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Authors: Sebastian Fitzek

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Scholle sniffed and kneaded his double chin, staring at the woman whose head was lolling sideways at a grotesque 90-degree angle. Her neck was obviously broken, another pointer to the Eye
Collector’s modus operandi.

The victim’s wide-open eyes were staring past the two detectives at the wall of the tent.

No, not staring. Screaming.

‘Fuck it, who cares?’ Scholle literally spat the words into the cold air. ‘I’ll take down the Eye Collector even if he turns out to be goddamned nun.’

Stoya nodded. As head of homicide he should have insisted his subordinate be more objective. Instead, all he said was, ‘And I’ll help you.’

I can’t take it any more either. I’ve had it up to here.
This time they must win the Eye Collector’s perverse game of hide-and-seek and catch him before his ultimatum
expires and another jogger stumbles over yet another child’s corpse.

A child’s corpse with its left eye removed by a psycho. God, what a morning.

Looking at Scholle, who was angry enough to have torn the tent to shreds, Stoya had to concede, not for the first time, that he was impelled by motives that differed from his
colleague’s.

Scholle wanted vengeance. All Stoya aspired to was a better life. Damn it all, he’d been hunting down antisocial scum for over twenty years, and his reward at the age of forty was a face
like a rotting apple. Blotchy skin, wrinkled pouches under his eyes and a bald patch on the back of his head. That was the price you paid for unrelenting stress and lack of sleep. None of this
would be a problem if the job had at least generated the sort of bank balance that inclined most women to overlook outward appearances, but no such luck. Stoya was a confirmed bachelor, and most of
the criminals he hunted earned more in an hour than he did in a month.

Scholle wants vengeance. I want a cushy number.

Yes, damn it. Unlike the rest of them, Stoya wasn’t too squeamish to admit it. He was sick of grubbing around in shit with both hands. His ultimate aim was a more political job within the
force, a spokesperson with fixed hours of work, better pay, and a big desk behind which to flatten his backside.

Let the others kneel beside women’s naked corpses in the rain.

At the moment, however, he was light years from his objective, and if he failed to produce some results in double-quick time he’d be lucky to escape putting on a uniform again. Different
motives or not, at least he and Scholle were pursuing the same goal.

‘We’ve got to find this nutter.’

Stoya’s cold, wet fingers felt for the little plastic bag in his trouser pocket. As soon as the pathologist arrived – Philippe had already informed him by phone of the special nature
of the corpse – he would go inside the house, where a psychologist was ministering to the husband, and shut himself up in the bathroom. He hoped there was enough of the stuff left to keep him
awake for the next forty-five hours...

What the devil...?

Stoya heard the change in his surroundings before he saw it. It was the sound of rain falling not on turf but on a hard surface just outside the tent. On plastic. More precisely, on the kind of
white coverall worn by forensics.

‘Shit! What’s
that
arsehole doing here?’ said Scholle. His impotent rage had found a lightning conductor at last. The reporter staring at them within earshot had long
been a thorn in his former colleagues’ sides. Alexander Zorbach had sneaked into the garden from the Grunewald and was now standing beside the fence with a man who was a head shorter and much
younger.

Fritz, Frank or Franz.
Stoya vaguely remembered being introduced to Zorbach’s sidekick at a press conference.

‘Piss off,’ Scholle bellowed, reaching for his mobile, but Stoya laid a soothing hand on his shoulder.

‘Stay here. I’ll handle this.’

77

Stoya pulled the hood of his anorak over his head and stepped out into the pouring rain. Despite his mounting annoyance, he was glad of this brief opportunity to leave behind
the pitiful sight in the tent.

‘What do you want?’ he demanded when he was facing Zorbach over the garden fence. The crime reporter’s young sidekick remained hovering in the background. ‘What the hell
are you doing here?’

He didn’t shake hands, nor did he go through the garden gate or seek shelter beneath a tree.

‘Am I the first?’ Zorbach asked. At least he sounded more surprised than triumphant. As long as Stoya had known him, Zorbach had never been interested in hogging the limelight. Facts
were his sole concern. Unlike many of his fellow newshounds he never signed his well-researched stories with his full name, just two anonymous initials. This was irrelevant by now, however, as
everyone knew who was hiding behind the letters ‘A. Z.’.

Stoya thrust his wet hands into his trouser pockets.

‘Yes, you’re the first, and I’m wondering how you managed it.’

Zorbach gave a wry laugh. His hair was soaking and his hands were red with the cold, but it didn’t seem to bother him.

‘Oh, come on now, Philipp. How long have we known each other? I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to tell you I dropped in by chance.’

‘In forensics overshoes and a coverall? Like hell!’

Stoya wagged his head. ‘By chance’ was the crime reporter’s traditional excuse, because it was an offence to eavesdrop on police radio traffic.

‘No, Alex, I won’t let it pass this time. I want the truth, and don’t give me any crap about your powers of intuition.’

Zorbach was a phenomenon. Even in the days when he and Stoya were working together, the sensitivity of his ‘nose’ had sometimes seemed uncanny. Although he had never completed his
university degree in psychology, he had been one of the best negotiators in the police force. His powers of perception and his talent for detecting the tiniest nuances in the emotional behaviour of
others were legendary. A shame they had eventually proved his undoing on the bridge.

‘I don’t understand what you mean,’ said Zorbach, wiping the moisture off his eyebrows. ‘You know I’ve been working on this case from the outset. Nothing I write is
detrimental to you. On the contrary, I do my best to be helpful. I thought we had an understanding.’

Stoya nodded. The faux-fur trim on his hood shed some fat raindrops. Although Zorbach had officially left the police force, a very productive symbiosis still existed between them. They held
get-togethers at irregular intervals even now, seven years after the incident – unofficial conferences at which Zorbach often raised the all-important point that helped to further
Stoya’s investigations. In return, and for old time’s sake, he received preferential treatment and was entrusted with vital information somewhat earlier than his competitors.

Today, however, Stoya’s former colleague had overstepped the mark.

‘Stop playing games and tell me the truth, Alex. How do you come to be here?’

‘You know that perfectly well.’

‘Tell me.’

Zorbach sighed. ‘I was listening to your radio traffic, damn it.’

‘Don’t piss me about.’

‘What’s wrong with you?’

Stoya gripped his arm. ‘That’s what
I’m
asking
you
!’

Zorbach turned pale. The corner of his mouth twitched and he made a half-hearted attempt to free himself. ‘Don’t talk crap, man. You reported a 107.’

Stoya vehemently shook his head. ‘For one thing, we don’t use that code any more. For another, a departmental order was issued after the last discovery: anything to do with the Eye
Collector is to be communicated via secure channels only. The press is making mincemeat of us as it is, thanks to your reports. You honestly think we’d broadcast such sensitive information to
every radio ham within range?’

Thunder rumbled in the distance. The sky was growing even darker.

‘No shit?’ Zorbach said incredulously. He ran his fingers through his wet hair.

‘No, no fucking radio traffic. We didn’t broadcast a thing.’ Stoya stared at him with a mixture of suspicion and anger. ‘Now drop it, Alex, and tell me the truth: How the
devil did you know we’d found a body here?’

76

(13 HOURS 57 MINUTES TO THE DEADLINE)

ALEXANDER ZORBACH

‘It’s getting worse,‘ I said, looking round the consulting room. ‘I’ve started hearing voices now.’

As I had on my very first visit, I wondered where it all went, the money cascading into the clinic from its numerous private patients. The psychiatric institute made a shabby enough impression
from the outside. Inside, it was even more in need of renovation. On my previous visits I had seen my doctor in three different consulting rooms. They had differed only in size and the location of
the many discoloured watermarks streaking the walls from ceiling to scuffed linoleum floor.

‘I didn’t spend as long at university as you, Dr Roth. I never got to post-traumatic disorders, that’s why I’m asking you now: Could there be some
connection…?’


With the fact that I shot a woman seven years ago?

The consultant eyed me intently from behind his desk and said nothing. Dr Martin Roth was a talented listener, a characteristic that had predestined him to be a psychiatrist. To my surprise he
smiled faintly. I couldn’t recall him ever doing so before during our sessions together, and it struck me that he’d chosen to trial this innovation at a thoroughly inappropriate
juncture.

While I was sitting there, nervously crossing my legs and itching for a cigarette, his smile grew broader. It made him look even younger than he did already. At our first meeting I’d
mistaken him for a student, not the expert whose treatment of the celebrated psychiatrist Viktor Larenz had hit the headlines in my paper a few years earlier.

I had underestimated him like many people before me, but one hardly expected a leading authority in the field of complex personality disorders to look so youthful. Roth’s skin was smooth,
almost rosy, and the whites of his eyes were brighter than the new T-shirt he wore under his sports coat. All that betrayed his true age was a receding hairline.

‘For a start,’ he said eventually, removing a slim folder from the perspex filing tray beside him, ‘calm down. There’s no cause for concern.’

No cause for concern?
‘Yesterday I heard some nonexistent voices on a nonexistent police radio frequency, and you say I’ve no need to worry?’

He nodded and opened the folder. ‘All right, let’s review your medical history. You underwent treatment after the incident on the bridge. You were suffering from severe perceptual
disorders at the time.’

My nightmares had spilled over into my life.

That was the best description I could give. I smelt, heard, and ultimately
saw
things that had previously haunted me in my dreams. Not always the woman and baby on the bridge. Two weeks
after the tragedy, for instance, I dreamt that shafts of lightning kept hitting the ground just beside me at one-second intervals. I ran for my life, lacerating my bare feet on the broken glass and
rusty cans that lined my route. Noticing far too late that the lightning had driven me on to a rubbish dump with a shiny gold tree protruding from its midst, I instinctively sought shelter beneath
its branches.

I knew that trees could attract lightning and felt sure I’d been lured into a trap. The realization that I might be struck dead at any moment made me burst into tears. As I clutched the
tree with trembling fingers, a horrible thing happened: the bark turned soft and acquired a gelatinous texture. My fingers felt sticky. When I saw that maggots were squirming, not only over my
hands but over my entire body, I started to scream. And when it dawned on me that the tree and the whole rubbish dump were one big confection of beetles, maggots and worms, I yelled myself
awake.

But the foul miasma of the dump continued to pervade my bedroom after I woke up. I dashed to the window and threw it open, but still I couldn’t breathe properly. What came flooding into
the room was not fresh air but another disgusting stench from outside. And although it was a sunny, cloudless Sunday morning, a shaft of lightning struck the tree outside the window, which exploded
into myriads of maggots. They formed a convulsively writhing column that flowed across the lawn towards our house.

And then, just as the maggots were climbing the outside wall on their way to me, someone caught hold of me from behind and dragged me away from the window.

My cries had woken Nicci and put the fear of God into her. I took a full hour to calm down, she told me later.

‘You were immediately put on medication,’ said Dr Roth, turning over another page in my medical record. ‘Antipsychotics were administered and your condition improved. The
symptoms disappeared altogether after a good two years.’

‘Only to recur yesterday.’

‘No.’

Dr Roth looked up from the file with the same unaccustomed smile on his lips.

‘No?’ I said, surprised.

‘Look, I naturally can’t venture a definite diagnosis, given the brief time we’ve known each other, nor would I dispute the visions you say you’ve had. It’s just
that I strongly doubt that you’re still suffering from schizophrenia.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t want to commit myself prematurely. Please give me until tomorrow. By then I’ll have the full results of your blood test and I’ll know if they confirm my
suspicions.’

I nodded without knowing what to make of this. Any other patient would surely have welcomed Roth’s preliminary finding. I was only too eager to believe there was innocuous explanation for
my symptoms. But if I wasn’t suffering from some perceptual disorder, it would mean...

... that the voices were real. If so, the Eye Collector and I are connected in some way...

My right ear rang at the thought, almost as if someone had applied a tuning fork to my head. I smiled with an effort and got up to give Dr Roth’s hand a parting shake, but I was finding it
hard to concentrate. I had already left the consulting room and was about to turn back and ask him for a prescription for some sleeping pills – I’d hardly slept a wink in the last few
nights – when the mobile phone in my trouser pocket vibrated.

BOOK: Eye Collector, The
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