Copyright© 2020 by Lumpy
Taylor managed to get a few hours’ sleep on the flight. It wasn’t really enough, but it allowed him to beg off when Graf suggested Taylor check into his hotel and get a few hours’ sleep before they started. While Taylor was tired, he was not going to put off the search for Whitaker. He had gotten enough practice going without sleep in the service. He was confident he would make it through, now.
Seeing his urgency, Graf suggested they skip going by the station and instead head straight to the crime scene. Traffic was fairly light as it was still early, in Berlin.
The apartment building was a style Taylor had seen a lot over the years in Germany. Buildings rebuilt after the war quickly, and then flourished with Gothic embellishments to try and bring back the sense of ‘old Europe.’ From the cars parked and the high-end retail shops scattered among the residential buildings, it was clear this was a more affluent part of the city. From what he had been able to find on the Internet about the Wisslers, this should not be surprising. The family was from old money dating back to the eighteen hundreds. True this was an outlying branch of the family, but still close enough that it stood to reason they had money.
The doorman waved Graf through as he entered the lavishly decorated lobby. Considering how much Graf would have been in and out of the building during the initial investigation, probably even questioning the doorman at some point, that was not so surprising.
The Wisslers’ penthouse condo was easy to identify as they stepped off the elevator since the door still had yellow tape stretched across it. Graf reached into his pocket and pulled out a key, opening the door. The apartment was very nice on the inside, at least to Taylor’s untrained eye, with what he would guess was expensive furniture. The place was also a mess. Clutter was stacked up on the table in the entrance hallway, and Taylor could see stacks of things on the floor in the room in front of him. The apartment was not hoarder bad, but if the Wissler’s had been given ten more years, it would have gotten there.
A series of sticky notes lined the wall next to the front door. Taylor could not tell what they said since they were all in German, and he made a mental note to ask Graf about it. Taylor followed the detective through the front entryway into what would have been a living room or large sitting room at one time.
Bookshelves stuffed with old books lined the walls. A large overstuffed chair sat in the middle of the room, facing a fireplace with a small end table next to it, holding a lamp and a few books. Taylor knew this was where the old lady’s body was found from the reports he read on the plane, but the bloodstain across one side would have made that pretty obvious on its own.
The floor around the chair was covered in loose papers and scattered books. A couple of intact stacks of papers and books suggested to Taylor that the mess was once collected in organized stacks, although the sheer volume would still have made the room feel cluttered. Someone had been looking for something and had torn through every piece of documentation they could find in their search, not giving a damn about the havoc they caused.
“Her neighbor found her in this chair, several knife wounds to the chest. Our medical examiner said she would have probably died from the first stab since it nicked a large vein, but it was the second stab that killed her, cutting through part of her heart. She was almost certainly dead when the assailant stabbed her the third time.”
“The report said the stabs were more precise than aggressive or violent.”
“That is correct. There were no hesitation marks, and the killer only stabbed far enough to hit what she, or he, was aiming at. No bruising from the hand or pommel impact, no twisting or wrenching. Just smooth in, smooth out.”
“Possibly. She was very old and, according to her neighbors, had trouble walking and moving, meaning she almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to avoid the attack. The lack of defensive wounds on the hands suggests surprise, however.”
“The report said there was no forced entry.”
“Correct. The frame and lock are intact. There is an additional deadbolt, but my understanding is she found it difficult to lock and usually ignored it. The primary lock is old and well scuffed, making it difficult to tell if there was any attempt to pick the lock. I can say with fair certainty that brute force lock picking tools like a lock pick gun weren’t used, but that’s about it. Considering the higher profile nature of the case, I considered having the lock removed and examined at the lab, but my guess is the internal mechanism has decades of internal wear as well, again hiding anything of note. My best guess is the killer was someone who already had access to the apartment, but there remains a chance it was someone without access but with the requisite skill.”
“You said nothing was taken from the apartment. How could you possibly tell?”
Taylor waved his hand around the room and the piles of clutter. He had not walked the rest of the apartment yet, but he would bet the entire thing looked similar.
“I should have said nothing major was missing. The Wisslers’ had all of their notable valuables insured, and we have been able to locate all of those items here inside the apartment. Again, I cannot rule out someone taking an item we have not been able to say was in the apartment at the time of her death, for obvious reasons.”
“The notes all around the apartment, what do they say?”
Taylor had seen more notes in the sitting room, similar to those by the front door. They were by lamps, by doorways, and by the fireplace, as well as all over the small table that sat next to the sitting chair.
“They are reminders. Lock the door, turn off the light, don’t forget your keys ... things like that. Herr Wissler had a rapidly deteriorating form of Alzheimer’s. His recent death was due to complications from that illness. The notes are a common tactic for those living with degenerative illnesses to help in completing mundane but important tasks, or so I’m told.”
“His autopsy confirmed the illness?”
“I don’t believe he had an autopsy. I’ve only glanced over his records to confirm similar questions I’ve had, but the investigating medical examiner did a cursory exam and looked over Herr Wissler’s medical records and decided an autopsy was not necessary. From his notes, there were enough tests in his medical records to not doubt the diagnosis, and of course, what we see here also supports it.”
“His wife didn’t seem to agree. She asked Whitaker to come look into it for her.”
“Yes, as I said, she was very persistent to us as well. My understanding is she didn’t doubt her husband’s diagnosis, just his manner of death.”
“Which means there’s a chance her death was connected, right?”
“Was there a chance that a retired man with no known enemies and a fatal disease, was murdered in such a way as to go unnoticed for reasons we cannot ascertain, and his wife murdered by an intruder capable of picking the lock to her apartment, killing her confidently without hesitation or overkill, and leaving without being seen on video or by neighbors? I suppose there is a chance, but it would not be my primary area of focus.”
“Your primary focus is on her house guest, who’s gone missing,” Taylor said, bringing his concerns out into the open.
“As I told you and your Director Solomon, my interest in Agent Whitaker is only as a witness. While I do find it concerning she has disappeared so thoroughly, and that she visited the site around the time of Frau Wissler’s death, I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. The longer she remains unaccounted for, however, the less I am inclined to offer it.”
Taylor did not believe him for a second. Had he not known Whitaker, she would have been Taylor’s prime suspect, too. He did know her, though, and he was sure there was something he was missing that would explain her disappearance.
Taylor bent down and picked up several pieces of paper near the side of the chair with the most dried blood on it. While the tops of the paper were covered in shoe prints, the thing Taylor found notable, was the dried blood on the side opposite the shoe print, the side that faced the floor.
This was not a pool of blood - since most of that drained into the chair, absorbed by its cushions - but underneath the paper, Taylor could see a few dried bloodstains on the wooden floor.
“We noticed that, too,” Graf said. “She was killed before everything was scattered around, which probably means her assailant was looking for something.”
Taylor let out a grunt of acknowledgment but did not say anything else. Graf followed him as he walked the rest of the apartment. The place was surprisingly large with more bedrooms and bathrooms than the small house where he’d grown up. From his brief tour and a rough thought to the outside of the building, Taylor would guess the apartment took up a fourth of the top floor of the building.
Every one of the rooms was the same as the sitting room. The contents of drawers, medicine cabinets, and closets were all emptied, their contents were strewn about. Whoever had tossed this place had been thorough.
“You’re certain nothing was taken?”
“As certain as we can be. Besides nothing worth insuring being missing, the fact that every room in the apartment was equally dismantled, suggests the person didn’t find what they were looking for.”
“Why do you say that?”
“If you find what you’re looking for, do you keep searching? It’s possible the person found what they wanted in the very last drawer or box in the very last room they searched, but that seems unlikely.”
The reasoning was sound, and probably something Whitaker would have noticed. This kind of investigation was outside of Taylor’s expertise.
“Which means there’s nothing here to tell us where Whitaker went.”
“Hence our coming to you.”
“I have a number for the place she was staying at, in case something came up involving our daughter. I think it was the plaza ... something. I believe Mrs. Wissler was paying for it.”
“Yes, we identified that off of Frau Wissler’s phone records. We have instructed the hotel staff to change the lock and notify us if she returns. We went over her room but found nothing of note.”
“I’d like to see it for myself, if that’s okay.”
“I thought you might. I have made sure the hotel does nothing with the room until you have had a chance to see it.”
The drive to the hotel did not take long, which made sense. If Whitaker’s aunt had booked the room, she would have picked one nearby. Had Graf not told him Wissler paid for the hotel, Taylor would have known it the moment he saw the building. Whitaker was not cheap, but she tended to choose mid-range chain hotels when they stayed somewhere. She had joked often about how much money people spent to rent swanky rooms they basically only slept in. The hotel Whitaker’s aunt picked was very upscale, with fancy carpets and fancier chandeliers in the lobby.
Graf retrieved a key-card from the manager and lead Taylor up to Whitaker’s room, which was a stark contrast to the apartment they had just been in. Everything was neat and tidy. Not just the stuff cleaned by the hotel staff, but Whitaker’s luggage was completely squared away. Clothes had been removed from bags and put into the drawers, something Taylor had never understood. If it was just him, he would have lived out of his suitcase, but Whitaker insisted it kept clothes from looking like that’s where they had been.
Her toiletries were all neatly returned to her traveling case, not strewn about the counter as Taylor would have left them. In short, the room felt very much like Whitaker. While his mind was already taking everything in, looking for something to lead him to her, he could not help but feel a pang of sadness as he was reminded about the foibles that just made her more endearing.
Taylor stopped reminiscing as he looked through the drawers of clothes. Everything was neatly folded, but once he started looking, it was not exactly the way she would have done it, after all.
“Did your people toss the room?”
“Yes, looking for something to tell us where she went. I told my men to put everything back as they found it, so we wouldn’t scare her off if she came back. Did we miss something?”
“Not really, you just didn’t put things back the way she would have. She’s crazy anal-retentive. All of her shirts and pants would be facing the same side up and in the same direction. Some of the stuff here is upside down or backward. It just seemed weird that someone would have taken her things and put them back. Makes sense from what you said, though.”
“Didn’t help. We didn’t find anything in our search, and she never came back.”
Taylor made a non-committal noise and continued his circuit of the hotel room while Graf stood off to one side, watching him. As the German officer had said, there did not seem to be anything notable, at least in plain sight.
Taylor, however, knew Whitaker. He stopped back at the dresser, knelt down, and pulled out the bottom left draw as far as it would go. Once it was extended almost all the way, he reached in and around, bending his arm over the back of the drawer in a strange angle until he found what he was looking for. A moment later, he pulled out a thin manila envelope, creased and crumpled but intact. He then turned the envelope upside down, letting a brass key slide into his palm.
“What’s that?” Graf said, standing up straighter and stepping towards Taylor.