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CHAPTER 1
Karl Bauer’s Death

Mexico City
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.
Karl hesitated.
“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 now!”

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 out.

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 foreign language.

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.

He understood...



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CHAPTER 2
Maria
Barcelona
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 come in?”
“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 unknown woman.
“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 grinning pig.
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 her thoughts.
“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 and continued.
“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:
1959011BO

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 beginner.
“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 to them.”
“Photos?”
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 the sixties.
“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 photos somewhere.”
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 hand.

“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.
“I’m sorry.”
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 so natural.
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 entrance door.
“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 they are?”
“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 years ago.”
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 university.
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 him again...
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?

What shadowy secret did Maria’s father take into his grave?

What is 1959011BO?

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!"

 

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