a fun night out on the town, my wife and I... and now this! Does this kind of thing... happen here often?"
"More often than we'd like," replied Heike. She made eye contact with the coroner.
"We are obligated to conduct a proper autopsy," he said. "But otherwise I can only confirm what my colleagues at the practice have already determined. Cause of death was a bullet to the chest. It's difficult to estimate the distance between perpetrator and victim. But it can't be that great."
"The forensic investigation will reveal that information," Heike surmised. "What do we know about the victim?"
Sergeant Behn had overheard the question.
"The victim was a notorious character in St. Pauli." His name was Karl Meier, but everyone called him Charly. At the Davidwache we have a file on him that's as thick as the first volume of the Hamburg telephone book."
"You said it, Heike." Charly got up to whatever he could that was illegal and could generate fast cash." I assume we can't pin any shady deals on him - unfortunately." Even though he also has a number of convictions and prison sentences to his name. With parole, without parole - everything you can imagine."
"If you only knew the things I can imagine," Heike retorted grimly. At that moment she already suspected it would be a difficult case to crack. Most people in St. Pauli clammed up like oysters when a criminal was found dead. No one wanted to mess with the guys who did him in, who were also hardened criminals, as a rule.
The St. Pauli district had always been a refuge for outsiders and fringe groups. When the area was still situated outside the Hamburg city wall, workmen who engaged in dirty deeds or malodorous activities were readily banished to St. Pauli by the authorities. The same applied for prostitutes who were prevented from tarnishing the city's clean image. Because of this phenomenon, residents of St. Pauli felt marginalized and abandoned by the authorities. Which of course did not make police work any easier in this neighborhood. The Udels, which is how police officers in Hamburg were traditionally named, were deemed as invaders and foreigners.
These situations again sprung to mind when Heike thought about the status of investigations to date.
"At this point, Sönke would..." the sergeant began. Heike acted as though he were not speaking to her. Not to mention, she didn't want to know what her father would do in this situation. Regardless of what Heike did, she was always measured up against the popular and feared supercop Sönke Stein.
Heike was focusing on the corpse. Charly almost looked surprised. His facial features were frozen in a stunned expression. Perhaps the assault took him completely by surprise.
"Was he armed?"
Heike's question wasn't directed at anyone in particular. But a man from the criminal investigation team - who had arrived in the interim - turned to her.
"Negative. He didn't even carry a nail file in his shoulder holster!"
Heike nodded. She planned to search the victim's apartment as soon as she had the court order. But first they had to get the witness's statements. And there were definitely more than just a few.
Yet the outcome was not encouraging, as they would soon find out. The most reliable observation was from the bus driver who had taken down the taxi's license plate number. But he could only recall seeing the back of the heads of the two people occupying the front seat. It was impossible to ascertain whether they were men or women.
"I only actually saw the vehicle from behind, Inspector!" protested the driver.
"Can you tell me whether it was the driver or passenger who shot?" Heike wanted to know.
"No, it was absolutely impossible. I didn't even notice that anyone had shot. All I heard were two popping sounds, and then the man collapsed. It was only then that it dawned on me that someone had shot him down! Man, it was just like a cop show on TV!"
Heike was certain it wasn't anything like the way crimes are portrayed on TV. At any rate, contrary to the inspectors on TV, she lacked any brilliant intuition. But to be fair, she had only been investigating the scene for a few minutes. She hated herself for putting so much pressure on herself to succeed. Yet she couldn't rid herself of this tendency.
If she didn't solve the case, she would never show her face at the 15th precinct ever again. Heike could just imagine the conversations in the staff room at the Davidwache.
"Oh well, Sönke's little daughter just didn't have what it took, I guess."
"Are you surprised?" Sönke had the knack in his blood. But it isn't a trait you can just pass down. Especially not to a girl..."
Heike shook off the thoughts whirling around in her head as though they were a nightmare. She took another look at the corpse, which was being lifted into a metal casket. Charly Meier was expensively clad with a designer leather bomber jacket, chinos, wingtip shoes and several gold chains around his neck and wrist. A hoodlum whose ill-gotten gain was evidently used for fashionable clothing.
Now that the dead body had been taken away, the gawkers also scattered almost instantly. Most of them had certainly come from St. Pauli to amuse themselves in one way or another. However, Heide would never understand why there were people who always wanted to be a fly on the wall at the scene of a crime or accident.
Even so, Heike could assume that two people had been sitting in the taxi. Perhaps the forensic investigation of the Mercedes would even lead to further clues. But that would have to wait until tomorrow - there was nothing more going on that night.
Heike accompanied her uniformed officers to the Davidwache. Upon their arrival she would ask for the file on Charly Meier, where a seldom-used desk was also at her disposal. In the midst of the nightly array of prostitutes, drunks, crime victims and thugs, Heike buried herself in the document.
Charly Meier was a typical St. Pauli hoodlum. He was born thirty-two years ago at the Altona Hospital and already started his criminal career when he was still a juvenile. His first conviction was for auto theft at the age of 16. What began as juvenile sentences soon became regular imprisonment. The offenses didn't have any rhyme or reason. They ran the gamut from sexual assault to blackmail, theft, drug offenses to bodily harm. Charly Meier was evidently the type of criminal who obtained money through any means possible. Yet his intelligence and energy had never been quite enough to make a big score. He had always remained how Heike had labeled him.
A petty criminal.
The young chief inspector closed the file. It would certainly not be a bed of roses to identify the perpetrators. Rumor had it that every other inhabitant of St. Pauli had something against Charly Meier. It was inevitable that someone who committed so many crimes would also have many victims. Could it also be the case that some of them were bent on revenge?
"Can I take the file with me?" Heike asked.
"Sure," replied the young police constable, who looked stressed out. "Just make a note that it's been taken from headquarters."
"Of course. We are always diligent in returning documents."
Heike thanked her colleague then left the office. She was about to leave the Davidwache when two beat cops dragged an inebriated thug into the precinct. The man bellowed like a wild animal and spread out his muscle-bound arms to prevent from being pushed through the doorway. The two officers could barely restrain him.
Heike poked three outstretched fingers from her right hand against two spots on the man's upper body which made his arms immediately slacken.
"Hey, what's going on?!" the man slurred. "My arms are paralyzed!"
"They'll automatically return to normal in about half an hour," she told the uniformed officers. "An old kung fu trick!"
In her free time Heike learned the thousand year-old martial arts technique at a kung fu school from an old Chinese man.
"Super, thanks a lot," the younger of the officers replied. They were now able to effortlessly bring the arrested man into the guard room.
"You see," Heike could still hear the other officer's voice as she was walking away, "that was none other than Sönke's daughter! She's really making a huge effort to be as good as her father."
Heike clenched her teeth. By this time she'd had enough of St. Pauli.
Even so, Heike still managed to get a few hours of sleep in her comfortably-furnished old apartment in Eppendorf. The next morning she drove to the presidium in Alstersdorf, ready for action.
She brought her colleagues up to date on the status of the investigation during the morning meeting.
"How would you like us to proceed, Stein?" asked Dr. Clemens Morgenstern. The senior commissioner was the head of the Special Task Force for Murder and thereby also Heike's immediate supervisor. Dr. Magnussen had a pipe in his mouth. Yet even the most staunch non-smoker did not object, since Dr. Magnussen was himself was not a proponent of tobacco. What's more, the pipe always remained unlit, he had never even once filled it with tobacco. The senior commissioner adopted the pipe as an accoutrement to compensate for his otherwise generic, nondescript face and accord him a sense of uniqueness. He looked at Heike imploringly.
"I've ordered a judicial search warrant for the victim's apartment, Sir." Perhaps that would provide some information about the perpetrator. Not only that, but I wanted to investigate the victim's immediate area."
"Are you managing alright on your own, Stein? I can't enlist Wilken to assist you until he's back from vacation. Or even summon him to come back to work!"
"Certainly not, Sir! What I mean is, I can handle this on my own! Wilken should make the most of his holiday."
Heike was nearly overcome by panic. Dr. Magnussen would actually follow through with his suggestion and recall Ben from his vacation. Which was not at all necessary. First of all, Heike felt completely capable of handling the case, even if it seemed particularly complicated. And secondly, she wholeheartedly wanted Ben Wilken to fully enjoy the two weeks of vacation with his wife and young daughter at their cottage in Denmark.
Critics at headquarters described Heike and Ben, who was her partner, as the "dream couple of the SOCO" (State Office of Criminal Investigations). This was nothing more than idle gossip, since there wasn't anything between the two colleagues outside the workplace. While Ben was certainly tall, dark and handsome, he was also a married man. And for that reason, absolutely off limits for Heike. She made it her policy to never interfere with anyone's marriage. Besides, there was already a quite a large selection of interesting single men...
"Very commendable, Stein. As you know, all your other colleagues are working on solving more or less time-consuming cases."
With these words Dr. Magnussen turned his attention to Heike's colleague, Melanie Russ. To him, the Charly Meier case was in good hands for the time being,
whereas Heike plunged into her work once the meeting was over. She received a disappointing preliminary result of the taxi investigation from the technical department. As she already feared, the outcome did not yield anything, since numerous people had left their fingerprints, hair or even blood and grime on the taxi seats. Whoever could have taken the shots was thus not to be determined.
However, at least the ballistic report had hit pay dirt. Both shots came from the same weapon, a handgun. Consequently, it could be assumed that the murder was committed with a revolver or pistol. The bullets were fired from a .45 caliber weapon.
Heike debated whether it was a good idea to go to Charly Meier's apartment now. She had obtained the search warrant in the interim. Then the phone at her desk started to ring.
"Stein, Special Task Force for Murder!"