Karl Bauer’s Death
August 17, 1965, 9:46 p.m.
A peculiar smell brought Karl Bauer back to consciousness. He
was still feeling muddled, and his brain was pounding. What had
happened? How long had he been passed out? Had it been for
minutes, hours, or even days? Each attempt to gain a straight
thought was suffocated, as if with a thick, soft pillow; he just
couldn’t concentrate. A strange odor was lingering in the air,
and then, at that moment, he knew what it was. It was the smell
of burned flesh; his own flesh.
The burning on his chest became nearly unbearable, so he decided
to slowly open his eyes. It was only then that he realized he
almost couldn’t move. He was lying full-length on a big wooden
table, his hands and feet chained, and his upper body was
covered with burns. A glaring light at the end of the basement
vault was dazzling him. In this light he could see the
silhouette of a dark figure slowly approaching. Whoever it was,
he was of short stature, wearing a long, black, hooded cape, so
that his face was nearly completely hidden.
“You actually regained your consciousness!” the creepy man said
in a Spanish accent.
“Where is it? Where’s the map?” he suddenly screamed, holding a
glowing iron directly in front of Karl Bauer’s face.
“But…but I’ve already told you that I don’t know anything about
it. You’ve captured the wrong one, believe me, please!”
The stranger boxed Karl’s ears and his voice grew even louder.
“Where did you hounds take it? Tell it to me finally! Otherwise
you will suffer torments which you couldn’t even imagine until
Karl Bauer groaned loudly.
As a matter of fact, he was prepared for these kinds of
situations because of his training, but now everything seemed
much more difficult to him. Of one thing he was certain: by no
means could he reveal the secret; that would mean cowardice, and
the betrayal of his friends. How long would he be able to endure
the pain? Was he in danger of becoming weak, when his torturer’s
methods of cruelty became increasingly artful and more brutal?
The hooded stranger brought the glowing iron bar slowly down to
Karl’s naked body, at a distance of about four to five inches.
Although Karl had closed his eyes again, he could feel the path
of the glowing iron bar by the burning heat on his body. Every
once in a while the tormentor stopped for a short moment, and
the heat became nearly unbearable.
What was he up to?
He certainly wouldn’t…
Karl’s heart was racing when he perceived the heat at the level
of his belly button. What had he done to his wife? He had left
her alone. Karl would never have the chance to get to know his
daughter. He would never be there for her. Her name was supposed
to be Maria. He was very sure that it would be a girl. He would
die here, even if he revealed the secret. There was only one way
Karl let out a short gasp, choked vigorously, and after a brief
moment his body collapsed in a heap. His tormentor was confused,
and jumped back.
What had happened?
He let the glowing iron bar clank to the floor, and hastily
grabbed the head of his victim. Desperately he tried to open
Karl’s mouth in order to reach for the tongue, which he had
obviously swallowed. Repeatedly he struck at his victim, but
Karl was hanging limply in his chains. The stranger cursed in a
After about two minutes he gave up, frustrated, and seated
himself on a simple wooden chair that was placed in the middle
of the basement vault. He sighed and shook his head. His victim
had suffocated without revealing the secret. How should he
explain his failure?
He sighed one more time and stripped off his hood. His face was
covered with drops of sweat. He had deep black hair, sticky with
blood. His face was one of an Indian; his skin was bronzed by
the sun and lined with deep wrinkles. Nevertheless, he didn’t
seem older than thirty-five years. The Indian ran his fingers
through his hair, resigned. He glimpsed quickly at his victim
and was puzzled.
Something caught his attention. He jumped up and bent over the
lifeless body. He looked at the small fire scar on his right
forearm, the shape and size of a small coin.
November 17, 2008, 9:32 a.m.
Had she heard the door bell ringing? Maria looked. It rang once
more. This time she was sure, and slipped out of the shower. She
covered her body with a big white towel and ran barefoot through
the long hallway of her apartment to the entrance door. Shortly
before she reached the door, she turned around and ran into her
bedroom, got rid of the towel, and quickly pulled on white
panties and the first available, much-too-big T-shirt that she
could get hold of.
“Is that enough?” Maria looked down at her naked legs.
Hastily she glanced around in the room to find a pair of pants,
since the T-shirt barely reached down to her upper thighs. But
all pants seemed to be in the laundry. Maria had never had a
sense for order. She was always looking for something—a key, her
mobile phone, her favorite skirt (which she hadn’t put into the
laundry for sure), or like this time—simply something to put on.
But now there wasn’t any more time. Her shoulder-length black
hair was still wet. Maybe she should try a short haircut? She
had a pretty face, which would look even better then. At least
that’s what her mother had always told her.
Tough luck, she thought, and marched straight back to the
entrance door and looked through the peephole. A small spot of
water formed at her feet.
She opened the door.
“Señora Alvarez?” asked the attractive, athletic-looking man who
was standing in front of her in jeans and a khaki-colored polo
shirt. Maria guessed him to be in his late thirties, maybe early
forties. He had a three-day stubble and short, dark-blonde hair.
His eyes sparkled a deep blue, and on his left hand he wore an
Omega Genève watch from the seventies. From time to time he wore
glasses—Maria could see slight imprints on the bridge of his
nose. She always had this ability to catch details in seconds—a
kind of detective-like mind.
“How can I help you?” Maria responded. She noticed that her
visitor was looking at her from head to toe.
“My name is Ricardo Torres. I’m an inspector of the CNP and
unfortunately, I have to talk to you about a sad matter. May I
“A sad matter?” Maria swallowed and opened the door in a trance.
The inspector followed her, and looked surprised at the water
trail Maria left behind her on her way into the kitchen.
Somehow a cozy place, Ricardo thought. He had expected something
different. He didn’t quite know what, but he had imagined Maria
as slightly plump, conservative, and wearing a nurse uniform.
From his records he had learnt that she was working part-time
jobs in several retirement and nursing homes. She regularly
helped out and took over duties of her co-workers on shifts when
nobody really wanted to work, for example on Christmas or on New
Year’s Eve. But now, a really interesting woman was standing in
front of him. She had long legs, a perfect figure, was about
5’6” tall, 130 pounds at maximum, and had chestnut-brown eyes,
which were vividly sparkling.
They entered the kitchen at nearly the same time. Maria seemed
not to be very neat, but the mixture of colored cups,
half-tidied-up shelves, and pots with herbs provided the kitchen
with a kind of special warmth, and something that Ricardo had
always missed: a feeling of security.
Ricardo’s mother and father died early, and he had grown up with
his elder brother in the home of his uncle in a small town in
Paraguay. In his new family, everything had always been aseptic,
controlled, and tidied up. He had especially hated it when
they’d had to dress up for Mass on Sundays and his aunt cleaned
his fingernails. Even today shivers ran down his spine when he
was thinking about it.
Only now and then could he escape after school and visit some of
his local classmates. At their places everything had been so
different, so cozy. He had been offered hot tea out of a cup,
which hadn’t been meticulously color-coordinated with the rest
of the tableware. They had eaten cake directly out of their
hands, the mother of his friend had smiled at him, and even a
few crumbs on the floor hadn’t been reason enough for punishment.
This place here reminded him of those times and places. Places
where one could enjoy comfortable, joint breakfasts...Ricardo
caught himself building up a certain kind of affection for this
“Coffee?” Maria asked.
“I’d like that.”
With a smile on his face, he sat down on a chair at a big wooden
table, which was right in the middle of the kitchen. Maria
poured coffee for him in a big cup that had a logo of a small
Maria felt insecure. What could the inspector want from her? Had
anything happened to one of her friends or relatives? Had she
made a mistake in the nursing home? All of them had been very
pleased with her, and she had a close relationship with the old
people. They were always beaming when they saw Maria, and in the
last few weeks, nobody had died...
The inspector looked at her inquiringly and startled her out of
“Do you have some milk?”
“Oh, sorry. I always forget the milk because I drink my coffee
black.” Maria turned around, opened the big door of the
refrigerator, which was covered with hundreds of colored magnets,
and handed over the carton of milk.
Is it still good? Ricardo asked himself, and tried to
inconspicuously read the sell-by date on the package. But since
he wore his glasses only very seldom—out of pure vanity—he
couldn’t see the details, and finally decided to trust Maria
blindly. He poured some milk into his coffee and took a sip.
“Now, what do you have to notify me about?” Maria asked.
Ricardo paused for a moment. He didn’t have any experience with
these kinds of situations. And the fact that he somehow liked
Maria and felt very comfortable in her company didn’t make the
task any easier for him. But he had to do it.
“Señora Alvarez, I regret to tell you that it is highly likely
that we have found your father dead.”
Ricardo tried to avoid looking into Maria’s eyes.
“Could you repeat that, please?” Maria seemed to be a bit
puzzled and sat down beside him.
“Four weeks ago, our colleagues of the Mexican police discovered
two human remains, and due to some identification papers that
were found nearby one of them, he could be identified as your
father. However, I’m sorry to tell you this, there was
relatively little left of the body. According to the current
state of our investigations, your father must have died about
forty-three years ago, in approximately 1965.”
“1965? That was the year I was born, the year when my father
vanished all of a sudden.”
Maria was speechless. She had always thought that she would
never hear anything of her father ever again. Maria reflected.
Her mother, Paula, had told her that her father was a German by
the name of Karl Bauer. She’d met him the first time during her
studies in Germany, and they met again later on in Barcelona.
Karl had been working for a German cultural foundation in the
center of Barcelona. When Paula was five months pregnant with
Maria, Karl had to attend a congress in Germany, but he never
returned. After three weeks, Paula still hadn’t heard anything
from him, so she traveled to Düsseldorf to look for her husband.
Unfortunately, she found out that there hadn’t been any congress
at all. Even the investigations by the police in Germany hadn’t
revealed anything. It seemed as if Karl had never left for
Germany. Paula had been desperate, but she’d had to accept the
fact that her husband had abandoned her with the unborn child.
Finally, she traveled back to Barcelona. Four months later,
Maria was born. Without the support of her family, who cared for
Paula despite of all these adversities, she would never have
managed it. However, two months after Maria’s birth, something
strange happened: a small fortune was transferred into Paula’s
bank account with the hint “For Maria.” It was an anonymous
deposit; the transfer couldn’t be traced by the bank.
When Maria was a little girl, and even later as a teenager, she
asked her mother very often about her father, but she never
learned much about his life or his past. Her mother simply
didn’t want to talk about him. He must have run away from his
responsibilities, for whatever reason. Maybe he’d had an affair
with another woman, and that was the reason he’d vanished.
At an early age, Maria could never understand this behavior, but
after she’d experienced several disappointments with men herself,
she wasn’t surprised anymore. Only recently her longtime
boyfriend Miguel had ended their relationship, and she had
fallen into a deep state of depression. She had always thought
that this love would last forever. Both of them had always
wanted children, and this wish led finally to the failure of
their partnership. After a tubal pregnancy that nearly ended
fatally for Maria, they tried in vitro fertilization several
times, which was always combined with terrible hormone therapy.
But all attempts had failed; the pregnancy tests had been
negative every time.
At the end of their bad-luck story, Maria didn’t even know the
sense of it all. Both simply continued to grow further apart so
that they didn’t have to think about it, and didn’t have to face
the final consequence. They just didn’t want to be confronted
with the finality of their childlessness; otherwise, they would
have needed to find a meaning in life other than raising
children. They had focused their life only on this one wish.
After studying a few terms of history at the University of
Barcelona, she quit because of an unfortunate love affair with a
married professor. Had he really loved her? He wouldn’t have
left his wife and the children anyway. To realize this, Maria
had needed more than three years. When she eventually started to
feel really bad, she had to accept the consequences and put an
end to the affair.
Maria, then in her mid-thirties, met Miguel and fell in love.
Since she had counted on getting pregnant very early in life so
that she could enjoy being a mother, she had neglected to start
a career, and therefore started to work casual jobs in different
nursing and retirement homes; jobs that she liked very much, but
she also could quit rather easily when she became pregnant. But
unfortunately, that never happened.
And now, at forty-three years, Maria’s biological clock was
almost expired, and all of a sudden Miguel simply left her for
another woman, who got pregnant immediately. For weeks Maria
couldn’t stop crying and pitying herself.
Maria looked up and brought her thoughts into the present. So,
here she was, sitting with this inspector, and had just been
told that her father hadn’t run away back then; instead, he’d
died the same year she was born—shortly after he had set off for
his mysterious journey.
“How did he die, and why did they find him only now?” she asked.
Ricardo Torres coughed slightly.
“After more than forty years, this is hard to say...”
He ran his hand through his hair in embarrassment, as if he was
searching for the right words.
“While working on a new canal in a suburb of Mexico City, some
workers came across a shaft in an old basement where two dead
bodies lay. One of the corpses was, to our knowledge, lying
there for much longer. The year of death ranges approximately
between 1917 and 1920. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to
identify this victim. Your father’s body was covered with a kind
of tarp, which wasn’t air-permeable. That seems to be the reason
why the dead body and the identification papers were in a better
condition. The corpse of your father was partially mummified.”
“Mummified?” In Maria’s mind, pictures of Egyptian or Peruvian
mummies appeared, distorted faces, withered skin...she didn’t
want to think about it anymore.
“Isn’t there a hint, maybe a piece of evidence to find out what
happened?” she asked quickly.
“Well, we already have a few clues. But they are very confusing,
so we simply can’t proceed.” Ricardo became silent. How should
he explain to Maria the overall circumstances? Even for himself,
who had experienced a lot, the details of this case were
difficult to cope with and to understand. He took a deep breath
“The head and the right forearm of the corpse were cut off after
death.” He lowered his glance and went on rapidly in order to
get it over with.
“Further injuries on the ribs lead to our conclusion that the
heart of your father was removed.”
“Oh my God!” Maria put her hand to her mouth in horror.
“What does this all mean?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a cult, or some kind of ritual murder.
We’re groping in the dark,” Ricardo admitted. He was relieved to
be through with the ghastly details.
“Furthermore, we found several other things near the corpse...”
The inspector handed Maria some kind of military identification
tag and an Iron Cross, First Class, a medal of the armed forces
in Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Maria looked at the items.
The identification tag was already rather rusty, but a few
details were still clearly visible.
Next to the number:
she saw a small swastika, the symbol of Hitler’s Third Reich,
and an eagle on the tag. The eagle, however, wasn’t the Nazi
imperial eagle; it was a Mexican eagle that was sitting on a
cactus with a snake in his beak. She recognized it immediately,
thanks to her few terms studying history. Finally, this lost
time in her life had served a purpose, although she had been
more fixated on her professor in those days.
She looked up inquiringly.
“What does all this mean? Was my father a member of some kind of
secret Nazi society? What do these symbols mean? I know that in
the Second World War special organizations like Totenkopf SS (Death’s
Head Units) or Waffen SS (Armed SS) units existed in Nazi
Germany, but what, please, is this sign here?”
The eagle was sitting on top of a cactus, eating a snake. The
emblem could be found on the Mexican flag. That was something
Maria knew at least. According to the legend of the Aztecs, who
called themselves Mexica, their capital city Tenochtitlàn, today
Mexico City, was founded on the place where the prophesied eagle
had been sitting on a cactus and eating a snake.
Ricardo hesitated for a moment.
“We would like to know too, what these signs mean. Until now we
don’t have any clue. I was hoping that you could help us further.
Maybe your mother told you something about it?”
“She didn’t tell me anything at all. I think you know more about
my father than I do. My mother surely didn’t know anything about
it. And unfortunately, I cannot ask her anymore.”
Maria’s mother had died of cancer barely two years ago. It
happened terribly fast, and Maria almost didn’t have the
opportunity to say goodbye to her properly. Her mother had
always taken care of her devotedly. Because of that, she had
never missed having a father. Of course, she had visited the
families of her school friends when she was young, and had made
the acquaintance of their fathers, experiencing a different
family life; but when she was honest, she had never felt the
need for a father. But why then did she start an affair with a
professor, who was more than twenty years older than she? Was it
perhaps some kind of suppressed longing for a father figure?
“Do you still have any documents of your father which could help
us further?” Ricardo asked now. He opened an old notebook with a
leather binding and had a pen ready, as if he expected Maria to
begin an hours-long speech about the secrets of her father. As
yet, the conversation hadn’t uncovered any new knowledge. He had
made the acquaintance of a nice and extremely attractive woman,
but without any use for the investigation; he wasn’t a single
step further. Had he expected too much from this visit? Would he
indeed find no additional hints? After more than forty years,
there was obviously not much more to expect.
“Sorry, Mr. Inspector,” Maria was smiling, “but I really don’t
have any information about my father. Are you certain that this
mummy was really him? There isn’t necessarily a connection
between identification papers and a corpse, or…?”
That was true. Ricardo hadn’t expected such a question. Why had
he been so sure that the corpse really was Karl Bauer, and that
he was sitting face to face with the daughter of the victim?
What must she think of him now? He must appear to be an absolute
“You are right, Señora. Therefore, I would like to have a few
strands of hair from you in order to confirm the DNA.” He opened
an old envelope, which he produced from somewhere out of the
last pages of his notebook.
Maria went into the bathroom, returned after a few moments with
a comb and handed him the strands of hair.
“Thank you. I think that’s sufficient.” Ricardo put the hair
into the envelope as if it was a small treasure, closed it
properly, and placed it back into his notebook. Maybe there
would still be some other clues. Maybe some photos...
“Mrs. Alvarez, do you maybe have some photos of your father?
Since we have his old identification card, we could compare it
Maria reflected frantically. Photos of her father—she couldn’t
remember having ever possessed a photo of him. But then
something came into her mind.
“Maybe I have something...”
She vanished into the living room for a short moment and
returned with three big, heavy photo albums. They were covered
on the outside with different colored cloth which dated back to
“I inherited them from my mother,” she explained, and began to
flip piously through the pages, very cautiously, page by page,
without wrinkling up the delicate, nearly transparent parchment
pages between. There were hundreds of black and white photos
with white frames. Maria’s mother in a park, Maria’s grandmother
in a circle of family members, a Christmas celebration in 1967,
Maria’s first photo in the children’s ward of a hospital, a
vacation in the south of Spain in the summer of 1970...but not a
single photo of Maria’s father.
“Nothing.” Maria pushed the albums over to Ricardo, who quickly
glanced at the pictures. He was smiling at her.
“Where was that?” He pointed to a picture in which Maria was
standing next to a self-built snowman at the age of four.
Maria had to reflect.
“A pilgrimage to Lourdes. My mother was very religious.”
“You looked...cute.” Ricardo blushed a bit.
Maria gave him a short smile. “I still have a box of unsorted
She turned around, opening and closing a few cupboard doors in
the kitchen. Then she crouched in front of the sink, opened the
door, and produced cleaning agents and several pots until she
was finally holding a medium-sized silvery cookie box in her
“Nothing gets lost here.” She seated herself at the table and
solemnly opened the cookie box. The box was filled with picture
postcards, photos, and several yellow folded letters. Quickly,
her long fingers rummaged through the heap of papers, sometimes
pulling out a photo, glancing at it shortly and putting it
carefully back again, as if there was some kind of invisible
order in this heap. Ricardo noticed Maria’s delicate hands,
which were working through the photos. But finally she closed
the box again.
She shrugged with her shoulders and looked directly into
Ricardo’s eyes. But then...
"Oh! I’m an idiot!" Maria suddenly clapped the palm of her right
hand to her forehead, embarrassed. Of course she had a picture
of her father! She hadn’t thought of him for so many years...the
questions about her father had occupied her thoughts only for a
short while during her adolescence. She got up, turned to the
wall and looked at the many picture frames with family photos
which were hanging above the stove. Ricardo observed her long,
naked, tanned legs and the T-shirt that was slightly wet and
stuck to her back. She was an unbelievably attractive woman, and
Maria returned with a picture frame, which consisted of two
photos: the colored picture of her mother was a portrait shot,
and the one of her father showed him from head to toe. He must
have been approximately six feet tall; he had blonde hair and a
distinctive scar above his left cheek. Maria had always asked
herself if this scar had been a war injury.
Maria hadn’t inherited his blonde hair color. She strongly
resembled her mother, with chestnut eyes and deep-black hair.
Maria opened the picture frame and removed the photo of her
father. The portrait of her mother partially overlapped the
other picture. Only then did she realize that the photo of her
father was actually a part of a bigger group photo. He had been
photographed together with four other men in front of a big
“Here, this is the only photo I have of my father.”
Maria pushed it over the table to the inspector. “But I can only
give you a copy, because this is my only memory of him, and I
don’t want it to get lost.”
“Thank you, that isn’t necessary.” Ricardo said. “There is
definitely a similarity between this picture and the picture on
the identification papers.”
He regarded the other men in the picture intently.
“Did your mother tell you anything about these other men? Who
“No, until today I wasn’t even aware that this was a group photo.
The frame with the pictures was a present from my mother many
Ricardo knew that it was time for him to leave. He wouldn’t
receive any further information here. But he didn’t want to go.
What could he do in order to keep in touch with Maria? Should he
simply ask her if he may invite her to dinner, if he could see
her again? Should he tell her that he was interested in her and
that he would like to get to know her better?
And this, after he had just delivered to her the message of her
father’s death? No, he had to behave professionally; he had come
to fulfill his duty and had executed the task. Inspector Torres
stood up, gave Maria a card with his phone number and said
goodbye to her, with additional condolences.
If Maria remembered something else, or if any questions were
left, she could call him anytime, day or night. Maria
accompanied the inspector to the door, closed it, and then
leaned with her back against the door. Her gaze fell
automatically to the inspector’s business card, which she was
still holding in her hand. She took the smartphone from the
dresser in the hallway, pushed it open, and added the phone
number under the name Ricardo. She didn’t know why, but somehow
he was cute.
Only then did she realize that she was wearing a much-too-big
jersey of Barça, the famous football club of Barcelona. It was
the last reminder of her ex-boyfriend. She shook her head. At
the moment she couldn’t think straight. There were too many
impressions and disturbing facts that she had been confronted
with in too short a time frame. Furthermore, she didn’t know
what she should feel, or if she was feeling anything at all. She
had never met her father, and she therefore had never been able
to build up an emotional connection to him. Should she be sad,
or furious now?
Slowly, she went into the kitchen. She was agitated and confused.
She certainly hadn’t expected such an eventful day when she got
up that morning. Her father had been murdered. He hadn’t simply
abandoned his family. Maria opened the fridge and looked for a
short while at the contents—butter, two yogurts, open milk, a
half-filled jar of pickled cucumbers and a piece of cheese
wrapped in clear film on a plate. She opened the freezer
compartment with a smile and took out a carton of Chunky Monkey
and enjoyed two or three hasty spoonfuls of it; that calmed her
down. Sometimes she believed she was addicted to this ice cream.
After that she sat down again at the table and drew her bare
knees firmly to her upper body. She fished a short pencil and a
piece of paper out of the drawer below the kitchen table and
started to draw the symbol on the identification tag from memory.
She closed her eyes and could see the tag, like a photo in her
mind—an ability which she’d had since she was a child. It was an
easy task for her to recall things like pictures; she had some
kind of photographic mind. She had never needed to train it,
this gift was simply there. In this manner she had memorized
pages of vocabulary and historical dates at school and at
The Mexican eagle, sitting on a cactus and eating a snake, below
a Nazi swastika…
Should she go and see her “beloved” professor and ask him if he
knew the symbol? She had promised herself she would never see
Why couldn’t she let go, after more than fifteen years?
And this strange number: 1959011BO?
What could it mean? She didn’t have any clue. 1959? No, it
couldn’t possibly be the year 1959...World War II had been over
for more than fifteen years. The “11” could maybe stand for
November...did anything of importance happen in November of
1959? She would look it up on Wikipedia.
Maria’s glance shifted over the table and rested on the back of
the picture of her father. Before she went to the door with the
inspector, she had put the photo face down on the table. On the
back of the picture there was something written with a pencil.
Maria took the photo and looked at it:
“Instituto Cultura Alemana, Via Gràcia 12, Barcelona”
....interested how the story continues?
Maria’s father take into his grave?
Who else is after the secret?
"The new novel of
Sven Thoemen is an energetic thriller full of suspense, speed,
mystery and surprises embedded in over 500 years of history!"