“It was nice of her to come to the blessing.”

For a moment, Felix did not understand.

“She knows a lot about that stuff,” said Lisi. “I didn’t realize.”


“Not religion exactly: taferls and things.”

Felix got it now. His sister meant the roadside monument to his father. It was a hand-carved one of Jesus on the cross, paid for by the Association. A local carpenter had made it, not “an artist.” As with so many other of these traditional shrines and statues, it stood by the roadside where the accident had happened.

“So tell me about your boys’ night out. Where do cops go to unwind?”

“There’s no one at the post I want to unwind with. It was Viktor and a few guys.”

She grasped the wheel with both hands and turned to him.

“Watch the road, will you,” he said.

“‘Viktor and a few guys’? Jesus, Felix.”

“I don’t see them that often anymore.”

He steeled himself for her to say: since you dropped out, and they didn’t.

“We all know the Gendarmerie are more ‘relaxed’ than the Polizei.”

She had spoken in the slow tone of a teacher delivering a gem of wisdom. “But associating with Viktor and those other professional students? Really.”

“Who says I can’t?”

She laughed a teacher’s laugh.

“Oh I get it,” she said. “You’re undercover infiltrating them now. Good work.”

He glanced over and saw that her mouth was set to fire another comment his way. Instead, her attention was taken by an older man standing next to a Skoda parked half in the ditch. He was unloading fence wire from a trailer.

She waved and he smiled.

“You know everybody still,” said Felix.

“He was a friend of Dad’s.”

Who wasn’t, Felix almost said. Even the poor truck driver that Felix Senior had clipped, sending himself down the gorge in the Weizklamm, battering and flattening it with every crunching slam, end over end, until it stopped a hundred-odd metres…

“Are you going to throw up?”

“It’s okay,” he said.

He could feel her disapproval like a mantle of cold air over him. He tried harder to keep the images from returning. The driver, yes: a hulking, big, wall-eyed guy, full of regret and awkwardness and apology, had come to the funeral, Felix remembered, and had shed tears. Apparently he’d met Felix Senior before, and this had made him feel even worse.

“Anyway,” she said, and gave his uniform a quick once-over. “You’ll make a fine impression at the service. Really. I’m not being sarcastic. I mean it.”

He followed the line of the wall that enclosed the church and graveyard. The grounds within had risen over the centuries, and the wall had been raised to match it as though it were a dam, or a dike, in rising waters. When Giuliana had visited the village first and walked down the lane here, it had freaked her out to be walking at the same height as the coffins on the far side of the wall.

“I think I see Mom’s car,” Lisi said.

Felix spotted the yellow Polo parked near Gasthaus Ederer. There were a half-dozen others there too. He didn’t see any Gendarmerie patrol cars. This was good.

Lisi looked at her watch, and she let the car down the narrow gasse, the lane that led to the side of the church. She turned the wheel sharply for an unexpected space next to a Nissan. Felix tried to ignore the sudden listing in his intestines. To distract himself while she straightened the car out, he looked out at a slice of view by the end of the wall. It was one of so many walls, and lanes, and views of distant mountains and valleys, that he’d known so well in this village where he’d grown up. It had also been a place he couldn’t wait to get out of, and go to the city.

“Damn,” she said, and rolled her eyes. “Look: it’s Opa’s car, I think. We’re late.”

“He still drives?”

“It looks like his ancient heap,” she said.

They stepped out. Felix tugged at his uniform and looked at the cars jammed into the confines of the lanes.

“No tellerkappe, Inspektor?”

Felix knew earlier on that he had left the traditional Gendarmerie duty cap in his own car, his mother’s old Polo, that was going to be fixed by this evening. The getaway car: it had to be ready and reliable for his and Giuliana’s week down in Italy the big escape, they’d taken to calling it.

As for the Inspektor bit, he let himself believe that Lisi hadn’t meant it sarcastically. It was the correct term, of course, but he’d never get used to it. It just sounded too self-important. He preferred the old names: Gendarme, or Grenzgendarme, the term for a probationary policeman in this old rural Austrian police.

And then Felix felt the first relief from his crushing hangover at the thought of their week ahead. It would be his first break for nearly a year. He still wasn’t sure how he had managed to stick it out in Gendarmerieschule.

“No,” he said. He even managed a smile for his elder sister. “Forgot it.”

Somebody was playing the church organ, quiet and slow. It was likely his mother would cry. A dignified crier, he would have to say of her. If he had to sing, he’d need a week to get over what it’d do to the tender remainders of his brain not ruined with the hangover.

He took a deep breath and looked over the valley below. Some of the early-morning haze still clung to the deeper valleys far off. It was probably a 50-kilometre view he had to the south. How come he didn’t know exactly, and he a native son? And there were more still behind that light, faded horizon. Das grune Herz von Oesterreich: The Green Heart of Austria.

Something moved around in his guts again. He should try to walk off a bit before going in the churchyard gates. Down by the war memorials with their ever fresh bouquets and meticulous plantings, where there always seemed to be at least one candle lit, his child’s eyes had run along the names, the families of the soldiers, ever since he could remember.

Could he? Yes: Seiser family, six men, or boys, in two wars. Oberhummers, five, two in WWI. The Seidls, his father’s neighbours when he was growing up, were next. They had two sons killed. One had not returned from the Eastern Front. He tried to figure out how old one would be were he alive today.

“Come on,” Lisi called out.

He let his gaze run up the road, saw the beginning of the track where Maier had nearly mired his truck. The put-put of a tractor brought him back. Coming down the laneway toward him was a Kubota, driven by an old man. The face was ruddy, nearly leather, and the battered-looking traditional green jacket, the lodenjanker.

“Gruss Gott!”

“Servus,” Felix called after him. In from the high meadows near the village, he guessed.

Lisi held out peppermints.

“Believe me,” she said. “You need these. Take a lot.”

His heart suddenly ached.

“You’re bothered,” she said. “That’s why you were out last night. I know.”

He wanted to argue but it would be useless. He wondered if it would always be this way. She didn’t mean to smother, anymore than their mother did. It just ran in the family. Like wooden legs, his Opa Nagl might say.

The thought of his irreverent grandfather brought him some relief from the gloom now pressing down on him. The same Opa Nagl had a saying for everything, from genetics to stupidity. He held the farm still, even though it was only admitted recently that Theo, the eldest, would not return to farm at all. Opa Nagl had been philosophical: well, why would a tool-and-die man want to come back to farming? It had been leased out the next year.

Felix took two mints and walked with Lisi to the gate, his mind still on his grandfather. A short man, was Opa Nagl, and a huber bauer through and through, a real farmer, a countryman forever. Too young himself to be directly mauled by the war, he was almost proud to still remember some Russian curse-words he had picked up from

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