Hidden behind the hills and forests south of Sehlingen, the landscape had changed. Once fields and streams stretching to the horizon, cows and horses that had followed them and wheat, had disappeared. Fields became meadows of tulips, shining in all colours, forming a rainbow that accompanied them to the first farms and houses. Even in Lödingen, tulips could be seen on every street corner, most of the residents lived from selling and exporting them.
Lödingen didn't care about the three of them. Léonard could be free without being stared at by any Sehlingers. They visited Kerner department store and looked uncharitably at the sale. Shop windows dutifully presented their new fashion collection, perfect for the woman from the province. New dresses and hats were appraised by Emma and Martha, while Léonard was more interested in the mannequins. Martha found a muff she would like to have for the coming autumn, but she had no money.
They dined in an inn next to a pharmacy. Léonard had invited them and even bought them a fruit cup with bananas for dessert.
Emma, Martha and Léonard visited the narrow promenade overflowing with tulips. They strolled past more shop windows, a dance hall where Waltz was being played, and a pastry shop that had a gigantic cake on display that must have been for someone important. Since no one had picked it up, the baker was now selling it by the slice to the passers-by, whereupon Léonard also gave them each a piece covered in marzipan.
Not wanting one, he joined them on a bench with a cigarette. But before he let them finish their meal, he parted from them for a moment. His destination was the HePo station. He did not tell Emma and Martha what he was doing there. They realised it must have something to do with the murder because he returned with a grin. He did not let a brief detour to a tobacco shop go unnoticed. It had delighted him as he was visibly more talkative on the subsequent return trip. His interest now turned to Martha and Emma. At some point, they spoke about Regenschloss. When asked if he had ever been there, he replied in the negative.
Around 7 P.M. they returned to Sehlingen.
Martha was pleasantly surprised.
She had imagined him quite differently. He was much more well-groomed and friendly than in her head. He was a nice person and said that the villagers' worries were unfounded. Emma was also relieved that Martha found nothing negative about him. They both felt extremely comfortable in his presence. Despite the seven-year difference, he seemed to understand what Emma and Martha were thinking. Even though he sometimes threw around words neither of them knew. He was an educated, perhaps a little self-involved man.
They both raved about him and Martha couldn't resist pulling out her diary right at home and writing down everything she had experienced. While Emma played a board game with her grandfather in the evening, she almost didn't think about the fact that her departure was in five days.
The night was Léonard's favourite element.
It was the time when nothing seemed to change. Sleeping trains, silent animals, and a dark world. It seemed the world shrink during the hours. Everything was possible in this darkness. Reading, or wandering around were his most used activities. Boundless freedom only exists in the darkness, he once said to his best friend.
He had made an extensive excursion along the 100-Mile river, paid a brief visit to the gravedigger who was dozing in front of his cabin, and before returning through the park to the villa shortly after midnight, he was clear that consequences would soon follow. He collected himself for what was to come. He knew that his impatience was paying off. Because it was she who had lured him here.
When he thought he had slept for a few hours, he was awakened at dawn by a telegram messenger who almost brought down the front door with his knocking. Léonard was reassured by the news.
Since he was already awake, he washed himself extensively and wanted to see if he could reap the fruits of his labour from yesterday. Georg Brack's grocery shop was visited by only a few as he took the stairs up. Léonard had never been inside; he had only seen the narrow corridors between the overcrowded shelves from the outside. He immediately grabbed a newspaper that Brack had brought in not long ago. He gaped at Léonard as he tried to pay.
"Why do you need a newspaper?" he murmured.
"After all, there's new news every day," he returned tersely.
Léonard noticed his bald head and wondered if it could be used as a mirror. It shone in this dark shop all the way to the farthest corner. He handed him a crumpled, poison-green note.
"I won't stay much longer," Léonard replied calmly.
“That means you have already finished your crime?”
Léonard wanted to laugh but pulled himself together to fight this ridiculous accusation with humour.
"I didn't kill anyone," he hissed.
Léonard stood motionless in front of the counter. He seemed to smile as in his head his plan began to bear fruit. Brack brought him back to his senses when he pushed him out of the shop. The Lödinger Times flew after him.
He staggered straight into the mansion. Sitting in the broken wing chair, he realised that he had just paid twenty Kronen for the newspaper. As he was about to start reading the paper, even more violent blows than in the morning shook the mansion.
"Who's hammering again now?" he shouted downstairs. "No one home!"
The knocking did not end. Gritting his teeth, he went downstairs as Emma came leaping towards him. She gave him a sibling hug. He could hear the worry in her voice. Tears rolled down.
"Léonard, please! Léonard please, you have to leave! The village knows about us. I don't know how or why, but they keep talking about a murder and that you want to kill me. “
"Calm down, Emma. I'm not planning to kill anyone," he spoke calmly, "Do you want something to drink?"
He brought her into the living room. Again, she burst into tears.
"They can come at any moment! I think Mrs Winter has already notified the police and is demanding a house search!"
"The HePo has no evidence of anything."
Almost smiling, he went into the kitchen and told himself that he had done it. Whatever had happened, now he could prepare for it.
"Please! Hide! You have to protect yourself!"
"And what about you? And Martha?" he wanted to know. He handed her a glass of water. "Have a sip. It'll calm you down a bit."
Outside, you could hear the Sehlingers on the market. It seemed the word had already spread like wildfire.
"How did they come upon us in the first place? Did they see us?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said.
She wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"This morning Mr Schäfer and Mrs Krantz were at the door and said they knew something about you."
"Whatever they know, how do they have found out anything? They've built it up into a lie," Léonard concluded, "A rumour in a village means the birth of new falsehoods. Whoever saw, heard or even invented something is trying to stop me from doing something."
"Why you of all people? Is it all to do with my great-grandfather's murder?" she howled, "It can't be that they're upset about it! It's not doing anyone any good!"
"Emma, please calm down," he asked gently, taking the glass from her.
Just at that moment, Martha came sprinting upstairs. One could have assumed that she regularly stormed into other people's houses.
"I knew you were here! I heard it. From your grandfather - and dozens of people on the streets," she gasped, "I can't believe how they found out! Who saw us? “
"Good morning," Léonard spoke with amusement, "A glass of water?"
"Do you know who it was?" Léonard asked.
"No, " Martha returned, "and then there's also the story in the paper."
"Are my murder plans available to read yet? " he joked.
Emma's expression resembled a horrified statue.
"It's not funny!" she said aloud.
"It is a double murder. That's all I know," Martha said.
Léonard took his journal and now saw the headline.
"Double murder of Heimliche Polizei officers. WA investigation ongoing.”
He hurriedly skimmed the lines.Léonard crumpled up the newspaper.
"Klein and Dreidorf. They both served me yesterday."
"You have something to do with it?" cried Emma, " You were there at the station..."
"I haven´t done anything to them," he replied aloud, "but it's interesting that the news made it straight into the next morning's edition of the paper. “
"What do you mean?"
"You went to Lödingen to find out about the murder," Martha concluded.
"I don't kill anyone just because they don't give me an answer," he spoke stoically, "Otherwise I'd probably have killed half the village," he added quietly.
"You insulted the HePo? That's treason!" said Emma in a panic.
"You must flee at once! Right now! Who knows how long it will take for the HePo to get here! When even the residents are already talking about it! Or worse, the WA! They are even more brutal. With them you don't even have a chance for a fair sentence! You'll be executed immediately!" Martha sputtered in wild hysteria.
"I can't go yet."
"Don't you care about your life?"
He remained silent to Martha. Emma sank to the floor. She had the greatest worries of all. She whimpered to herself. She constantly had to tell herself that Léonard was not a murderer.
"Take your car and hide for the next few days."
"You'd better go now. It is not good if we underline rumours more and make bitter truths out of them."
"We have nothing to do with it, just like you!"
"Go! The WA don't care how old you are, murdering members of the Sagauvelian race is treason against the empire. That's what this whole story boils down to, isn't it? They want to make an example of me and scare the enemies. If there weren't enough enemies of the empire already, we'd be on the wanted list long ago."
Giving them no more opportunity to reply, Léonard took them outside, out of sight of the villagers. He did not say goodbye to them, instead, he hurriedly holed up in the mansion.
He read the article a second time. The corners of his mouth formed into a smile. He had done his part, his counterpart the other. If he hadn't bragged to the gravedigger yesterday, what he had done, the Sehlingers probably wouldn't have found a connection between him, Emma, and the murder so quickly.
"That gets the ball rolling. So, she found me," he laughed to himself.
The HePo could not harm him, he knew that. Now he had to keep Emma and Martha safe. They couldn't get too involved in this. The coming hours at the mansion did not make him nervous, not at all, they made him even more euphoric when he imagined how the WA would surround the mansion.
After an excursion at the shore, he went back to the mansion. At the market square in the glow of the lantern, he was stopped by a hooded figure. The streetlight seemed surreal. He knew for sure that the figure was grinning. It was an eerie image like in a nightmare. He was almost about to say a word when it threw something. Léonard did not avert his eyes, he picked it up and freed the stone from the newsprint.
“I was waiting for you here,” he said cheerfully, “How are you?”
“I´ve been here for a while,” the figure replied, “I had to prepare our game. There have been complications.”
Léonard only now looked at the sheet. In large letters it said:
Tomorrow at noon in the Boulder Mill on the Rys
Léonard's heart leapt for joy.
"The ball is rolling again," he murmured, watching the figure retreat, “It´s nice you´re back after all this time. We have a contract after all, don´t we?”
To the next part: Chapter II.4.