The body was positioned at a strange, distorted angle, as if the murderer had tried to recreate a grotesque scene from a medieval Danse Macabre painting. Detective Kai Blödtraum carefully wiped off remnants of coagulated egg yolk from his mustache and squinted at the dusty light bulb. It was four o’clock in the morning, and dawn had already begun to color the roofs of old Berlin houses in playful shades of tender apricot. The bright electric light was out of place and unwanted.
The dingy one-room apartment in a tumbledown four-story building near the Kottbusser Tor station had clearly been abandoned by its owners, and yet untouched by the marvels of gentrification revitalizing the Kreuzberg borough, traditional home of expats, counterculture, and romanticized crime. The apartment was devoid of any furniture, with the notable exception of a rickety brownish cupboard with a large copper statue of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara sitting on top of it.
“He looks familiar.” Blödtraum’s voice was raspy. He cleared his throat and coughed.
“Chris Green,” Detective Alp Sentürk uttered, averting his gaze.
“Yes ... yes...” Blödtraum covered his eyes. His hands were shaking badly. “Chris Green. Isn’t that ... something like you?”
“I mean, that name ... It’s common, right? Like your name. I mean, your name is common. In your circles.”
“It is common.” Sentürk nodded thoughtfully. “I had this friend called Rajendra von Hinterlaus. I think that was, like, less common. Even in your circles.”
They went silent. Sentürk’s eyes were roaming the room, trying to avoid any contact with the corpse.
“What do we do now?” Blödtraum raised his hands theatrically. “This guy is found dead in this abandoned apartment, his skull smashed with a sledgehammer or something...”
“Like this one.” Sentürk pointed at a sledgehammer accurately nested on a fluffy pillow covering an otherwise empty toolbox.
“We’ve been over this.” The irritation in Blödtraum’s voice was palpable. “It’s new. Completely clean. You’d need some tools and quite a bit of time to wash off all the ... you know. Why would the murderer do that? It makes no sense.”
“Like the sixth season of Lost.” Sentürk shook his head. “Man, am I the only one who thinks that they shouldn’t have done that whole afterlife thingy? And they never explained that thing with Walt, and the numbers, and why Jacob’s mother –”
“All we have is a piece of paper,” Blödtraum interrupted. “A piece of paper he was clasping ... With one name on it. Chris Green. What kind of a name is that?”
“Yeah.” Sentürk peeled a bit of wallpaper off the decrepit wall. “Green. Not Blue or something. Or Magenta. Chris Magenta. No, that sounds like a porn actor.”
“We don’t even know whether it’s Christian or Christopher or whatever other name it’s short of...”
Sentürk made a tiny roll out of the wallpaper scrap and threw it away.
“We can’t, like, google it or something, right? There would be, like, a million results.”
“Already tried.” Blödtraum sat down on a pile of dusty old newspapers that the former owner had been apparently collecting. “It’s a mess. Only on the first page there’s a horseman, a baseball player, a railway manager, an Amazon specialist, a Pentecostal theologian, and a guy writing short stories on some website called Booksie. All Chris Greens.”
“Maybe it’s the same guy,” Sentürk said encouragingly. “Maybe he teaches theology on a horse in a railway station while writing stuff.”
The door opened with a menacing squeal.
Blödtraum sprang up, a 1976 edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung firmly attached to the bottom of his trousers.
A casually dressed, gray-haired man stood in the doorway, seemingly absorbed by a multi-colored ice cream he was scrutinizing from beyond semi-transparent sunglasses.
Sentürk made a move towards the sledgehammer. The stranger tilted his head. Sentürk stepped back and scratched his nose.
“Hello.” The stranger spoke in English. “I’m terribly sorry to intrude like this. My name is Chris Green.”
Sentürk opened his mouth.
“May I see some identification, please?” Blödtraum frowned, discreetly disengaging his posterior from the sticky newspaper.
The stranger accurately placed the ice cream on top of the statue of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Thawing raspberry and caramel-flavored milk flowed into the bodhisattva’s impassive left eye.
The man who called himself Chris Green sighed and spread his hands.
“Identification?” He shook his head indignantly. “Really, now ... Why don’t you show me some identification?”
Blödtraum grimaced. His mustache drooped over the corners of his mouth, like the whiskers of a walrus.
“I’m Detective Blödtraum, and this is Detective Sentürk –”
“You pronounce it wrong,” Sentürk said. “There must be a special letter that stands for a sh sound, like in schön. Not the z sound, like in Sahne. I’ve told you many times.”
“– from the Berlin Police, Directorate Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.”
“I see, I see.” There was unmistakable sarcasm in the stranger’s voice. “Berlin Police ... Direct, orate, free drinks, hymen, Trotsky ... These are just words!” He shouted unexpectedly. “Words! Words! Wooooooords!!”
Blödtraum froze. Sentürk made a careful step towards the sledgehammer.
“Sir, perhaps you need –” Blödtraum began diplomatically.
“What I need,” Chris Green spoke calmly, “is Brahms’s Fourth Symphony in e minor. The second movement, in particular, is soothing. The way the main theme alternates between the tonic and the modal-sounding secondary harmony is quite ingenious, really.”
“Sir, we really need to see some ID.” Blödtraum stretched out his hand.
“I’ll show you ID...” Chris Green mumbled, fishing out an outdated iPhone from the side pocket of his jeans and fumbling with it for a few seconds. “You!” He suddenly pointed his finger at Sentürk. “You know what you said just before I entered this God-forsaken place? You said, ‘Maybe it’s the same guy. Maybe he teaches theology on a horse in a railway station while writing stuff.’ Am I right?”
Sentürk blinked in disbelief.
“You were listening,” he said incredulously.
“Oh really? Was I also listening when you said, a few minutes ago, ‘I had this friend called Rajendra von Hinterlaus. I think that was, like, less common. Even in your circles.’ Even if I did, do you think I would’ve remembered that stupid name now?”
“Give me that!” Frowning angrily, Sentürk tried to pry the iPhone from the stranger’s hand. He dropped the phone, but Blödtraum quickly picked it up.
“Oh, please, be my guests.” Chris Green made a broad gesture. “It’s all in there. The Booksie website. See? This is my unpublished draft of a short story. It’s not finished yet. Just read from where the dialogue begins.”
Blödtraum read aloud:
“‘He looks familiar.’ Blödtraum’s voice was raspy. He cleared his throat and coughed.
‘Chris Green,’ Detective Alp Sentürk uttered, averting his gaze.
‘Yes ... yes... ‘ Blödtraum covered his eyes. His hands were shaking badly. ‘Chris Green. Isn’t that ... something like you?‘“
Blödtraum’s grip loosened. The iPhone fell on the floor with a dull clang.
“How...” Sentürk murmured. “How is this possible?”
“It is possible.” Chris Green nodded solemnly and grabbed the phone. “It’s hard to accept, but it’s possible. You see...” He sighed. “You see, you are two characters in my short story. Tentatively entitled Existence, it begins with a murder investigation, the only clue being the name Chris Green scribbled on a piece of paper. The two detectives, Kai Blödtraum and Alp Sentürk, eventually meet Chris Green, who reveals to them that they are actually characters in his short story, tentatively entitled Existence, which begins with a –”
“Stop it!!” Sentürk screamed, covering his ears in fear.
“Why?” Chris Green asked calmly. “Aren’t our real lives even stranger than that? In another short story of mine, No Windows, everything in the world simply disappears, step by step, starting with computer software and ending with people. In Banana Petroleum, ominous linguistic absurdities are only resolved with the help of an existential plot twist. Anything can happen. And this story...” He scratched his chin. “Well, the reason why I’m communicating with you two is you.” He nodded at Blödtraum.
“Me?” Blödtraum’s voice was quivering.
“Yes, you. You are a crossover character. See this guy holding a bunny? It’s an interesting breed, by the way. The bunny, not the guy. A Dwarf Hotot – aren’t they just the cutest, fluffiest things? Anyway, that guy is Oleg Roschin, another author publishing on the Booksie website. He writes those interconnected futuristic stories with recurrent characters. Your American relatives are somewhat prominent. There is Archie Bloedtraum, a saxophone player, who, in the short story Nothing but the Truth, effectively triggers the Second Cold War in the year 2079. And another Bloedtraum is a raunchy psychologist on the planet Toliman a few centuries later. Featured in The Last of the Nsheos – a pretty good story, if I do say so myself.”
“This is not real.” Blödtraum spoke slowly and monotonously. “This is a nightmare. I’ll wake up soon.”