Chapter 28 of Silent Vector

Chapter 28, in which a brother gets some unwelcome news

CHAPTER 28

PEERING THROUGH THE CURTAIN

Dr. Kampfried’s brother’s suspicions began almost immediately. The fact that the authorities cremated the body before any family member could claim it was enough to make anyone question the official cause of death. Why cremate someone who has died of a heart attack? Why not let the family decide how to dispose of the body? His family has been burying their dead in Rostock since the 18th century. And what about his sister-in-law? Her continued disappearance makes the way his brother’s death was handled even more mysterious. Now Emile Kampfried waits along the waterfront in Rostock hoping that his pending midnight meeting will provide some answers.

The call came a week ago from a woman claiming to be a nurse where his brother worked at the time of his death. She said she had information she wanted to share, that she couldn’t elaborate over the phone. She also demanded that he pay her two thousand West German Deutsche Marks, an enormous sum for anyone living in East Germany. Take it or leave it, she demanded. The meeting was set.

He feels for the envelope in his breast pocket: twenty notes, one hundred Deutsche Marks each. He checks his watch as he hears light footsteps on the cobblestone coming his way. He looks up and out of the fog steps a nondescript, middle-aged woman, the collar of her heavy cloth coat turned up against the night’s chill. She walks right up to him.

“Kampfried?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have the money?”

“I want to know what I’m buying.”

“If you don’t have the money, then we’re through.”

“I have it. What do you have?”

The woman looks around before she starts.

“I was a nurse where your brother worked. I was on duty the day he died.”

“A heart attack?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“What, then?”

“Are you sure you want to hear this?”

“Go ahead.”

“He shot himself. He was at his desk in his office right after finishing his rounds, and he put a bullet in his head.”

“Liar!”

“I ran in when I heard the shot. He was dead when I got there. There was nothing I could do. There was a Luger in his hand. It was still smoking. That’s how fast I got there.”

The mention of the Luger, his brother’s prized possession, compels Kampfried to admit to himself that this woman is likely telling the truth.

“Why? Did he leave a note? Did he say anything?”

“Not a thing.”

“Was there something at work that would have driven him to it?”

“As I said, he had just finished his rounds. His last patient was a young man with polio. There were rumors.”

“What sort of rumors?”

“That your brother was injecting patients with the polio virus. Where’s the damn money?”

Kampfried is stunned. He can barely comprehend the horror of what he has just heard about his brother. Slowly, staring blankly at the ground, he pulls the envelope from his pocket. She grabs it from him, turns and quickly disappears.

Kampfried walks in a trance towards his car, a new Trabant 600, parked less than two blocks away. As he grabs the car’s door handle he hears a single gunshot break the damp silence of the night.

“STASI!” he thinks to himself. He scrambles into the small car, starts its two-stroke, two-cylinder engine, and quickly drives away, wondering if East Germany’s State Security also has a bullet for him.