Again, Léonard had hardly slept.
The musty wing chair was not something he disliked; he had thrown it out of the window in the evening out of frustration. He had already forgotten about it the next morning when he got up stiffly from the floor in the drawing-room and kicked a leg out of the old desk. It crumpled, an ink glass slid to the floor and broke.
"I miss the days with a hot bath."
He had to go to the Rys with a bowl to at least have water to wash. Léonard thought about bathing in the little stream but decided against it. Someone from the village might mistake him for a duck or boar and suddenly shoot him. He laughed about it on the way back and imagined the old people getting the idea to get rid of him.
The immersion in the cold water gave him goosebumps. In his head, an orchestra played a breath-taking melody to paint over the cold with something beautiful. He thought of his sister, how she always played the mandolin, bringing the lonely halls of his home to life. The memory of her awakened a melancholy in him. He knew that she would have loved to come with him, after all, it was a family affair. Léonard was aware of that, but he was also aware that it could be dangerous to get involved in these deep waters. He was too taken with provincial villages like Sehlingen, they constantly made him feel not only undesirable but also something evil, like a witch who had to be burned. He felt offended when he thought about it and lowered his head into the bowl again.
Water dripped from his half-length, walnut-brown hair as he looked into the cracked mirror. With a comb, he tried to put his hair in order, but it still looked wild and dishevelled. When he managed to tame it, he stared at himself in the mirror. His face was handsome and young, resembling a strong fighter, maybe a statue. He had high cheekbones, a pretty nose, bare teeth and a pointy chin that he didn't like. His skin was neither fair nor dark, it had become pine-coloured through his hair. This made the tiny stubbles of his beard look like fluff. They were almost invisible and shone coppery.
Carefully, he washed his face and thought to himself how nice it would be to be able to take a real bath.
Absorbed in his head, he stared at his body. He was not really strong. It was his character that made him a strong man. Actually, he was slight, had a slim, thin body and long limbs. His hands were large and gentle, his legs fit and always moving. Even as a child he was faster than most. He learned it by stealing pears.
After washing himself from top to bottom, he seemed to fall into silent prayer as he looked at his hands. On his long fingers, he wore three rings set with different stones. Black, green and red, they stood for three loved ones close to him.
Léonard got dressed. His clothes had been chosen for him by his sister. His jacket was mahogany brown, his waistcoat a beige checked pattern, his shoulders looked too broad in it. His trousers were long and wide, they were a little lighter than the vest. He cleaned his dark leather shoes every day. Dirt still remained visible. The clothes were noble and tailored. Ever since he had left his sister, he had cared for the clothes. It was a part of him. The part that people saw in him first.
One last time he took a glance in the broken mirror and reflected. He was too blind for his twenty-five years. He seemed like an old man, he thought he knew everything and all too rarely obeyed anyone. He was not like the others his age; he had always known that. Léonard was driven by an idea that had completely taken him over. He was a born loner, so he kept everything in perspective and could rely on the most important person he had; himself. His narrow-mindedness and secretiveness were his trademarks. His hot-tempered nature sometimes led him into all kinds of trouble.
Léonard was called a bastard and he was proud of that.
He poured the water out of the window and went to the door. He discovered the wing chair and lit a cigarette. It was the last one from his pack. He didn't think he could buy any here in the village, he hoped to get some at the town hall from one of the officials.
The chic wood panelling and the chandeliers from the ceiling made the town hall a natural splendour of romantic dance evenings and alcohol-fuelled celebrations. The village's coat of arms hung on one wall, with pictures of the area or portraits of dead people on the others. A recent portrait of a man, in his early fifties, with aggressive, haughty eyes stared at the visitors. Next to it hung the imperial coat of arms of the country of Sagauvela, a swan spreading its wings on an azure-cyan background.
Léonard was not sure he was right. Just when he thought, he found a door, someone called him.
Discarded frames and dead ferns stood in the corners. Files bustled at a window. A grandfather clock struck ten minutes late and two officials sat at their oak desks. With bureaucratic manner, they watched over their visitors. With a view of a side alley, the sparse light from the sobering lamp was compensation for the few hours of work.
The first officer had short-cropped, light blond hair; it almost went out by his pale face. His round glasses did not fit him since his head was shaped like an orange. Added to this was his forget-me-not-coloured uniform. His fingers played with a pencil, he was curious and surprised about a visitor in the town hall. On his tidy desk was a nameplate in black, bureaucratic letters.
Patrick Becker, HePo Speckern
His colleague was chunkier, he didn't flinch at the slightest noise. He had an unkempt two-finger beard, an angular face as if hewn out of a rock, and short black hair. It made his ears stick out like wings. He hated his reading glasses. With a grunt, he greeted Léonard and delved into his newspaper. His name tag lay upside down next to a pile of unopened letters.
"Good afternoon," Becker greeted him, "Come to me. Take a seat."
A memorised sentence, without understanding the meaning behind it, the guy noticed immediately when Léonard pointed out the lack of seating. With another grunt, the second HePo started moving and brought him a wooden chair.
"What can I do for you?" asked Becker kindly.
His voice was shy. Léonard heard an annoyed undertone that he could not place. He didn't care whether he was responsible for it or the annoying card games with his colleague that Becker was losing.
"I am here to declare my new residence."
"Do you have your ID with you? As well as the necessary documents from the ministry?"
"You mean the removal form?"
"Correct. This should have been given to you when you moved out of your old place of residence," Becker helped him, "Unless, of course, your stay is shorter than three years."
"Shorter, probably." Léonard revealed, "Didn't you already receive the form?"
"Shouldn't you have received a transcript when I signed off?"
Becker looked up.
"Of course," he stammered, "It's still a work in progress."
He pointed to his colleague and the stack of letters.
"I see. The HePo can't keep up." Léonard thought aloud, "Can I at least tell you my name and push the registration?"
Becker looked around and glanced at his colleague.
A grunt came from him.
"May I do that?" he asked helplessly.
Gustav put down his newspaper.
"Probably. As long as the ID complies with the rules of the Sagauvelian Empire and he is not wanted, that's fine," he replied unconvinced, "I'm sure his papers are here."
He tapped the pile with his fist, upsetting the shy Becker. He had dropped his pencil.
"I'll have to do it tomorrow. You can register him already.”
Léonard was not sure who he had fallen in with. For him, the HePo, the Heimliche Polizei, was an authority not to be taken seriously. With the two complete idiots from Sehlingen, he now had the lowest drawer of discipline and order in front of him.
Patrick Becker pulled out a blank sheet, disappeared briefly into an adjoining room, and returned with another form.
"Your name and address are?"
"Park Street 1..."
Becker recoiled again. His eyes flew over to Gustav, who was now staring at Léonard. Both pairs of glasses slid off his nose, barely noticeable.
"The villa of this de Waarfay?"
"Right. My name is Léonard de Waarfay."
"Didn't Krautmann tell something about it?" Gustav said. "Isn't the mansion cursed?"
"What makes you think that?" asked Léonard with a laugh, "Cursed it will not be, nor has it killed me."
"Something is not kosher with it. Krautmann had mentioned it just yesterday. The villa´s standing on the municipality's territory."
"Do you have proof of this?" interjected Léonard. "As far as I know, my grandfather acquired the property and if it were not true, the mansion and the park would have to fall into the hands of the state because no owner could be found. However, with respect, since the invasion and the annexation, this should no longer be correct. In my opinion, the mansion falls into the hands of the respective Palatine administrative authority."
"I don't like your tone, lad," Gustav spoke belligerently, "You're sitting in front of two officers who can arrest you."
Léonard smiled unabashedly at him.
"Krautmann said he would come," Becker interjected and was not heard.
"I don't know anything for sure about the villa and these people of Waarfay. You look like a brat who needs a good beating to get back on track," Gustav said angrily and stood behind his table.
Léonard was indignant.
"I must beg your pardon. I want nothing more than to live a little in peace."
"Leave the town hall immediately or I will be forced to arrest you for trespassing! You can't just walk in and trample on domestic peace."
It was one thing he could not stand. Léonard rose and went to Gustav, leaving poor Becker alone, who could not see what might soon happen. Perhaps he had jumped up too quickly, the provocation had blinded him. Léonard was ready to throw the stack and the newspaper on the floor, he stared at his counterpart like a wild bull.
He didn't realise how quickly he was getting angry and tried to calm down in the seconds Gustav was waiting to attack.
"Can you tell me if the policeman von Preuß and his wife have any relatives who are still alive?" Léonard now spoke in surprise.
"Go now, lad."
Gustav's face turned red. The room discharged a crackling air. Léonard was about to repeat his question when he exhaled and moved his chair back. He had heard someone in the great hall and didn't want to cause any more trouble.
He banged on a wooden door, which moved as he left the room.
"Out of my way, young man, I'm busy!"
"You should have paid attention," Léonard returned discontentedly.
It was an elderly man. The smell of wood chips came from him, mixed with the overindulgence of tobacco. His pale, grey-black, unkempt hair lay flat under a cap sprinkled with sawdust. His work clothes, already patched up several times, made him a carpenter. In Sehlingen, the hunchbacked little man was known as carpenter Josef Peter Faber.
Léonard remembered his face. He was the cheater of the card game in the pub.
"There's the new door at last," Becker spoke with relief, "just a moment, let me help you."
"I don't need any help!" the carpenter pointed out, refusing to let Gustav and Patrick take down his work.
"You're still here. What do you want? Get out of here!" Gustav now roared as Léonard longingly inhaled the dull tobacco smoke. With the last breath, he left.
He took the stairs down. A brief spark of hope came over him when he thought he saw someone outside whom he was looking for.
On a horse-drawn cart in mint condition sat a young woman, perhaps still a girl, barely of age, waiting for someone. Judging by the smell of the wood, she was waiting for the carpenter.
The young woman gave him a frightened look. He was not sure, he could not even remember the colour of the woman's hair from yesterday, he thought he was looking at the young lady from the cemetery. His intuition told him the opposite.
"Excuse me. I thought you were someone I knew."
"No problem." she said quickly, looking back down at her dress, "You're from the villa. “
"Léonard is my name," he introduced himself, "It's not quite fit to live in, but I'll manage to get it fixed up."
"You don't know what they say about the previous owner, " the girl told without looking up, "The previous owner is a murderer."
"What happened?" he asked curiously.
"I don't know."
"I have no intention of killing anyone if that makes you feel better."
She smirked a hmmm.
"You're here with the carpenter?"
"Do you happen to have a cigarette?"
"Have a nice day," he said disappointedly.