On a Murder Charge!
Garmisch, Bavaria, Germany
It was mid September and another beautifully warm day. It was one of my days off and I decided to ride the short trip up to one of the three lakes that lay in the proximity of Garmisch, the Riesersee. I decided to take my racing bike as it was on paved roads that were not so steep. Half an hour later I reached the lake, the warm weather and half mile of incline leaving me sweating when I finally dismounted. Riesersee is not a big lake, one could walk round it in 30 minutes and has little of interest except for the general scenery, with just the hotel that has a fine lakeside terrace should one require a meal or drink. Not that any of us cheapskate Brits would contemplate such extravagance. We would content ourselves with bringing our dirt-cheap brews fresh from the fridge.
And so it was that on walking round the lake I spied two more cheapskates, thin, spider-limbed Hughie and beer-bellied ‘Sweat’, who, wherever he was, always oozed a sense of permanence, lazing on a grassy knoll, the inevitable and now apparently empty beer bottles lying forlornly on the grass. I walked up, laid the bike on the ground nearby and walked over. Sitting down beside them I extricated from my small rucksack a beer, still cool and streaked with condensation. Sweat looked on, salivating at the sight.
“Yez only got the one, Pete?” he asked, imbuing the question with a wistfulness that was both pathetic and irresistible.
“No,” I replied, in my W.C. Fields voice. “I have yet another, which I am about to immerse in yonder lake, the better to retain that optimum temperature that brings out fully the flavour of the delightful German brew.” Sweat’s smile at my impersonation ill disguised his disappointment.
“On the other hand,” I said, pointing at my small rucksack, “as you look like giving me a hard time if I don’t, you can have it.”
“Fine man y’are,” declared Sweat, suddenly galvanised, and dived into my pack, pulling out the bottle and looking at it tenderly, as one would a new born baby, before attacking the top with the opener and taking a huge swig. An action which so alarmed Hughie that he pulled at his arm.
“Hey Sweat, steady on, save some for me.” It was like watching two vampires lusting after blood.
So there we were, an Englishman an Irishman and a Scotsman, idly relaxing on our days off from bike repair, dishwashing and reservations office respectively, taking in the scenery and beer on the sun-drenched bank of a Bavarian lake surrounded by mountains, discussing the meaning of the universe and the possible champions of the new season’s English football league. I was laid out on the grass in shorts and T-shirt, my arm and hand propping up my head and soaking up the sun while chatting nonchalantly and carefree. It was then we noticed two incongruous looking suits advancing towards us. The leader was the older of the two, and it was he who addressed us in German while showing us his ID card, which bore a stamp, small lettering and the word POLIZEI in large letters, he then asked us for our ID card. We explained that we were not German and thus not issued with such means of identification. Finding that I owned the bike, he then rather curiously turned to Hughie and told him to ride it to the police station, then asked Sweat and myself to come with him. He would not answer questions as he led us round the lakeside into the green and white police car in the car park, and after asking where I lived he then took us down to the Blaue Traube, where he escorted me inside, up the stairs and into my room. Having retrieved my passport I was then escorted back into the car and driven to the police station.
This was most mysterious, and we were examining our minds for any possible misdeeds perpetrated lately. Soon we were in the station and being led upstairs and into a room, where two more men were ensconced in chairs. The four men chatted a while and I caught a few words. They were laughing over something that had to do with this hapless trio of an English man, Irish man and a Scots man they had on their hands. Perhaps they too had heard of the jokes? Presently, the leader, who introduced himself as Max, came over to us and told us they were investigating the murder of a garage proprietor some ten months previously and asked what we were doing on the 15th November, if we had ever been near that garage, did we know the man, etc? We denied knowledge of everything he asked, Sweat maintaining that he was in Dublin at the time, and eventually he gave up and went outside with his colleague. This still left two men, one of whom looked pretty fed up at being there and scowled up at the cause of his sojourn in the cramped little office.
“Yer man looks a right Nazi,” whispered Sweat. A little too loudly it seemed, as the gruppenfuhrer looked up swiftly at this remark and fixed Sweat with an icy stare.
“Shuddup yer prat,” I hissed from the side of my mouth. The man rose from his chair and ambled over.
“Ver Ver you ze 15th November?” he said to Sweat in icy, Gestapo-like tones.
“In Dublin,” Sweat chirped back happily, “it’s in mi passport.”
“Lucky for you”, said the man, then turning, and fixing me with an icy glare, “but not so lucky for you.”
We had been there for three hours, being questioned by our Nazi friend and the other in turn until we went to give our thumbprints, then to another room to stand in front of a two-way mirror while a witness apparently looked us over, then it was back to the office, where we were asked if we required an interpreter before we made our official statements. We both assented. While waiting for the interpreter I was wondering what had happened to Hughie? We had a glimpse of him as he once passed the office in company with a detective, a glum look on his lean face as he was led down the stairs, and I couldn’t help noticing that he seemed to be walking a little strangely. Sweat, meanwhile would only grumble every twenty minutes or so that, “dey should give us some fookin food.” I was starting to shiver as my shorts and T-shirt-clad body was feeling the lack of heat, although it could be said that nerves played no small part. Even though I knew I was innocent of all charges it was still a strange feeling to be held as suspect for a murder.
The interpreter arrived, a middle-aged German woman who relayed the questions asked by the Gestapo detective, then relating in turn my replies in German. Having done with me she turned on Sweat, whose first comment was to repeat like a parrot, “I was in Dublin, it’s in mi passport”, before asking if he could have some food. This was relayed to the Gestapo man, who shook his head while giving out a thin smile. With the two question sessions over, the woman left. We were left alone with the two other detectives for some time, when a low rumble came from Sweat’s stomach, catching the attention of all in the room.
“D’yer hear dat,” he said, “I’m fookin starvin’.”
“Will you stop going on about food,” I whispered.
“But I haven’t had a fookin ting since yesterday,” he complained.
“What about the ‘flussiges brot,” I replied, flippantly, referring to the beer.
“Ah, well, it does fill the gap a bit,” he replied.
“Ask him for a beer then,” I retorted. He needed no further prompting: “Entschuldigen,” said Sweat to the scribbling detective. “Haben sie beer.” He made a drinking motion with his hand. I rolled my eyes to heaven and smiled, a kind of, excuse him he’s Irish, sort of smile. The man looked at his colleague, muttered a few words and the other man went out, returning five minutes later with two bottles of cold beer.
“Don’t tell me they’ve a beer machine in the cop shop,” I said, amazed, as we grasped the cold bottles.
“Why not?” said Sweat, “dey – the Bavarians – have one everywhere else.”
I can not imagine anywhere else in the western world where persons brought in for questioning on a murder charge would be given alcohol; although they must have known we were innocent of all charges, and before we had consumed the beer, Max came in, looked with equanimity at the bottles and told us we could go. Accompanying us down the stairs he shook our hands and explained that he had to hold us for so long as it was a serious charge. It appeared that a woman at the Eibsee lake had identified Hughie as bearing a resemblance to a man seen in an alley near the dead man’s home, but had said that on closer inspection through the two-way mirror, that it was not him. “Nobody who’s still alive looks like Hughie,” murmured Sweat. We bade Max goodbye and started for home. I saw my bike propped up against the building, but it was locked with the key I had given to Hughie, so we both walked into the middle of town.
We were soon disabused that the unfortunate incident would be supressed, when the following night at the ‘Zirbel Stube’, a favourite watering hole, Hughie came in to cries of “ye dirrty murrderin bastard,” in what purported to be a Scots accent, from Ron, who was enjoying himself as usual. At the fifth cry of the same, Hughie took umbrage and told him to shut up, which Ron immediately complied with, resigning himself to stabbing motions behind his back.
“I wonder why Max made you ride my bike down to the station?” I asked Hughie later that night.
“I don’t know,” he said, “but my feet were killin me.”
“Why’s that?,” I asked, bewildered.
“Well,” said Hughie, “ye know ye have them metal pedals and toe clips on yer bike.” I nodded. “So?”
“So,” said Hughie. “Ah couldna get ma boots in, so ah had to tak them aff, tie them roond ma neck and ride with just ma socks on yer metal pedals all the way doon, it was killing me – I would have committed murder just to get aff the fucking thing!”