Chief Inspector Otto Schmied of the Zurich Kriminal Polizei was seated at his desk, eyes closed, taking deep yoga breaths, trying to calm himself, trying to control the fury that filled him.
In police procedure there were rules that were so basic, so obvious, that no one had thought it even necessary to put them in the police manual. They were simply taken for granted, like eating, or sleeping, or breathing. For example, when an accident-related fatality occurred, the first thing the investigating detective did - the very first thing a detective did, the simple, obvious, you-don't-have-to-draw-it-on-a-fucking-blackboard thing he did - was to visit the scene of the accident. Nothing could be more elementary than that. Yet staring up at Chief Inspector Otto Schmied from his desk was a report from Detective Max Hornung that violated every element of police procedure. I should have expected it, the Inspector told himself bitterly. Why am I even surprised?
Detective Hornung was Inspector Schmied's albatross, his bete noire, his - Inspector Schmied was an ardent admirer of Melville - his Moby Dick. The inspector took another deep breath and slowly exhaled. Then, only slightly less agitated, he picked up Detective Hornung's report and read it again from the beginning.
BRANDTOUR OFFIZIER REPORT
Wednesday, November 7 TIME: 1:15 A.M. SUBJECT: Report from central switchboard of accident at Roffe and Sons administration building at Eichenbahn factory TYPE OF ACCIDENT: Unknown CAUSE OF ACCIDENT: Unknown NUMBER OF INJURED OR DECEASED: Unknown TIME: 1:27 A.M. SUBJECT: Second message from central switchboard re accident at Roffe and Sons TYPE OF ACCIDENT: Elevator crash CAUSE OF ACCIDENT: Unknown NUMBER OF INJURED OR DECEASED: One female, deceased
I began an immediate investigation. By 1:35 A.M. I obtained the name of the superintendent of the Roffe and Sons administration building and from him got the name of the chief architect of the building.
2:30 A.M. I located the chief architect. He was celebrating his birthday at La Puce. He gave me the name of the company that had installed the elevators in the building, Rudolf Schatz, A. G.
At 3:15 A.M. I telephoned Mr. Rudolf Schatz at his home and requested him to immediately locate the plans for the elevators. I also requested the master budget sheets along with preliminary estimates, final estimates and final costs; I also requested a complete inventory of all mechanical and electrical materials used.
At this point Inspector Schmied could feel a familiar twitch starting in his right cheek. He took several deep breaths and read on.
6:15 A.M. The requested documents were delivered to me here at police headquarters by Mr. Schatz's wife. After an examination of the preliminary budget and fianl costs I was satisfied that:
no inferior materials were substituted in building the elevators;
because of the reputation of the builders, inferior workmanship could be ruled out as a cause of the crash;
the safety measures built into the elevators were adequate;
my conclusion therefore was that the cause of the crash was not an accident [Signed] Max Hornung, CID
N.B. Since my phone calls took place during the course of the night and early morning, it is possible that you may receive one or two complaints from some of the people I might have awakened.
Inspector Schmied savagely slammed the report down on his desk. "It is possible!" "Might have awakened"! The chief inspector had been under attack the entire morning by half of the officials of the Swiss government. What did he think he was running - a gestapo? How dare he awaken the president of a respectable building corporation and order him to deliver documents in the middle of the night? How dare he impugn the integrity of a reputable firm like Rudolf Schatz? And on and on and on.
But the thing that was so stunning - that was so incredible - was that Detective Max Hornung had not even appeared at the scene of the accident until fourteen hours after it was reported! By the time he arrived the victim had been removed, identified and autopsied. Half a dozen other detectives had examined the scene of the accident, had questioned witnesses and had filed their reports.
When Chief Inspector Schmied finished rereading Detective Max Hornung's report, he summoned him to his office.
The very sight of Detective Max Hornung was anathema to the chief inspector. Max Hornung was a dumpy, wistful-looking man, egg-bald, with a face that had been put together by an absentminded prankster. His head was too large, his ears were too small, and his mouth was a raisin stuck in the middle of a pudding face. Detective Max Hornung was six inches too short to meet the rigid standards of the Zurich Kriminal Polizei, fifteen pounds too light, and hopelessly nearsighted. To top it all off, he was arrogant. All the men on the force felt unanimously about Detective Hornung: they hated him.
"Why don't you fire him?" the chief inspector's wife had asked, and he had almost struck her.
The reason that Max Hornung was on the Zurich detective force was that he had single-handedly contributed more to the Swiss national income than all the chocolate and watch factories combined. Max Hornung was an accountant, a mathematical genius with an encyclopedic knowledge of fiscal matters, an instinct for the chicanery of man, and a patience that would have made Job weep with envy. Max had been a clerk in the Betrug Abteilung, the department set up to investigate financial frauds, irregularities in stock sales and banking transactions, and the ebb and flow of currency in and out of Switzerland. It was Max Hornung who had brought the smuggling of illegal money into Switzerland to a standstill, who had ferreted out billions of dollars' worth of ingenious but illicit financial schemes, and who had put half a dozen of the world's most respected business leaders in prison. No matter how cunningly assets were concealed, mingled, re-mingled, sent to the Seychelles to be laundered, transferred and retransferred through a complex series of dummy corporations, in the end Max Hornung would ferret out the truth. In short, he had made himself the terror of the Swiss financial community.
Above all things that they held sacred and dear, the Swiss valued their privacy. With Max Hornung on the loose, there was no privacy.
Max's salary as a financial watchdog was meager. He had been offered bribes of a million francs in numbered bank accounts, a chalet at Cortina d'Ampezzo, a yacht, and in half a dozen instances beautiful, nubile women. In each case the bribe had been rejected and the authorities promptly notified. Max Hornung cared nothing for money. He could have become a millionaire simply by applying his financial skills to the stock market, but the idea never even occurred to him. Max Hornung was interested in but one thing: catching those who strayed from the path of financial probity. Ah, yes, there was one other wish that consumed Max Hornung, and in the end it proved to be a blessing to the business community. For reasons which no one could fathom, Max Hornung wanted to be a police detective. He envisioned himself as a kind of Sherlock Holmes or Maigret, patiently following a labyrinth of clues, relentlessly stalking the criminal to his lair. When one of Switzerland's leading financiers accidentally learned of Max Hornung's ambitions to be a sleuth, he immediately got together with a few powerful friends, and within forty-eight hours Max Hornung was offered a job on the Zurich police force as a detective. Max could not believe his good fortune. He accepted with alacrity, and the entire business community breathed a collective sigh of relief and resumed its arcane activities.
Chief Inspector Schmied had not even been consulted about the matter. He had received a telephone call from the most powerful political leader in Switzerland, had been given his instructions, and there the matter had ended. Or, to be more accurate, there it had begun. For the chief inspector, it was the beginning of a Gethsemane that showed no sign of ending. He had honestly tried to get over his resentment at having a detective - an inexperienced and unqualified one at that - forced upon him. He assumed that there had to be some strong political motivation for such an unheard-of move. Very well, he was determined to cooperate, confident that he could handle the situation easily. His confidence was shaken the moment Max Hornung reported to him. The detective's appearance was ridiculous enough. But what stunned Inspector Schmied as he looked at this lump of, humanity was the man's attitude of superiority. He exuded an air that said: Max Hornung is here - now you can all relax and stop worrying.
Inspector Schmied's thoughts of any easy co-operation vanished. Instead he devised another approach. He tried to sweep Max Hornung under the rug, as it were, by transferring him from department to department, assigning him unimportant jobs. Max worked in the Kriminal-Tech Abteilung, the fingerprint-and-identification division, and the Fahn-dungsabteilung, the division for stolen property and missing persons. But always Max Hornung kept returning, like a bad centime.
There was a rule that every detective had to work as Brandtour Offizier, on the night emergency desk, one week out of every twelve. Without fail, each time Max was on duty, something important would occur, and while Inspector Schmied's other detectives ran around trying to track down clues, Max would solve the case. It was infuriating.
He knew absolutely nothing about police procedure, criminology, forensics, ballistics, or criminal psychology - all the things that the other detectives were experienced in - and yet he kept solving cases that baffled everyone else. Chief Inspector Schmied came to the conclusion that Max Hornung was the luckiest man who ever lived.
In reality, luck had nothing to do with it. Detective Max Hornung solved criminal cases in exactly the same way that accountant Max Hornung had exposed a hundred ingenious schemes to defraud banks and the government. Max Hornung had a single-track mind, and it was a very narrow-gauge track at that. All he needed was one loose thread, one tiny piece that did not fit into the rest of the fabric, and once he had that he would begin to unravel it, until somebody's brilliant, foolproof scheme fell apart at the seams.
The fact that Max had a photographic memory drove his colleagues crazy. Max could instantly recall anything he had ever hard, read or seen.
Another mark against him, if indeed one was needed, was that his expense accounts were an embarrassment to the entire detective squadron. The first time he had turned in an expense sheet, the Oberleutnant had summoned him to his office and said genially, "You've obviously made a mistake in your figures here, Max."
The equivalent of informing Capablanca that he had sacrificed his queen through stupidity.
Max blinked. "A mistake in my figures?"
"Yes. Several, in fact." The Oberleutnant pointed to the paper in front of him. "Transportation across town, eighty centimes. Return, eighty centimes." He looked up and said, "The minimum taxi fare would be thirty-four francs each way."
"Yes, sir. That's why I used the bus."
The Oberleutnant stared at him. "A bus?"
None of the detectives was required to ride buses while on a case. It was unheard of. The only reply he could think of was "Well, it's - it's not necessary. I mean - we naturally don't encourage spendthrifts in this department, Hornung, but we do have a decent expense budget. Another thing. You were out in the field on this case for three days. You forgot to include meals."
"No, Herr Oberleutnant. I only take coffee in the morning and I prepare my own lunches and carry a lunch pail. My dinners are listed there."
And so they were. Three dinners, total: sixteen francs. He must have eaten at the Salvation Army kitchen.
The Oberleutnant said coldly, "Detective Hornung, this department existed for a hundred years before you joined it, and it will exist for a hundred years after you leave it. There are certain traditions that we observe here." He shoved the expense account back to Max. "You must think about your colleagues, you know. Now take this, revise it, and return it."
"Yes, Herr Oberleutnant. I - I'm sorry if I did it incorrectly."
A generous wave of the hand. "Quite all right. After all, you're new here."
Thirty minutes later Detective Max Hornung turned in his revised account. He had decreased his expenses by another 3 percent.
Now, on this day in November, Chief Inspector Schmied was holding Detective Max Hornung's report in his hand while the author of the report stood before him. Detective Hornung was wearing a bright-blue suit, brown shoes and white socks. In spite of his resolves, and the calming yoga breathing exercises, Inspector Schmied found himself yelling. "You were in charge here when that report came in. It was your job to investigate the accident and you arrived on the scene fourteen hours later! The whole fucking New Zealand police force could have been flown here and been back home in that time."
"Oh, no, sir. The flying time from New Zealand to Zurich by jet is - "
"Oh, shut up!"
Chief Inspector Schmied ran his hands through his thick, rapidly graying hair, trying to think what to say to this man. You could not insult him, you could not reason with him. He was an idiot, shot with luck.
Chief Inspector Schmied barked, "I will not tolerate incompetence in my department, Hornung. When the other detectives came on duty and saw the report, they immediately went to the scene to inspect the accident. They called an ambulance, had the body taken to the morgue, identified it - " He knew he was talking too fast again, and he forced himself to calm down. "In short, Hornung, they did everything a good detective is supposed to do. While you were sitting in your office waking up half of the most important men in Switzerland, in the middle of the night."
"I thought - "
"Don't! I've been on the phone apologizing the whole damned morning because of you."
"I had to find out - "
"Oh, get out of here Hornung!"
"Yes, sir. Is it all right if I attend the funeral? It's this morning."
"Thank you, sir. I - "
It was thirty minutes before Chief Inspector Schmied was breathing normally again.