The Curious Mr. Klaus
The constant blare of Christmas carols.
The hordes of people moving like gigantic herds of cattle from one store to the next in search of that elusive cut-throat sale. Exiting stores so loaded down with packages and more lists to complete they’re bent over and staggering from the load.
Everyone supposed to be in a gay, happy mood. The Spirit of Joy and Giving. The Holiday Spirits. And other crappy emotions like this.
Sure. Uh huh.
And of course . . . the weather in this town contributing to the holiday mood. Frigid cold winds blowing off the rivers—cold enough to make a space probe setting on Mars surveying orange skies seem like a tropical paradise. And snow. About every other day. Coming down with a vengeance and screwing up the city’s traffic in one gigantic snarl of howling cars, profane-laced drivers, and terminal cases of ill tempered assholes.
It was eight in the evening, Christmas Eve night and only Frank and I—and the lieutenant—were on duty.
The holidays. I hate them.
“Ah, quit bitching ya fucking ole’ Grinch. Here—drink this. Some eggnog with a little spice in it ought to make you feel better.”
Frank—my partner here in Homicide down in the South Side Precinct—lumbered over to me like an uncaged gorilla and shoved a tall glass of yellow liquid into my hand. As tall as me he was maybe fifty pounds heavier. The glass of ‘nog in his mitt for a hand looked like shot glass to any other normal human being. Keeping my opinion to myself I lifted the glass and took a long pull from it.
And almost gagged from the amount of alcohol in it.
“Jesus, when did you drain the anti-freeze on your kid’s snowmobile, Frank? Fer chrissakes don’t light a match in here. The whole frakken place will be blown sky high.”
“It’s good, huh?” Frank answered, the corners of his lips twitching—his way of grinning—as he sat down at his desk and looked at me. “It must be pretty good. Yank’s been over here eight times to ask for more.”
Yank was Lieutenant Dimitri Yankovich. Second shift watch commander and directly in charge of the precinct’s second floor—the detective section of the precinct. Yank was a good man. A great boss. Rarely had anything cross to say to anyone. And apparently liked Frank’s eggnog. A lot.
“Got any more?” I asked, looking down at the empty glass and then back at my partner.
Frank pointed to the ancient, battered, scared relic of what once had been a refrigerator in the janitor’s room over by the stairwell. I turned and started to make my way to it. But the phone on my desk lit up. The square little light aglow on the phone was from downstairs. From the booking desk. Reaching for it I threw it to my ear and kept it in place with a shoulder as I pulled the chair of my desk out and started to sit down.
“Yes, Dougie? Whatta got?”
Dougie was Sergeant Douglas Timmons. A twenty-five year veteran of the uniformed force—of which half of it was sitting behind the booking desk and listening to just about every kind of crime, crazy, and looney bin tale a human being could concoct. He’d seen it all and cleaned up most of the messes left behind. Nothing got under his cool. Nothing surprised him.
“I’m sending up an elderly gentleman by the name of Friedrich Klaus. He owns Klaus’ Tailoring over on Houston Street. For the last two days he’s been coming in here asking to see you, Turner. You’re here. He’s here. It’s time for you to hear his story.”
“What’s it about?”
“Naw—not going to say. If I did you’d probably have me committed to a funny farm. It’s your squawk, kid. And it’s a doosey.”
I told him to send him up and glanced at Frank.
“Elves,” I said, turning to look at the stairwell and the soon to arrive Friedrich Klaus. “Who else would be out on a night like this?”
Sonofabitch. Elves indeed.
The little man came up the stairs to the squad room dressed in a derby, carrying an umbrella and wearing a very well made heavy navy blue trench coat. He had bright, ruddy cheeks, a round and very red nose, wore wire-rim spectacles and an expertly trimmed and maintained white beard and mustache. The whitest beard and mustache I had ever seen. Glancing at Frank I lifted an eyebrow questioningly. He shrugged gently, mouthing “Elves” silently to me.
“Detectives Hahn and Morales, at last I have the pleasure of meeting you!”
His handshake was surprisingly strong through the gray colored gloves he wore. I asked him to sit down and tell us what was so important to come out into a night like this and drive through the wind and snow to come to South Side Precinct.
The little man with the ruddy fat cheeks nodded but the merriment illuminating his eyes switched off like a bathroom light bulb. To be replaced with a deep look of concern.
“I’m afraid we must set aside pleasantries, gentlemen. You two are the only ones who can help me. And we have so little time.”
“What can we do for you?” I asked, sitting down at my desk and swiveling the chair around to look at the nattily dressed little man.
“Tomorrow night, precisely at nine p.m. I am going to die. Unless—unless you can find the madman who is going to kill me.”
Frank and I stared at the little man in front of us—blinked a couple of times in surprise—unable to find anything not of a smart-ass quip to say. The ruddy faced man sitting across from us first looked at me, then at Frank, the irritation on his face clearly visible.
“I see things, boys. I have . . . visions. Glimpses of people . . . events . . . places. Sometimes they are quite vivid. Sometimes they are fuzzy—like watching a television show through wax paper. I also feel other people’s thoughts. I feel the thoughts coming out of both of you right now. You think I’m crazy.”
“You feel thoughts,” I repeated. “Not read thoughts—but feel thoughts. There’s a difference?”
“Very much so,” the little elf nodded, frowning. “I never hear exactly what a person is thinking. But I get an overall impression. Like the one coming from you, Sergeant Morales. You want proof. Solid proof to back up what I say. Very well—try this for size.”
Mister Klaus suddenly stood up, turned, and made a bee line straight to the janitor’s room where the squad room’s frig sat. Moved as if he knew exactly where he was going. Even though, to my knowledge, he had never stepped into this building before. When he came out of the room he had the big picture of Frank’s eggnog in his gloved hand. Walking to where we were sitting he poured each of a full glass—and one for himself with a clean glass he pulled off the shelf above the frig.
“The rum in the eggnog you made, Sergeant Morales. It’s from the bottle of expensive rum Sergeant Hahn bought for you and has hidden above the hat rack over there. He’s going to give it to you tonight when the shift is over. But you found it when you two came on duty this afternoon. So you decided to make some of your famous brew. Quite delicious, I might add.”
Startled I looked at the big guy sitting across from me. Frank was looking at me, the corners of his lips twitching—laughter in his eyes. He nodded, shrugged, and reached for his eggnog.
“And you, Sergeant Hahn. You’re thinking about buying an old car to restore for your car collection. An Oldsmobile 442 is it? Well, look in your IN BOX and see what the motor vehicle department says about it. Second piece of paper in the box. Yes. That’s the one.”
I was thinking about buying an old muscle car to rebuild. That’s what I do for a hobby. Frowning, I pulled the report out of the IN BOX and glanced at it. Stolen. Stolen in ’86 off a residential street in San Diego.
Grinning—impressed—I tossed the report onto the desk and brought my attention back to our elf.
“Who’s trying to kill you?”
“I don’t know. But apparently he knows the two of you. He really wants to kill either you, Sergeant Hahn. Or you, Sergeant Morales. I don’t know precisely. But he’s using me to get to you.”
“Huh,” I grunted, frowning and pulling on the lobe of my right ear. “That would mean he somehow knows you and your . . . ah . . . clairvoyant gifts.”
“What do you see . . . or feel . . . from his thoughts?” Frank asked.
“Shoes,” he whispered for a reply.
“Shoes,” I echoed, frowning.
“For the last week I’ve . . . I’ve been catching these mental glimpses of tomorrow night’s event. Images a metal pole and street signs—trees behind the signs blowing from a strong wind—snow falling out the trees in a white curtain—an old, abandoned house. But most frightening image I see is a dim, partially lit hallway with a pair man’s legs, dressed in gray slacks, lying in the hallway with a steam of blood flowing past his right leg. That’s where the shoes come in. Black loafers, made by a small shoe firm called Pakkers. Very rare. Hard to find.”
I arched an eyebrow in surprise. On my feet was a pair of black loafers. The very brand our little elf mentioned. Throwing a look down at his feet I noticed he had the same style of shoes on as well.
I glanced at Frank. He was watching me closely. A frown on his thin gray lips.
“You see my conundrum,” the ruddy faced, bearded little tailor said softly. “One of us is going to die, Sergeant Hahn. I’m thinking it will be me—but it could very well be you.”
“The street signs. Where?” asked Frank.
“Corner of Dreary Lane and Hope Streets.”
I would have grinned and dismissed this whole thing as a hoax—maybe a stunt perpetrated by a partner whom I knew liked to pull tricky little pranks on people. On me in particular. But there was a Dreary Lane. And a Hope Street. And they did cross each other. Frank’s ugly mug wasn’t grinning that devilish little grin he almost had on his lips when he was pulling something on me. He looked deadly serious. Our little elf looked pale and scared.
“Okay. Tell you what,” I said, nodding. “Frank and I will go over to Dreary Lane and Hope and check it out. You I want to stay right here. Downstairs. The desk sergeant will keep an eye on you until we return. Understand?”
It didn’t take long to drive across town and find the corner of Dreary Lane and Hope. Curiously, half way there, the wind picked up and started blowing strong enough to send sheets of snow sailing across the streets in a white curtain. Climbing out of our car I glanced up at the street corner. The paint on the street sign for Dreary Lane was peeling off. It was half coated with a thick smear or dark red rust. Like the color of blood. Reaching up, I pulled the collar of my trench coat up and hunkered down in it. The wind was freezing cold.
“Turner,” Frank’s voice said calmly. “Look at the trees.”
Behind the street signs the trees were dancing like mad Afghani tribesmen. Snow falling out of the trees was creating a blinding curtain of pure white. One look at the trees and snow and a hand reached inside the trench coat and wrapped fingers around the butt of the .45 caliber Kimber semi-automatic riding underneath my left armpit.
I dunno—but have you ever had chills walk their icy fingers up and down your spine? Chills not from the cold or the wind. But from something else. Something like—dread.
Sitting on a small knoll an empty two storied house. The house out of the Hitchcock movie Psycho came to mind. Dark, lifeless windows staring at us; window shutters somewhere on the second floor banging against the house thanks to the wind—the weird, eerie vision of an upstairs window directly above the main entrance busted out and a single, faded white curtain waving at us as we approached. Walking through the deep snow up to the house I heard Frank grunt beside me.
“I’m not wrong am I? I mean . . . this is Christmas, isn’t it? Not Halloween?”
I grinned and moved onto the porch and tried the front door to see if it was locked with a gloved hand. It wasn’t. We searched the house from the attic down to the basement. Found nothing. But twice we both thought we heard footsteps walking across the floor above our heads. And once—faintly—I thought I heard laughter. Still . . . we couldn’t be sure. The wind was even stronger outside and blowing through the house like a small tornado. The footsteps . . . the laughter . . . could have been just the wind and our nerves playing tricks on us.
But I didn’t think so.
When we got back to South Side our Friedrich Klaus was missing. Gone. Told Sergeant Timmons he was going home to wrap some Christmas presents. If we had any questions we knew where to find him.
“Turner, tomorrow is Christmas. The wife and kids and I are driving down to Kansas City to have Christmas with my brother and his family. I won’t be around until well past midnight.”
“I know, Frank. I know. Don’t worry about it. I’m doing nothing but just hanging at my place. I’ll take care of this. It’s probably nothing anyway. Say hello to your brother and his wife for me.”
A time of cheer. Of exchanging gifts with loved ones. Of watching children’s’ faces light up as they open their presents. Of laughing and telling old family stories around the dining room table while relaxing after the big Christmas dinner.
I sat in my car across the street from the house of our curious Mr. Klaus. Sat behind the wheel of the ’67 Pontiac GTO and ate hamburgers and drank coke as I watched the snow come in off the Brown River and begin falling in buckets full. Nothing moved down the quiet street of the Klaus house. Kids came out late in the afternoon with new sleds and tried them out in the blizzard—or pent up too much with their family, out to throw snowballs at anything that moved. A couple of cabs plowed their way down the streets to come to a halt in front of a house or two. Grand parents and friends climbed out, carrying bags of brightly covered Christmas packages with them. They were greeted half way up the snow covered sidewalks with friends and family pouring out of the houses to envelope them with glad tidings.
At a little past eight pm the garage door to the Klaus house opened and a bright red four wheel drive Jeep Cherokee pulled out, smashed through the wall of snow which had built up in front of the garage, and backed into the street. Our ruddy complexioned elf was sitting behind the Jeep’s wheel.
I wasn’t surprised in the least when the red Jeep made its slow way across the deserted streets of the city and came to a halt in front of a house setting on the corner of Dreary Lane and Hope Streets. I watched Klaus roll out of his car and make his way through the snow and enter the house. The moment he disappeared inside I climbed out of the GTO and started toward the back door of the creepy place.
Coming in through the kitchen door, gun in one hand, and a big six-cell Mag light in the other, I moved through the kitchen and entered a long, dark hall which led to the living room. Stepping into the living room—empty—I heard a squeak of flooring behind me. Turning, I just had a glimpse of a black mass flashing toward me, a hand rising up and over his head—something thick and black in his gloved hand.
It was a crowbar. It cracked across my gun hand in a pain searing blow. I heard bones snapping like match sticks. Staggering back I threw the Mag light up and made the second blow of the crowbar glance off and away from my skull. But in the darkness I didn’t see the gloved fist in time. It caught me in the jaw, snapping my head back and exploding bright lights in my head. I don’t remember dropping to my knees from the blow. Shaking my head trying to get some vision back I tried to stand up. But my legs felt like lead weights and I couldn’t focus my eyes.
Laughter—I heard laughter—that of a madman’s and then . . . and then . . . through the pain . . . .
The ringing explosions of a 9 mm Glock exploding in two rapid shots directly behind me. I heard a grunt and then the clatter of a heavy body falling to the floor in front of me.
When I opened my eyes and blinked I found myself in a sitting position. Braced in a sitting position by the snow shovel sized paw of Frank standing in front of me. My right arm felt like someone had parked a bull dozer on it and was trying to grind it to pieces with its tracks. I couldn’t open my jaw too much. But my eyes were working. I could see the carrot colored hair and the square jaw of Frank as he held me firmly in place.
“You okay, Turn? Never mind. Stay still. Got an ambulance crew on the way. And don’t move that right arm of yours. Jesus, but you look like hell.”
“Hiya, pal. How was the brother and his brood?”
“Boring. As they usually are. The fucker never changes.”
I looked toward the semi-lit hallway. Lying in a puddle of dim light were a set of legs. Dressed in gray slacks—feet covered with a pair of black Pakkers. Blood flowing like cold molasses on the floor past his right leg.
“Not Klaus,” Frank grunted, shaking his head. “Haven’t a clue who he is. But I know Friedrich Klaus. He spends his Christmas with his son down in Florida every year. Apparently this fucker didn’t know that.”
“You knew all the time he wasn’t a tailor?” I asked looking up in the darkness at the dim outline of Frank’s face.
“Yes. Thought I’d let him play it out and see where this went. Farther than I wanted it to. Sorry, buddy.”
“Well, just to let you know. You’re buying lunch for the rest of the year,” I growled. “Still. I’m glad you showed up.”
Christmas. A time to be with family. A time to enjoy good cheer and the laughter from good friends. But . . . did I say how much I hated Christmas?
Not this one. This one I was happy just to be alive.
B.R. Stateham likes to write noir. Especially likes to write about two of his favorite characters, Turner Hahn and Frank Morales, in dark little stories with odd twists at the end. And they are more, always more, coming. Enjoy.
Slick story, B.R. When someone like Frank’s got your back, you couldn’t be in better hands. Great stuff.