The Pale Criminal

Free The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr

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Authors: Philip Kerr
Tags: thriller, Suspense, Historical, Mystery
investigation. After all it was you, was it not, who apprehended Gormann, the strangler? That may have been ten years ago, but everyone still remembers the case.’ He paused and looked me straight in the eye — an uncomfortable sensation. ‘In other words, I want you back, Gunther. Back in Kripo, and tracking down this madman before he kills again.’
    I flicked my cigarette-butt into the bushes and stood up. Arthur Nebe stared at me dispassionately, almost as if he disagreed with Heydrich’s wish to have me back on the force and leading the investigation in preference to any of his own men. I lit another cigarette and thought for a moment.
    ‘Hell, there must be other bulls,’ I said. ‘What about the one who caught Kürten, the Beast of Dusseldorf. Why not get him?’
    ‘We’ve already checked up on him,’ said Nebe. ‘It would seem that Peter Kürten just gave himself up. Prior to that it was hardly the most efficient investigation.’
    ‘Isn’t there anyone else?’
    Nebe shook his head.
    ‘You see, Gunther,’ said Heydrich, ‘we come back to you again. Quite frankly I doubt that there is a better detective in the whole of Germany.’
    I laughed and shook my head. ‘You’re good. Very good. That was a nice speech you made about children and the family, General, but of course we both know that the real reason you’re keeping the lid on this thing is because it makes your modern police force look like a bunch of incompetents. Bad for them, bad for you. And the real reason you want me back is not because I’m such a good detective, but because the rest are so bad. The only sort of crimes that today’s Kripo is capable of solving are things like race-defilement, or telling a joke about the Führer.’
    Heydrich smiled like a guilty dog, his eyes narrowing.
    ‘Are you refusing me, Herr Gunther?’ he said evenly.
    ‘I’d like to help, really I would. But your timing is poor. You see, I’ve only just found out that my partner was murdered last night. You can call me old-fashioned, but I’d like to find out who killed him. Ordinarily I’d leave it to the boys in the Murder Commission, but given what you’ve just told me it doesn’t sound too promising, does it? They’ve all but accused me of killing him, so who knows, maybe they’ll force me to sign a confession, in which case I’ll have to work for you in order to escape the guillotine.’
    ‘Naturally I’d heard about Herr Stahlecker’s unfortunate death,’ he said, standing up again. ‘And of course you’ll want to make some inquiries. If my men can be of any assistance, no matter how incompetent, then please don’t hesitate. However, assuming for a moment that this obstacle were removed, what would be your answer?’
    I shrugged. ‘Assuming that if I refused I would lose my private investigator’s licence–’
    ‘Naturally . . .’
    ‘ — gun permit, driving licence–’
    ‘No doubt we’d find some excuse . . .’
    ‘ — then probably I would be forced to accept.’
    ‘On one condition.’
    ‘Name it.’
    ‘That for the duration of the investigation, I be given the rank of Kriminalkommissar and that I be allowed to run the investigation any way I want.’
    ‘Now wait a minute,’ said Nebe. ‘What’s wrong with your old rank of inspector?’
    ‘Quite apart from the salary,’ said Heydrich, ‘Gunther is no doubt keen that he should be as free as possible from the interference of senior officers. He’s quite right of course. He’ll need that kind of rank in order to overcome the prejudices that will undoubtedly accompany his return to Kripo. I should have thought of it myself. It is agreed.’
    We walked back to the Palais. Inside the door an SD officer handed Heydrich a note. He read it and then smiled.
    ‘Isn’t that a coincidence?’ he smiled. ‘It would seem that my incompetent police force has found the man who murdered your partner, Herr Gunther. I wonder, does the name Klaus Hering mean

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