A black figure against the morning sunlight, it moved into a deserted, dirty back alley of the Reeperbahn, but after nearly twenty-four hours without sleep, his eyes felt as keen as those of an elderly mole who’d just made it into the deep dark recesses of space for the first time. Despite his misgivings about being thrown across the world in an overstuffed tin can, he had suffered less than he’d expected, and the red-eye was the only option he’d had. He knew, could feel it in his aging bone marrow, that this was the place – this side of the world, this country, this state, this city – he knew it like he knew the cracked, insomniac ceiling of his Midwest metropolis apartment. So he’d left, just like that, leaving only a single note for Don Tannhauser on his trashed office desk. He’d contemplated calling him, but knew that the veteran cop would insist on being his official escort, and though he could have used the help, Don wasn’t the persuasive type. He knew exactly the kind of person he needed, and once the mental book had flipped open on this page, he knew he’d hit gold.
Leaving the end of the street, its dingy windows as uninviting in the daylight as the colourless whores who occupied them every evening, Ray Delaney’s stony features almost cracked into relief as he saw a brightly-lit figure swathed in folds of deep red wool, twitching with a mixture of nerves, cold and youthful energy. “Oh! Mr Delan…err, Ray,” said Candy, correcting herself and breaking into a smile.
* * *
Dragging the train doors open, the icy air hit them square in the jaw. Candy could almost make out a faint line of rain water mixed with subway sweat congealing into a series of icicles on the heavy beard of the homeless man who was sitting huddled on a bench. The figure which had followed them from Hamburg airport had somehow disappeared nearly two hours ago in a strange area of town – the name of which Candy couldn’t remember – but Ray had decided to pick up an old, long dead contact and hope in vain that this particular informant was still in town. Ray, she said to herself again. The name rolled around strangely in her head like someone else’s dog in the park, and Candy still wasn’t sure whether she could trust Ray not to bite. At the moment, Ray was as foreign to her as the German words which enveloped them on each street corner.
“This is it,” laconicked Ray, already pressing the intercom to the right of the entrance as Candy peered into the hallway through a glass pane set into the heavy-looking door. The button didn’t seem to connect, and Ray double checked the number. All that Candy could make out was an adhesive label which seemed to spell out in handwritten script N-A-C-H-T-…before abruptly beginning to fade out. She figured that the edge of the label must have been erased by years of morning sunlight falling in just the right direction. She smiled. She was getting the hang of this business.
Ray turned and began to walk away, looking frustrated, as the door bzzzed into life. Pushing inwards, Candy held it open long enough for Ray’s relief to get inside.
* * *
Since the last time he had been here, the dust had settled on another lifetime’s worth of books, journals and trinkets. Candy followed nervously, and somewhat less stoically than Ray, her expression betraying the fact that the room – curtains drawn and lit only by a lamp straight out of the Weimar Republic – smelled like the inside of a musty attic with a serious roof leak.
“Komm, komm,” cackled something approximating a voice from the darkest corner of the room. Ray was still unable to make out the features which accompanied it, but the voice…the voice was right.
“Ray,” the voice crowed, rolling the R and elongating the syllable. “You are not here since a fery long time ago.” Leaning forward, creases began to write a new, recent history across the old man’s face.
“No. But I need your help. I’m looking for someone – I don’t know who – but I know they’re here.” Ray paused, and reached out to help the frail figure out of his chair and across to a mahogany table. Brushing his hand as he let Nachtigall go, Ray was surprised at the iciness of his touch.
“I know. Speak.”
Candy was surprised to see Ray’s childlike hesitation. “Well…at first I guess it was just a regular case. This broad – the Blog – gets the business end of the barrel, and I’m s’posed to go after the guy who did it. But then my only lead is killed, my office is trashed, and the only clue is a book.” Reading her cue, Candy passed Ray the thick, brown leather book. “And then…” said Ray “there are the dreams…”
“I know,” interrupted Nachtigall. “You come to me again, and you do not realise. You were here once long ago, and now you are bäck – you haff come the full circle, Ray. The book has a beginning, a middle and an end which haff tied a knot, and you are stuck here until you untie the past. You must banish the angels which still haunt you.”
Ray could have shaken the frail old guy for being so damned enigmatic, but he knew that Nachtigall had thrived on the self-importance of his melodramatic ‘informant’ persona for too long for it to be worth it. “So you’re saying that whatever I’m afraid I’m going to find here all goes back to that first time – my first case as a bona fide private eye?” A smile creased the face of Joachim Nachtigall as he repositioned himself in the dark, musty corner. Ray cursed under his breath, then turned apologetically to Candy. Her ruby red lips drew themselves into a wan smile as she asked the obvious question.
“Well…wh-what happened…?” Ray reached for the decanter on the table, and poured himself a Scotch.