Late March 1635
It was early afternoon in the office of Paulus Bünemann. The door was closed, as the good Herr Bünemann was expecting no visitors. The merchant was, in fact, indulging in a post-prandial nap.
Despite Herr Bünemann's expectations, however, there was a visitor, one who walked on silent feet to where the merchant slept on the sofa which was across from the large desk. The visitor looked down at the slack face of the sleeping merchant, then leaned forward and placed hands around his neck. Bünemann's eyes flew open. A gurgle made its way from his lips, and his own hands strained and pulled at those of the visitor.
Unfortunately for the merchant, the visitor was stronger. The fingers sunk tighter into Bünemann's neck. Bünemann's complexion darkened, his eyes seemed to swell, and his feet drummed on the sofa for a moment. Then he sagged, his head lolled and his hands fell away.
The visitor retained his grip for some time, but at length released it. He straightened, staring down at the corpse for a long moment, then turned and made his way to the only door into the office. He gently tested the lock to ensure that it was still engaged.
Moments later, the corpse was alone in the room.
Byron Chieske and Gotthilf Hoch walked out the front of the building that was serving as the police and City Watch station.
"Do you know where this office is?" Byron asked.
"Close enough to walk?"
Gotthilf looked up at the gray sky that was beginning to drop water on them. "Not in the rain."
"Right." Byron stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly, waving at one of the horse-drawn cabs.
The cab driver pulled up in front of them. "Where to, Herren?"
"Herr Bünemann's warehouse, down by the river." Gotthilf slammed the door of the carriage.
The driver shook his reins and clucked to his horse. The cab lurched into motion.
"The captain's got to light a fire under the city council," Byron muttered. "I'm getting tired of having to hire a cab every time I want to go someplace. I know they had to spring for the fire equipment, but that was last year."
"We finally got the typewriter," Gotthilf reminded him.
"One. A typewriter, when we need three. And don't get me started, or I'll be ranting about a morgue again." The rest of the ride took place in silence.
"Bünemann's warehouse," the cabbie called. Byron and Gotthilf dismounted from the carriage into the rain.
"Pay the man," Byron said. Gotthilf dug into a coat pocket and counted out enough of the new copper pennies to pay the fare.
"Thank you, sir," the cabbie said with a tug at his hat. Gotthilf heard him cluck to his horse as he hurried to the warehouse to get out of the rain.
"Georg." Gotthilf nodded to the City Watch man standing outside the warehouse door. "Any problems?"
"None outside of a dead body inside." They both chuckled, and Gotthilf opened the door. Inside he stepped up beside Byron, who was talking to a tall, stooped man whose face was almost ashen. Gotthilf couldn't tell if that was because of the circumstances or if it was the normal complexion for the fellow.
"Gotthilf, this is Gerhard Lutterodt, the chief accountant for Herr Bünemann's business." Byron waved a hand in Gotthilf's direction. "Gotthilf Hoch, my partner."
"Good day," Lutterodt muttered. Gotthilf simply nodded.
"So," Byron resumed the interrupted conversation, "you were telling me that Herr Bünemann often closed his door in the afternoon with instructions he was not to be bothered."
"Perhaps twice or thrice a week." The accountant nodded. "Usually after a large lunch with much wine."
"He was taking a nap?" Gotthilf guessed.
"Was it usual that he would lock the door?"
"And how long would the door remain locked."
Lutterodt shrugged again. "At least an hour, sometimes two."
Gotthilf looked around while the conversation was going on. The space wasn't very large. There were two tall tables with stools, one of them obviously belonging to Herr Lutterodt. The other stool was occupied by a younger man, who appeared to be intent on copying something into a ledger book . . . except that Gotthilf had seen that his pen hadn't moved for some time. There was an open door behind the young man that opened to a small room with shelves and cabinets in it.
He switched his attention back to Byron. "Yes?"
"Any questions for Herr Lutterodt before we start going over the crime scene?"
Gotthilf thought for a moment. "Was Herr Bünemann a successful merchant?"
Lutterodt gave a thin smile. "Rather."
"So he had enemies?"
"Not in the battlefield sense. Competitors, certainly."
"Anyone he was afraid of?"
"Afraid? No." Lutterodt was definite. "He was concerned about the Praegorius family from Hamburg sending a factor here, but the man hasn't even arrived yet."
"Anyone he hated?"
Lutterodt frowned. "I do not know if hate is the right word, but Master Paulus would have nothing to do with Andreas Schardius. The man took advantage of him in one of his earliest deals. Ever since then the master would neither accept nor make proposals involving Master Schardius."
"Is this Schardius person dishonest?"
"Master Paulus would say that he made a dog's hind leg look straight in comparison."
Gotthilf underlined that name in his notebook.
"Do you know of anyone that would have gone to the length of killing him?"
Lutterodt all of a sudden yanked a kerchief from his left pocket and coughed heavily into it, almost a paroxysm. Afterward, he took a shuddering deep breath while shoving the kerchief back into its pocket. Gotthilf thought he saw spots on it.
"I doubt that there are many who will mourn his passing." Lutterodt's voice was hoarse at first, evening out as he spoke. "But likewise I doubt that any of the other corn factors despised him enough to try and murder him. Besides, as we told the first watchman, there was no one in the room when we broke in. I do not see how he could have been murdered."
"That's the door you broke?" Byron pointed to a door at the back of the room.
They moved in that direction. Byron fingered a splintered place on the door frame. "Why did you decide to break in?"
"I needed the master's signature on a contract, and it had been over two hours since he had gone in to the office. I tapped on the door, but there was no answer."
"Did you break in then?"
"No, next I rapped hard. After there was no answer, I pounded as hard as I could."
"And still no answer." Byron was pulling on his chin, a sign that Gotthilf recognized that meant the up-timer was thinking hard.
"Aye. I waited a few more minutes, not wanting to needlessly anger the master by destroying the doorway, but finally I sent Johan," Lutterodt gestured to the other accountant, "to bring one of the warehousemen with a pry bar."
"Is that the bar?" Gotthilf pointed to a length of metal lying next to the wall.
Byron picked it up and compared the end of the bar to the marks on the door frame. They matched. He handed it to Gotthilf. "Tag it." Gotthilf pulled a piece of heavy paper on a string loop out of one of his pockets, and a pencil out of another. He wrote "Bünemann" followed by the date on the tag, then looped it around the bar and tucked it under his arm.
The up-timer reached out and pushed the sprung door open, revealing a surprisingly large room dimly lit by two small windows set up high in the wall across from the door.
Gotthilf followed Byron into the office. The corpse was obvious, lying on a sofa across from the desk. One arm was folded up on the chest, the other trailed to the floor.
Byron stopped them just inside the door. "When you first broke in, Herr Lutterodt, did anything in the room seem strange?"
"Other than the body?"
"Other than the body." Byron's tone was dry.
"No, but I didn't take time to look."
"Take time now," Byron instructed. "Take all the time you need."
Gotthilf watched Lutterodt as he surveyed the room. The accountant, hands in pockets, made a slow turn as he scanned everything, even stepping forward to look over the desk and its chair. He turned again to face the detectives.
"I cannot swear that everything is as it was before he locked the door, but everything that I know should be here is present, and I see nothing that should not be here."
Byron turned to the door. "I assume this is the master's key in the lock."
"It must be. He never gave me a key to this door."
"Are there any others?"
"The master told me once that his wife has one, but I have never seen it."
Byron took the key from the lock, knelt and tried to pass the key on its ring under the door. The space was too narrow for the bulk of the key, not to mention the ring with the other keys on it. "Well, that didn't work. Not that it would prove anything or help us any if it did." He stood again and handed the keys to his partner. "Tag them." Gotthilf did so, and handed them back to Byron.
The up-timer now moved to the sofa and touched the face of Herr Bünemann's corpse, then lifted the trailing arm and set it on the sofa. "Hmm. Rigor mortis is already setting in. That would match death sometime after noon. Did you close his eyes, Herr Lutterodt?"
In Gotthilf's eyes, Herr Bünemann was not a prepossessing man. His frame was small; he wasn't much taller than Gotthilf, which made him short. At least Gotthilf was stocky, but the merchant by comparison was rather slender. His hands were small, short-fingered, and looked soft. His face was reasonably handsome, with regular features and no pock marks or other scars, but his hair was thin and receding, which left him looking like a dyspeptic school master. All in all, Gotthilf was reasonably glad he hadn't been on familiar terms with the man.
Gotthilf turned to Lutterodt, who was hovering behind them. "You said earlier Herr Bünemann had a wife?"
"Yes. He was married to Frau Sarah Diebes."
"Did they have children?"
Gotthilf pulled out his notebook again and made more notes. "Are there any legitimate kin that should be notified?"
"No. The master had a younger brother, Karl, who died when Tilly's soldiers sacked the city. He was not married. Their father was an only child. There may be some distant cousins somewhere, but I do not know who they would be."
Lutterodt pulled his kerchief out for another coughing spell. When it subsided, Gotthilf murmured, "Just a few more questions. Has Frau Sarah Diebes been notified of her husband's death?"
"I believe so." Lutterodt's voice was weak and shaky. "The City Watch said they would notify her." He stopped and took a heavy breath. "I am surprised she is not here already."
"And did the master have any illegitimate kin?"
Lutterodt grimaced. "Yes." He began coughing again.
"Can you tell me who they were?"
Lutterodt grimaced again. "No. I simply knew he had them. He made no great secret about it."
Byron had been crouched over the body this entire time, shining the beam of a small pocket flashlight on the neck and turning the head this way and that against the increasing stiffness of the advancing rigor. He flicked the light off and straightened. Gotthilf turned and raised his eyebrows.
"No doubt about it," Byron spread his hands. "He was strangled. And since there's no way that you can strangle yourself, we seem to have a murder."
The room seemed to darken at that pronouncement.
Byron looked to Gotthilf. "We've got to examine the body and see if there is anything else about it that might be important."
"Right." Gotthilf nodded, anticipating the next question.
"So, where do we do it?"
"There's that back room at the police house."
"I guess that's better than nothing." Byron muttered something. All Gotthilf could catch was " . . . city council . . . " He decided not to ask Byron to repeat it. "Okay," the up-timer said, "your drawing is better than mine, so you make a sketch of the body in the room while I get us some wheels."
Gotthilf turned to a fresh page in his notebook and began sketching as Byron left the room. He heard the outer door shut.
It didn't take long to make the drawing of the body and its placement. Gotthilf was actually pretty competent at sketching. He took a little bit of pride in that, smiling as he thought of how poor Byron was at it. On the other hand, he definitely sympathized with Byron's opinion of the city council; he wished they'd quit delaying and arguing and get the photography gear they had been promising the fledgling police department. It would be so much better than these drawings at showing exactly how things stood in a crime scene.
He turned to a fresh page, anticipating the next need, and began making a sketch of the room as a whole. Good progress had been made with it when the outer door opened again. Byron entered the room a moment later, followed by Georg the patrolman.
"How's it coming?"
Gotthilf flipped back and showed him the drawing of the body.
"Good. Well, I've got a cab, and the cabbie had a spare horse blanket, so we can wrap him up and get him out of here." Georg shook the blanket out on the floor, then he and Byron lifted the body and set it down on the blanket. A few moments later, the corpse was swaddled and not visible. Gotthilf watched as the two men bent. "Hup!" Byron exclaimed as they lifted the dead weight. Gotthilf returned to his sketching as Georg led the way out of the office, walking backward and looking over his shoulder.
A few minutes later Byron came back in. "Well, that's done. Georg's on his way to the police house with the body. He'll get somebody to help him carry it in, then he'll come back here."
Gotthilf finished the sketch of the room, closed his notebook and put it back into his pocket. "Well, I think we have an appointment with a corpse," he remarked.
"So we do," Byron agreed. "So we do, after we ask a few more questions."
They exited the office, and Byron turned and pulled the office door closed. Testing it, he found that it still latched well, so he took the merchant's keys from his pocked and locked it. "Keep everyone out of that room until we say otherwise." Lutterodt nodded just as the outside door opened. Framed in the doorway was a woman with a sodden cloak thrown over a green dress.
"Frau Diebes," Lutterodt exclaimed, stepping forward to take her arm and lead her in. "You did not have to come. You should have sent Philip." He nodded to the large man who followed her in, blanket draped over his shoulder.
"Is it true, Gerhard? Is Paulus really dead?"
Frau Sarah Diebes verheiratet—no, it was verwitwet, now, Gotthilf thought—Bünemann was by anyone's estimation a plain woman. She was short, no taller than her husband, with mousy brown hair and uneven complexion, which was not improved by the reddened eyes and nose that gave evidence to weeping.
"Yes, ma'am," Byron interjected, "he's dead."
She looked at him and arched an eyebrow. "And who are you?" Gotthilf tightened his lips to keep from smiling.
"Lieutenant Byron Chieske, of the Magdeburg police, ma'am. My partner, Gotthilf Hoch." Byron pointed to Gotthilf. "We were sent to look into the circumstances of the death of such a prominent man as your husband."
Frau Diebes brow furrowed. "Circumstances?"
"Yes, ma'am." Gotthilf replied. "It seems Herr Bünemann was murdered."
Her face paled to the extent that the redness seemed like streaks of scarlet. She wavered on her feet, clutching at Lutterodt's arm to remain standing. "Murdered?" she asked in a small voice. Gotthilf nodded in confirmation.
There was silence for a long moment. No one moved until Frau Diebes spoke.
"I trust that it is now your concern to find who did this." Her voice was firm; she was not asking a question.
"Yes, ma'am," Gotthilf answered.
"Good. I want to know what you learn." She swallowed. "Now, may I take my husband home?"
"Ah, I'm afraid that won't be possible," Byron said. "The body has been sent to the police house for an examination to determine exactly what killed him."
"Don't you know what killed him?" Frau Diebes' voice grew stronger, and her pale face began to redden.
"We think we know, ma'am, but we need to be sure."
"Is this indignity necessary?"
"We have instructions from Magistrate Otto Gericke," Gotthilf interjected, "to do a most thorough investigation."
"Oh." The news that the most prominent magistrate in Magdeburg was already involved in the situation set Frau Diebes back a bit. "Then when can we receive him?"
The two detectives looked at each other. "Unless we find something unusual," Byron responded after a long moment, "perhaps around noon tomorrow."
"Good. I will expect a message accordingly."
Byron nodded. "We will want a chance to speak with you as well, ma'am. Would it be all right if we come by tomorrow morning?"
Frau Diebes drew herself to her full height, such as it was. "I will look for you tomorrow, Lieutenant Chieske, Herr Hoch." In a moment, she was in her carriage and Philip was shaking the horse's reins.
Byron closed the door. "Okay, back to business. What happened today?"
"The usual routine," Lutterodt replied. "I arrived an hour after daybreak, opened the office and opened the warehouse as soon as the men started arriving a few minutes later. Johan came in about then as well."
"When did Master Bünemann arrive?"
"Perhaps a half hour after that."
"What did he do?"
"Went to his office and began working. He read and signed three contracts and dictated five letters to Johan. The contracts were sent out by messenger before noon."
"Anything unusual about the contracts?" Gotthilf asked.
"No, they were standard buy/sell agreements. He was spreading the risk of investing in this year's grain crop. 'Who knows what the emperor's campaigns will bring our way?'" Lutterodt's voice took on a thin nasal whine; he was apparently imitating the deceased merchant.
"So a corn factor buys and sells grain?" Byron asked. Both Gotthilf and Lutterodt stared at him. Byron spread his hands. "Hey, I'm an up-timer, remember? I'm used to buying my cereal in a box in a store."
Lutterodt gave a sardonic twitch to his mouth. "Yes, a corn factor buys and sells grain. You could say he buys and sells life itself. The Germanies, all of Europe, lives on bread—wheat for the wealthy, barley and rye for those who can't afford the wheat. Grain is literally the stuff of life. The Roman emperors knew that; they had a fleet of ships dedicated to bringing grain from Egypt to Rome to keep the people quiet. And they had riots over bread if the supplies dropped or the prices climbed too high. It is not an idle analogy when our Savior said 'I am the bread of life.'"
Gotthilf smiled a bit. Of course a corn factor's establishment would know that verse from Scripture."
Byron took a new tack. "Do you keep any money on the premises?"
Lutterodt said, "The master sometimes keeps . . . kept a few pfennigs, maybe a groschen or two in his desk."
"Are they still there?"
The accountant's eyebrows went up. "I didn't think to look."
Byron unlocked the office and they all trooped in and witnessed as Lutterodt pulled open the desk drawer and counted the few coins. "Three pfennigs."