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Jakob Arjouni

One Man, One Murder

1

I was at my desk, jotting down a dream line-up for the Gladbach soccer team on my calendar-and getting bored with Mr. Kunze.

Mr. Kunze was my landlord. He was reciting to me, over the phone, all the reasons why my rent had to be raised next month by thirty per cent, and why life was not a bowl of cherries. “Wife and children” was his groaning refrain. I placed Sieloff, Mill, Kamps, and myself on the reserve bench and seated Weisweiler, the coach, on a cloud. Then I interrupted Mr. Kunze. “Mr. Kunze, if I understand you correctly, you feel that I’m the best tenant in the world, and if you had your druthers, you’d pay me a little something just to keep me on. On the other hand, your wife couldn’t possibly make do with less than ten fur coats without coming down with migraines and making your life a living hell. That’s all right. All of us have to look out for Number One. Nevertheless, I find a thousand marks for a one-room office with a sink-and regular power failures-a little excessive.”

“I agree! I quite agree! I always say that fifty percent of our quality of life consists of the quality of the workplace-the remaining fifty of that on our living quarters and personal relationships-those are, of course, the most important things. But just try to put yourself in my shoes: eleven buildings to take care of here in Frankfurt, a riding stable, four cars-you can imagine the taxes I have to pay! Then there’s the repairs, and, and, and …”

I placed a cushion on top of the phone, retrieved a couple of Alka-Selzers from a desk drawer, tossed them into a glass of water and watched them effervesce, supporting my head with both hands. Under the cushion, Mr. Kunze’s voice sounded like a trapped bumblebee.

It was nine o’clock in the morning of the last day of March, nineteen hundred and eighty-nine. I had debts but no jobs. The faucet was dripping, the coffee maker was busted, and I was tired. My office looked like a task force objective for Alcoholics Anonymous. Files and empty beer bottles lay scattered over floor and shelves. My deck of blank index cards smelled of spilled Scotch. The only wall decorations were a four-year-old Chivas Regal calendar and a postcard from the Bahamas. It was from a guy who cheated women out of their money with false promises of marriage. I had tried to track him down last fall. On the card, he invited me to come celebrate his fiftieth birthday: “… my golden anniversary as a bachelor, as it were. It would be so nice to see you here.” The rest of the decor consisted of stained gray wall-to-wall carpeting dotted with cigarette bums, wallpaper yellowed by tobacco smoke, and the scattered remains of my exploded coffee maker. All things considered, a move might not be a bad idea.

I drank down my Alka-Selzers and went to the window. Full-fledged April weather: clouds charging across the sky like elephants. Once in a while a patch of blue, a sunny spell, then more rain. An old woman with a cane and a poodle was struggling along, keeping close to the wall. Children were swept down the sidewalk like empty plastic bags. A hat was sailing along in the gutter. The heat from the radiator caressed my knees, and I remembered my desperate and ruinous visits to offices of apartment buildings and landlords that one winter six years ago. By and large, these visits had followed a uniform pattern. It involved confronting a guy behind a desk who sat there, hands neatly folded, with a saccharine smile and ominously narrowed eyes, asking me in a manner that indicated he had better things to do: “Well, then, Mr. Kayankaya, I see you are a private investigator. That’s an interesting name … Kayankaya.”

“Not really that interesting. Just Turkish.”

“I see.” The saccharine content of his smile increases; his eye-slits are no wider than razor’s edges. “Turkish. A Turkish private investigator? What do you know … I hope you don’t mind my asking, but-how come you speak such good German?”

“It’s the only language I know. My parents died when I was a child, and I was raised by a German family.”

“But-but you are a Turk? I mean-”

“I have a German passport, if that makes you feel better.” His tongue darts out nervously to moisten his lips; then it disappears and modulates a voice that brings to mind innocent little kids skipping down a lane:

“Mind showing it to me?”

I hand him the little green book. He turns the pages. He subjects it to sub-molecular scrutiny.

“Not that we have any trouble renting to people of Turkish origin. And since you even are a German citizen … Nevertheless, we do have to know with whom we are dealing.”

He closes the little book and hands it back to me.

“I would have thought you came from one of the Arab countries. Your profile, your manner-you’re not a typical Turk.”

“What is he like, your typical Turk?”

“Shorter, I’d say, more Asiatic, more inscrutable, somehow-well, just different.”

Is he going to rent me an office or isn’t he? I clear my throat and ask. He is evasive, makes small talk, finally writes my telephone number on a scrap of paper that looks predestined for the wastebasket. I take my leave. A week later, his secretary expresses his regrets.

I wiped cigarette butts and dead insects off the windowsill, leaned against it, my back to the window, crossed my arms and contemplated the office. “A little clean-up, some new carpeting, and a new calendar,” I told myself. “That could improve the quality of this workplace tremendously.” When I lifted the cushion off the phone, Mr. Kunze had hung up. A moment later, the doorbell rang. I hit the buzzer. The door opened, and in rolled a colorful sphere. Tasseled loafers, brown; white pants, red belt; blue and white striped shirt; green tie with little dots; blue coat, big belly, short legs. Exuding joie de vivre from top to toe, he came to a halt just inside the door and scanned the office, looking perplexed. He just stood there and stared; and the longer he stood there, the less he seemed to know why he had come. Finally I said: “What can I do for you?”

Cautiously, as if worried his shoes might get moldy, he crossed the room, stopped in front of my desk, and ran his fingers through his hair. Then he adjusted his pink-framed eyeglasses and whimpered: “My name is Weidenbusch. I would like to hire you.”

He really whimpered. Either his stomach exerted pressure on his vocal cords from below, or his collar was too tight; in any case, he whimpered like a puppy. My overall impression of him was that of your average schmuck from Frankfurt’s West End. A guy who sips his red wine like a connoisseur even though he can’t tell beer from Sprite, likes his underwear ironed, and thinks that pink eyeglass frames and colorful wristwatches are signs of an individualistic sense of style. All he would have needed to complete the picture was a carefully cultivated four-day stubble.

“To do what?”

“Well …” He cleared his throat, glanced around again. “I hope I’m not bothering you in the middle of a move?”

A two-ton hint, that.

“No-a,” I growled. I picked up an empty cigarette pack, crumpled it and tossed it across the room. “This is just my style.”

“Oh.”

He tried to respond to my smile. He almost managed that, and after we had smiled at each other for a while, and it began to seem as if we wouldn’t be able to stop, I asked him: “But surely you didn’t come here just to discuss my office decor?”

“No, of course not …”

I pointed to the clients’ chair. People who liked me called it an antique.

“Have a seat.”

He turned, took two steps, saw the chair, and stopped.

“But if you’d rather talk standing up …”

He nodded gratefully: “You know, often it is easier to talk in a standing position.”

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