People thought it was an accident. Scholten didn’t.
It wasn’t suicide either. Scholten would have sworn
to that. Naturally such a strange death was bound to
put ideas into certain heads. And very likely scandalmongers
were now going around saying Frau
Wallmann hadn’t had an accident at all; she’d killed
herself intentionally. Don’t let anyone try telling
Scholten that. He’d give them a piece of his mind.
What nonsense anyway. Why would Erika Wallmann
have killed herself? Because that fellow had a bit on
the side? He’d been sleeping around for years, starting
the moment he married her. And she’d known it as
well as Scholten did. Why would she kill herself
because of that, after twenty-five years?
Such a beautiful woman.
To look at her, no one would have thought she was
forty-six. The way she walked, with a firm, energetic
step, the way she held her head, the way she threw it
back when she was displeased, always reminded
Scholten of the time when her father offered him the
office job. She was fifteen then, but you could already
see what a fine woman she’d be.
And now it was all over. Scholten stared at the coffin.
As the harmonium player began the Ave verum, tears
came to his eyes. He covered them with his hand and
tried to picture her lying there now in her coffin. But
he very quickly gave that up.
She must look dreadful. The fall from the flight of
steps to the steep bank. Broken bones and head injuries,
they’d said. From the sharp edges of the rocks on
the bank. Then two days lying in the lake. And after
that the forensic scientists took their knives to her.
They probably opened her up entirely. They’d have to,
with a drowned body.
Scholten gagged. Taking out his handkerchief he
quietly blew his nose, wiped the corners of his eyes,
pressed the fabric over his mouth. He sensed that
Rothgerber, sitting beside him, was looking at him.
Scholten tried to divert his mind by reading the
messages on the ribbons of the wreaths.
To my beloved Erika, a last greeting from her Kurt.
The hypocritical bastard. He’d spent a lot on that
wreath, obviously, and the coffin and the whole funeral.
The chapel was full of flowers and candles. He’d always
been open-handed with Erika’s money. And now he
had it, all of it, no strings attached. The bastard.
Scholten moved slightly to one side so that he could
see him. Wallmann was sitting by himself in the front
row. Poor fellow, people would think. No children, no
No. Only Erika’s money. And the firm.
Enough to drive you round the bend. Scholten
stared at the broad, red neck, the dark-blond, well-cut
hair, the massive shoulders in the black coat.
Rothgerber leaned over and tapped his arm. He
whispered: “That’s a handsome wreath you chose.
Excellent.” Scholten made a dismissive gesture.
Arsehole. When they were arguing in the office
about the message on the wreath Rothgerber had been
on Büttgenbach’s side. Of course the chief clerk is
always right. What was it Büttgenbach had suggested?
In silent remembrance of Frau Erika Wallmann. What
But Scholten had got his way. The wreath really was
a handsome one. And those not too slow on the uptake
could read the real meaning of the inscription: We will
not forget our boss Frau Erika Wallmann. From the office staff
of Ferd. Köttgen, Civil Engineering Contractors. Wallmann
for one would get the message.
When the coffin was lowered into the grave Scholten
was in the third row. The members of Wallmann’s
bowling club had pushed their ostentatious way to the
front. They and their wives, who were all tarted up, had
ranged themselves right behind Wallmann and didn’t
even let Büttgenbach through. Scholten stood on
tiptoe and craned his neck to see, but there was a
broad-brimmed black hat in the way.
Scholten bowed his head. He moved his lips as his
tears flowed. He said to himself: that’s not the end of
it, Frau Wallmann. I promise you. You can count on
Wallmann did not meet Scholten’s glance as he
shook hands. He kept looking fixedly down, his eyes
red and damp, his chin quivering although he kept it
pressed against his chest. One of his friends from the
bowling club was standing beside him holding his arm,
as if Wallmann might fall over any moment. Would you
believe it? What a farce!
On the way back to the cemetery gate, Scholten
found himself walking with a group of the Yugoslavian
workmen. They had put on their dark suits and black
ties. They walked along in silence beside him for a
One of them touched his arm. “Herr Scholten, how
can such terrible thing happen? Boss’s wife was strong
woman, healthy. How can she fall off steps, splash, fall
in water? Had been drinking, don’t you think, Herr
Scholten stopped and grabbed the Yugoslav by the
lapels of his coat. “Say a thing like that again and you’ll
have me to deal with, understand? And then you can
pack your bags and fucking go home, get it? Because
you’ll be out of a job!”
The Yugoslav said: “Let go.” Scholten let go. The
man was one of the plasterers, hands like shovels, and
a head or more taller than Scholten. He brushed down
his lapels and said: “You no decide when I’m out of a
“We’ll see about that,” said Scholten. He turned
away and walked on. The Yugoslavians fell behind.
At the cemetery gate Scholten looked around. Rosa
Thelen was standing there alone, wearing a black coat
that was now too tight for her. Scholten said, “You can
come with me, Rosie.”
She blinked her short-sighted eyes at him in the
March sunlight and said: “Thanks, but Herr Büttgenbach
is giving me a lift.”
“Fine. Your arse will have more room in his car.”
Scholten got into his own vehicle.
“You brute,” said Rosa Thelen. “Can’t get a grip on
yourself even on a day like this.”
Scholten had to wait. The four minibuses were barring
the road. The workmen got in, jostling each other,
and now and then one of them laughed. They were
looking forward to the day off and the beer and cold
meats that Wallmann had ordered for them in the bar
opposite the works. Scholten muttered: “Wait till it’s
your own wake. Then you won’t be laughing.”
He followed the last bus but then turned off on the
road to the Forest Café. He was sure Wallmann would
rather have sent him off to the bar with the workmen,
but in the end he hadn’t dared to. He had invited the
office staff to the Forest Café. Not just the office staff
either. Scholten was sure the whole bowling club
would turn up. And the people from the Civil Engineering
Inspectorate, of course. He had seen the
Government Surveyor at the graveside and three or
four of the inspectorate’s project managers. And all at
the company’s expense.
Well, it belonged to the new boss now.
A couple of flashy cars were already parked outside the
Forest Café when Scholten arrived. He was about to
leave his own car beside them, hesitated, then drove
into the overflow car park behind the building.
Von der Heydt, one of the project managers from
the Civil Engineering Inspectorate, was standing in the
doorway of the restaurant bar, holding a schnapps
glass. He shook hands with Scholten and asked: “How
could a thing like that happen, Herr Scholten? I mean,
those steps were checked by the Building Inspection
people. Surely they can’t be all that dangerous?”
“There’s nothing wrong with the steps,” said
Scholten. “But I don’t know the details. You’ll have to
ask Herr Wallmann.” He reached for a tray that a
waiter was carrying past and took a glass of schnapps
himself. Von der Heydt emptied his own in a hurry,
put the empty glass down on the tray and picked up
another. Placing a hand on Scholten’s arm, he guided
him over to the table. “Come along, let’s sit down.”
Scholten said: “Not here, though. I’m sure this is for
Herr Wallmann’s friends. I’ll sit over there.”
“No, no, you’re Herr Wallmann’s guest today too.
Come along, sit down. We’re all equal in the face of
Von der Heydt made Scholten sit on the chair beside
him. He raised his glass. “Let’s get this down ourselves
first. To help with the shock.”
Scholten gulped the schnapps down. Von der Heydt
detained the waiter, who was about to move on with his
tray, saying: “Hang on a moment, we’ll have another
couple of those.”
He put the two glasses carefully on the table and lit a
cigarette. Then he placed his arm on the back of
Scholten’s char, leaned towards him and said: “Tell
me, Herr Scholten, is it true about Wallmann having it
off with the secretary in your firm?”
Scholten looked at his schnapps glass.
“What’s the girl’s name? There she is, over by the
Scholten did not look up. He said, “You probably
mean Fräulein Faust.”
“That’s it. Inge, am I right? Inge Faust. Not a badlooking
girl at all. I guess she’s worth a mortal sin or
so.” Von der Heydt laughed.
“Could be,” said Scholten.
“But listen, Herr Scholten, she must be at least
twenty years younger than Wallmann, am I right? How
old is Wallmann, actually?”
“Forty-eight.” Scholten twirled his glass on the tablecloth.
“And Fräulein Faust is twenty-five.”
“Wow! So does Wallmann think he’s up to that kind
of thing? I mean, sure, he keeps fit. But wouldn’t you
say this is rather overdoing it?”
“It’s no use asking me. Ask Herr Wallmann.”
“So it’s true? They really are having it off?”
“I didn’t say so. There’s always gossip.”
Von der Heydt clapped him on the shoulder. “Yes,
yes, Herr Scholten, I know. I quite understand you
don’t want to tell tales on your boss. Don’t worry, no
one’s going to hear about it from me.”
Scholten picked up the schnapps and tossed it down
his throat. Von der Heydt instantly followed his
example. Then he looked around. “They’re slow with
the beer.” He wiped his mouth and leaned towards
Scholten again. “But you know, Herr Scholten, if it
is true, people might get ideas. About poor Frau
Wallmann, I mean.”
Scholten sat very upright and looked at von der
Heydt. “What are you implying?”
Von der Heydt went “Ssh” and nodded at the doorway.
Wallmann had come in with his friend from the
bowling club who had been supporting him at the
graveside, the Government Surveyor on his other side
and the rest of them behind him. Wallmann invited
the Government Surveyor to sit down. Seeing Scholten
directly opposite, he frowned. Scholten was about to
rise to his feet, but von der Heydt laid a hand on his
shoulder and said: “Excuse me, Herr Wallmann, we sat
down here just this minute, but is there a seating
Wallmann said: “No, no. By all means stay put.”
One of the tarted-up women took the chair on
Scholten’s left. Scholten half rose and adjusted it for
her. She smiled at him, a sad little smile as befitted the
occasion, but her expression was very friendly.
Scholten rose again, bowed and said: “May I introduce
myself? Jupp Scholten.”
“How nice to meet you, Herr Scholten,” she said.
“I’m Frau Sauerborn.”
Scholten said, “Pleased to meet you too,” and sat
down. He smoothed the tablecloth, pushed his
schnapps glass slightly to one side, drew it towards him
The woman wasn’t bad looking. Dolled up a bit too
much in her black costume, but there was real flesh
and blood under it. Scholten smelled her perfume and
unobtrusively took a deep breath. Pretending to be
looking at the door, he let his eyes dwell briefly on her
throat. She was no older than her mid-thirties.
Sauerborn, Sauerborn. Wasn’t that the bowling club
member who owned the brewery?
She settled on her chair. Scholten cast a quick
glance down and got a glimpse of her rounded knee
encased in black nylon.
He started, as if caught in some guilty act, when she
said, “Do you work in Herr Wallmann’s company?”
“Herr Wallmann’s company? Oh, yes. Yes, I work
“I mean, I suppose it is Herr Wallmann’s company
now?” She glanced briefly at Wallmann, who was talking
to the Government Surveyor, and moved a little
closer to Scholten. “Or wasn’t it all left to him?”
“Yes, yes, of course it was.” Scholten felt this was
awkward. Wallmann was sitting too close for comfort.
But the woman’s perfume won the day. Scholten
smiled, moved his mouth closer to his neighbour’s ear
and said: “There’s no one else to inherit.”
“That’s what I mean.” She sat upright, pushed her
plate back and forth a little. Then she smiled at
Scholten. “Have you worked for the company long?”
“Good heavens. I’d have to think.” Scholten acted as
if he was indeed thinking. He nodded. “Yes, you could
call it a long time.” He looked at her. “Thirty-one
“That’s amazing! Well, now you must tell me how old
Scholten rested one arm on the back of his chair
and smiled. “Guess.”
She looked at him, put two fingers to her cheek,
then shook her head. “It’s really hard to say.”
Scholten kept smiling. “I’m fifty-eight.”
“I don’t believe it! No one would think so to look at
The waitress leaned over Scholten’s shoulder, serving
turtle soup. Scholten said: “Could we have a beer
Between two spoonfuls of soup, Frau Sauerborn
said: “And what do you do in the firm?”
“Oh, just about everything.” He glanced across the
table. Wallmann was drinking his soup and nodding as
his friend from the bowling club talked to him.
Scholten said, “Bookkeeping. Looking after the filing
room, that’s very important in a firm like ours. Business
with the bank. Instructions to the workmen.
Organizing the trucks. And checking up on the
building sites. You have to keep an eye on everything.”
“Just like in our own business. Then you must have
been with the company already when Herr Wallmann
“Yes, indeed. I’d been in old Köttgen’s office for
four years before Herr Wallmann joined us.”
“And he began in the office too?”
Scholten picked up his napkin and dabbed his lips.
He spoke into the napkin. “No, you’ve been misinformed
there. Herr Wallmann drove an excavator.”
“You don’t say! And didn’t old Köttgen mind when
he married his daughter?”
Scholten laughed and dabbed his lips again. “Old
Köttgen – ah, well, you should have known him.”
The beer came, and then the main course. Fillet
Steak Special, served on toast. After the first mouthful,
Frau Sauerborn lowered her fork and leaned towards
Scholten. She spoke from slightly behind his back.
“Is it true that Frau Wallmann was pregnant – Erika
Köttgen, I mean – when she married Wallmann?”
Scholten, his mouth full, nodded heavily. He leaned
back and picked up his napkin. “A miscarriage. After
the wedding. She couldn’t have any more children
Frau Sauerborn nodded and cut a piece off her fillet
steak. She was about to lean towards Scholten again
when the bowling club member sitting opposite on
Wallmann’s left pointed his fork at her. “Ria, you
noticed the time, didn’t you? When did Kurt leave us
on Saturday afternoon?”
“It was exactly four-thirty,” said Frau Sauerborn.
“And how long does it take to reach your weekend
Wallmann shrugged. “Just under an hour and a half.
An hour and a quarter if there’s not too much traffic
on the road to the lake.”
The Government Surveyor nodded. “But then it
would have been too late anyway. I mean, it wouldn’t
have been any use even if you had arrived earlier.”
Wallmann shook his head in silence.
Von der Heydt, knife and fork poised in mid-air,
leaned forward and said: “Forgive me, Herr Wallmann,
I didn’t quite catch that. So the police really did check
your alibi, or shouldn’t I call it that?”
The bowling club member took a forkful of mushrooms
and said: “You can certainly call it that. It was
harassment, no less. They questioned us at the bowling
club, they even went to see my wife, isn’t that right,
Frau Sauerborn nodded. “They wanted to know
exactly how long Herr Wallmann spent at our place.”
“And they even got Büttgenbach to go to the police
station,” said Herr Sauerborn.
The Government Surveyor shook his head. “Outrageous,
if you ask me. Imagine them coming along after
such a tragic accident and suspecting someone of
Sauerborn gestured vigorously, chewed and swallowed.
He took a large gulp of beer and said: “They
have to. It’s the rules. If someone’s fished out of the
water they have no option but to investigate.”
Frau Sauerborn looked at the Government Surveyor.
“They can’t be sure there may not be something
Wallmann, who had been brooding gloomily, said
suddenly: “But there wasn’t.”
“Exactly,” said Sauerborn. “There wasn’t. The alibi
was absolutely watertight.”
Von der Heydt, head still thrust forward, shifted in
his chair. “But how could you prove that? I mean,
sometimes proof is difficult. Who expects a thing like
this to happen?”
Sauerborn propped his elbows on the table. “Well,
listen.” He began checking points off on his fingers.
“Herr Wallmann came back from his sailing trip on
Friday evening. He saw to the boat and went up to his
weekend house. Then he realized he’d forgotten the
Scholten abruptly clutched his ear and then acted as
if he were just scratching it.
“What files?” asked von der Heydt.
Wallmann, red-rimmed eyes fixed on the beer glass
he was slowly pushing back and forth, said: “Files I
needed for a tender I was putting in. I wanted to get
the details finalized at the weekend. I thought I’d
brought the files from town with me. While I was out
on the boat I hadn’t realized they were missing.”
“You see?” Sauerborn said, nodding. “He didn’t
notice he’d left the files in town till he got back to the
house. But by then his wife was already on her way. She
was going to spend the weekend with him out by the
lake. So he couldn’t phone and ask her to bring the
files with her.”
“Yes, I see,” said the Government Surveyor. “What a
tragic chain of circumstances.”
“Yes,” said von der Heydt, “but I don’t understand
what that has to do with the alibi business – I mean,
what does it prove? To the police, I mean?”
“Just a moment.” Sauerborn raised both hands. “I
hadn’t finished. So he drove off to fetch the files. Just
under three hours to get there and back, no problem.
And then he saw Erika’s car up by the lake, in the
village. She’d arrived already. There’s a bar with a
butcher’s shop attached in the village, you see, and
when she went to the lake she always stopped off there
to buy meat for the weekend. And to drink a little glass
of grog. That’s right, Kurt?”
“Grog was her favourite,” said Frau Sauerborn.
Scholten crossed his arms over his chest.
“So then what?” asked von der Heydt avidly.
“Well, pay attention,” said Sauerborn, “because here
comes the alibi.” He paused for the waiter to take the
plates away and pointed to the empty beer glasses.
“Bring us a couple more, will you?”
“And some spirits,” said Wallmann. “Not the
schnapps you were serving before.”
“Cognac, sir?” asked the waiter.
“Yes, cognac,” said Wallmann.
Sauerborn settled comfortably in his chair, leaned
his elbows on the table, pointed his forefinger at von
der Heydt and said: “He went into the bar and told his
wife what had happened. And then he set off for town
from there, at ten to seven. The butcher, sorry, I mean
the barkeep, he confirmed it. Erika was sitting there
drinking her grog at the time. And he reached us in
the bowling club at eight exactly.”
“You must have driven pretty fast,” said von der
Heydt, “if it usually takes an hour and a half.”
Sauerborn laughed. “He’s never needed that long.
Speedy Kurt, we call him in the club. He always drives
that way, don’t you, Kurt?”
Wallmann said: “And they call you Randy Günther.”
Sauerborn laughed. “So they do.”
Frau Sauerborn shifted in her chair and said: “But
what’s that got to do with Kurt’s alibi?”
“Now, now, take it easy,” said Sauerborn. “I was only
Von der Heydt raised his beer glass, noticed that it
was empty, put it down again and said to Wallmann:
“Hang on a minute, I don’t quite understand. So you
went to the bowling club before you fetched the files?”
Wallmann nodded. “On impulse.”
Sauerborn took a deep breath and let it out again.
Then he said: “So there you are. We were living it up a
bit that evening. It was our fault.”
Wallmann said: “No, mine. I’ll never forgive myself.”
“Nonsense, Kurt. It could have happened to anyone.
And you’d have been back too late in any case. So we
got rather merry, and by the end of the evening he
wasn’t fit to drive. I took him home with me. Better
safe than sorry – I know Kurt. And he didn’t leave our
place until four-thirty on Saturday afternoon. Fetched
those files from the office and drove back to the lake.
He arrived at the house there just after six.”
Von der Heydt leaned back in his chair. “Yes, now I
see. So he has what amounts to a twenty-four-hour
Wallmann was playing with a beer mat. “Just a little
over twenty-three hours,” he said.
“Well, put it however you like, but it was during that
time your wife fell off the steps and into the lake.”
“On the Friday evening,” said Wallmann.
Sauerborn said: “She didn’t go into the house at all.
Her car was still outside the door, with the meat she’d
bought in it and her weekend things.”
“You don’t say.” Von der Heydt rubbed his chin. “So
why did she go down the steps? I mean, they lead to
the landing stage, if I’ve understood the situation
correctly. Does anyone know what she did that for?”
The Government Surveyor said: “Herr von der
Heydt, I think that’s enough in the way of questions.
This is a wake, you know.”
Wallmann put the beer mat down and clasped his
hands on the table-top. “I don’t know why she did it.
I’d give a lot to know. But I really have no idea.”
Scholten folded his napkin and then unfolded it.
The waitress served ice cream. After her second spoonful
Frau Sauerborn said: “It’s really odd, her going
down those steps. Particularly as she didn’t like boats
or going sailing, did she, Kurt?”
“No, she didn’t.” Wallmann pushed his ice away,
picked up his empty cognac glass and signalled to the
“Oh, Ria, really!” Sauerborn’s voice had risen
slightly. “Sometimes you talk pure nonsense! What’s so
odd about it? She probably heard a noise and went to
see if there was anyone prowling around the boat.
After all, it’s valuable. Four bunks, heating, toilet.
Built-in kitchen. Right, Kurt? Must have cost you a
packet, after all.”
Von der Heydt’s spoon remained in mid-air. “How
The Government Surveyor noisily cleared his throat
and then asked: “Are you having any trouble with the
Buildings Inspectorate, Herr Wallmann? Over that
flight of steps, I mean? Because if I can help you in any
way . . . ?”
“No, the steps are fine. Solid timber, with handrails.
And made of good stout planks. You only have to ask
Scholten here. He replaced half a dozen steps last
autumn because they’d developed some cracks. When
was it exactly, Scholten? When you went over to paint
Scholten felt Frau Sauerborn looking at him. He
said: “Yes, it’ll have been around then.”
The bastard. Wallmann was just trying to belittle him
in company. As if anyone would be interested in the
fact that he’d painted the fence. Scholten finished his
The waiter came and refilled the glasses. “Coffee will
be served in a minute.”
Wallmann said, “Where’s your wife, Scholten? I
didn’t see her at the cemetery.”
Scholten swallowed. “She couldn’t come. She’s feeling
unwell again. She asked me to give you her regards
and say how very sorry she is.”
“Thank you. My regards to her, and I hope she’ll
soon be better.”
Frau Sauerborn asked, “What’s the matter with her?”
Scholten shook his head. “Poor health in general.
It’s her nerves. A funeral like this upsets her too
“It upsets us all,” said Sauerborn.
Silence fell. After a while von der Heydt said: “Perhaps
the steps were slippery? After a frost, maybe? We
had that sort of weather last week. Or was it different
up by the lake?”
“No, you’re right,” said Sauerborn. “The steps must
have been slippery. Timber like that can get very icy in
frost. She wasn’t expecting it, she slipped, and she
couldn’t catch hold of anything to stop herself falling.”
The Government Surveyor nodded. “That’s perfectly
possible. Yes, very likely.”
Wallmann rose to his feet. “Would you excuse me a
moment?” He went out.
Sauerborn pushed his own chair back. “You must
excuse me too. It’s the beer.”