In the gas tank of the absurd American motorcycle across the street Dr Niels Never was being observed, reflected in the chrome bike as though in a funhouse mirror or a fisheye lens. He was lean and long, had the illusion of no waist and was stretching with an inhumanly long hand a brown paper envelope toward a beige middle-aged German.
From a vantage point provided only by perfect coincidence—and unbeknownst to the Teutonic MD and his faceless colleague—Ray Delaney was recording their movements with his once-eidetic memory. Delaney felt particularly sore that these holes in his head affected his craft; the perfect record, mental or otherwise, was admissible in court.
The cul-de-sac that the pair stood in ran just off Schönhauser Allee and was invisible to all but those who passed directly in front of its ingress. But Delaney’s seat at the open-fronted café across the street faced Never’s motorcycle at precisely the right angle in the midday sunlight to afford something of a view of this unfamiliar transaction. He only wished he were a little closer, a little younger and a little more comfortable with this strange city. He absently turned a page in the newspaper.
Dr Never’s figure seemed to have disappeared when Delaney looked back up. But soon the funhouse doctor stepped out of the alley, haloed in graffiti and trampling loose newspaper pages in to a light breeze. He lifted his helmet from the end of a bike handlebar and struggled to push it over his chin, kicked up the bike stand and swung a leg over the machine. Delaney threw a five euro note onto the wicker café table, rose and headed toward the U-Bahn a few hundred metres down Schönhauser Allee.
* * *
At Eberswalder Platz he tugged the train door open and exited. His shirt sleeves were rolled halfway up his forearms and around his wrist where his watch strap met his clammy pores the sweat was chafing his skin. He took the steps with a haste his friend Herr Tarpenbek would call auffällig. On the street he barrelled past a young couple pushing a stroller; amidst the plague of other couples with brightly dyed hair and tattoos they were an exercise in rebellious conformism. He crossed Schönhauser Allee and took a left on Danziger Strasse.
The street was busy but negotiable. At the next intersection, several hundred metres ahead, he thought he saw Dr Never’s motorcycle making a turn. Several minutes passed as he feigned nonchalance, but after briefly consulting the card in his wallet, Delaney came to Lichtstrasse. He took a left and walked no more than a hundred yards before he saw what he was supposed to see.
A small, low-set door with peeling paintwork and unappealing graffiti was built into a porch area protruding from the stocky house. The final two letters of the carefully stencilled phrase vonkriegzufrieden crossed the door jamb and overlapped onto a gilded plaque reading “Dr Niels Never – Zahnarztpraxis“. In the window set back and to the right of the doorway was a large white plastic ornament, hollow and lit from within, in the shape of a tooth. A molar, Delaney thought. I know too much about dentistry, goddamnit, Delaney thought.
* * *
“Haben Sie einen Termin?” said the tightly-dressed German.
“No, no appointment.”
“I am sorry, Dr Never is not here.” She smiled.
“I just saw him arrive, Heidi,” Delaney glanced at his watch and raised an eyebrow. She smiled some more.
In the office off to the right, the room which must have housed the illuminated tooth, there was an audible rustling of fabric on some harder substance, followed presently by the emergence of a diminutive man in a checked shirt and white lab coat. Dr Niels Never was balding but with close-cropped hair and sideburns. He wore round, rimless glasses in a style favoured, Delaney found, by Germans entering middle age. He looked the stranger straight in the eyes before passing him and pushing through a door labelled PRIVAT.
“Excuse me, I don’t speak German.” Delaney held the door with his hand and scanned Dr Never’s study. “But I do have a few questions for you, Doctor.”
“Hrmph. Who are you?” He elaborately removed from a drawer in his desk a metal object Delaney took to be an instrument of torture. Next he peeled off his jacket and swung it onto a coat stand in the far right corner.
“My name is Ray Delaney. I work for Michael Tarpenbek, whom I think you know.” Tarpenbek, a German police officer in his late 30s, was also a patient of Never’s.
“Mr Delaney.” His English was a hop away from perfect. “My name is Dr. Niels Never. My father was a German politician; my mother was a Danish woman who lived in East Berlin all her life. Since 1985 I am a dentist in Berlin, and I have had a lot of patients. Four days in the week I have office hours, three days I do not. I make the most perfect cosmetic dentistry which,” he paused, “you could never possibly afford.”
He walked past the detective, nodded politely and pushed his way into the foyer. “Never say never,” Delaney said. [ends]