My dad's like a pendulum clock that hasn't needed any adjusting
since the day it started ticking. As always, he's there, at the
right spot on the platform, with his usual brown suede coat,
waiting for me but looking elsewhere. It must make him feel less
ill-at-ease to pretend to be contemplating the view, instead of
seeming like he's there exclusively for me. This always makes me
smile. My dad's even more self-conscious than I am.
"You need a new coat, Erik", I say as I get off the train.
"Yeah, missed you too kid", he says with half a smile. And that's
all. German dads don't hug; least of all mine. And neither do
British mothers, by the way. Or just not mine.
Erik grabs my luggage case, though tiny, and walks me to the car.
I don't really try to strike up a conversation, since we don't
really feel the need to; although I could have commented on how
beautiful the weather was in Stuttgart.
Once "home" - I still haven't figured out what to call my dad's
house - we have the usual talk about how things are going in
Paris, how I'm handling music school, if I have enough money on
my account, if my roommate Ginny is holding her end of the deal
by paying rent and doing chores, and a brief question on my
mother's health, only. Then he heats up some dinner and we watch
the latest Tatort episode. Obviously I don't have the slightest
idea what it's all about. I just know that it's a crime series
that's been on TV since the seventies, with the exact same
opening credits, and it's set in different German cities,
depending on the episode.
"Hmm?" he says distractedly.
"Why haven't you ever taught me German?"
He freezes, keeping his eyes on the screen. He seems a bit lost
in thought for a few minutes, then uncomfortably shifts his
weight and says, "Well, I'm not much of a teacher, am I?... I
just considered English as a language you'd need much more, with
your mother, and professionally… And you were learning French
too, inevitably. So I just didn't want to clutter your brain with
more… But you do speak a few words…"
He lets out a short guffaw, "That is vital. You also know how to
say hello and all that…"
"Naturally. I've been coming here for two years, so I've caught a
few words here and there… But it's all recent."
He seems a bit uneasy so I quickly pull him out of his misery.
"I'm not blaming you for anything dad. It just frustrates me not
to understand the true depths of Tatort!"
He tries to look non-amused - you do not joke about Tatort! -
though the crinkles around his eyes betray him. He smiles for a
second and goes back to watching young Kommissar Bootz solve
crimes with incomparable skill. It's endearing to watch my own
father, a police officer who has seen it all and knows too much
of crude reality, be so affected by obviously filtered fiction,
depicting a dramatized version of his profession. But a more
dominant thought keeps intruding and poking at me: I couldn't
help think that maybe my father had sacrificed too much for us,
including who he really was. He had accepted to marry a
foreigner, move to Paris, and raise a non-German-speaking child…
How could these reasons not be part of why he'd left in the first
place?... It makes me wonder if I'd have the courage to let go of
so much, just for love. Or if I ever should.
For some reason, my mind suddenly jumps back to the
drawing. Will this ever stop baffling me? How was that guy able
to strip me of so many details? Could he see my reflection in the
window perhaps? Nah… I couldn't see his, so he logically couldn't
see mine either. Physics. But then… how? And most of all, who was
he? I know how my mind works: I start with allowing a thought in,
and then it takes over every inch of it. By tomorrow, I'll have
become sickeningly obsessed with it. Couldn't I just nip this in
the bud and spare myself the trouble? Sadly, there is no OFF
button for my brain…
When I finally go up to the room dad's set up for me,
I very slowly change into my PJ's, as if delaying the moment I'd
be next to the night table, where I'd delicately placed the
object of my obsession. Then, once under the covers, I have a
last, long stare at the drawing, as if it were the only logical
end to my day, then I turn off the lights.
Greenish glow, closed shutters, and an old dusty desk. Erik walks
in, dressed in the cheesiest beige trench coat, and a hat that
casts a very film-noir-esque shadow on his face. A few police
officers follow him into the 80's-decorated room. And just as he
takes off his hat, he smiles at congratulations fusing at him
from all sides. He addresses the officers in German, but
strangely enough, I understand everything he says. "I couldn't
have done it without you, gentlemen. Today, we have managed what
every police officer in this city has been drooling over: Müller
is officially behind bars, thanks to your considerable effort and
determination. Congratulations everyone."
I wake up with a smile, knowing that somewhere in my unconscious
mind, my dad is my Komissar Bootz…
Which gives me an idea that should have been obvious: I think
it's time I've stopped underestimating my father, and put his
skills to extensively personal use.
"Moin!" he says, and smiles to himself as he makes coffee. Must
be German slang.
"So, slept well?" I stall.
"Mm-hm. I can't say the same for this past week. Had a rough
Ah! The perfect opening. "Are you allowed to talk about it?"
"Yeah, we've closed it. It was just a missing persons case. And
the girl's father is someone's cousin, someone at the precinct.
So the personal involvement got us all on edge…"
"Sheesh! So… did you find her?" I reply, still waiting for the
opportunity to ask him my questions, but also genuinely
interested in how his case panned out.
"Yeah we did. She'd OD'ed at a friend's place, and the said
friend just panicked and ran, without informing anybody about
My mouth pops open, but I have no words. I wonder how my dad can
say such things so matter-of-factly, without seeming the least
bit affected. He keeps looking me in the eye, as if sounding my
"That's, um… horrible!" I venture.
"Kid, I need to know something," he seems reluctant to continue,
"Have you ever taken, or even just tried…"
"What, drugs?!" I suddenly understand what he's getting at. "God,
dad, of course not! I mean, you've raised me and know me well,
don't you?! And with my condition, do you think I would react
well to substances that affect the nervous system?..."
For illustrative purposes, I feel the blotches erupt angrily
across my chest. He pauses, then gives one more argument, but
with less conviction, "If you only saw what I see almost daily…
Kids that seem to be perfectly normal… And I know you're still
dealing with the divorce…"
"Dad, you do realize I'm twenty years old, right? If I were meant
to go down the wrong path, I would have already. The divorce was
two years ago, and the Paris-Stuttgart agreement was my idea, if
I remember correctly. So I believe I'm handling this pretty
"True, but… your roommate looks like the kind…"
"What?!" I scoff in disbelief. "Ginny has never… Is it because of
the purple hair?!" I can't keep a straight face, and he almost
blushes, realizing that he has no further reason to think that of
her. But I feel like I'm losing my opening, so I quickly get back
to the subject at hand. "So anyway… How do you do it? How do you
proceed to find a missing person?"
At that moment I'm very happy the blushing has already started,
or else I would totally have been busted.
"What do you mean? There is no step-by-step procedure…," he
"Like… If you only had a picture of the person…," I say, smiling
"Well, in that case we check the database, see if we already have
something on them… Do we have a name?" He's totally in the game
now, and I will definitely keep him talking.
"No, just a picture."
"Hmm… tricky. How would we have a picture without a name?
Normally, someone comes to us with a picture, and they usually
have a name and some info to get us going. If not, then how would
we get hold of the picture in the first place?"
Damn it, he's smart! I fumble for more ideas, but finally decide
to go a whole different way. "Okay, then how about an anonymous
letter? How would you proceed to find out who wrote it?"
"Well," he straightens his shoulders and uses a clearly
professional tone, "we first speak to the recipient -- "
"It was sent directly to the precinct."
"Oh… In that case, some fancy precincts have graphologists
working for them. You know, experts who can analyze handwriting."
I wonder how that could help me out, since I don't have much to
compare Mr. Green-Eyes' drawing style to, and I wouldn't even
know where to start… But Erik is on a roll, "And if that doesn't
work, then we try the post office, see which box it came from. It
would give us an approximation of the whereabouts. Then we try to
check street cameras." Well, the closest I can get to that is by
going to the train company and asking them. They would obviously
refuse to give me any information on other passengers… I start
losing hope again.
"And if that doesn't work either?"
He absent-mindedly rubs his chin, then says the only logical
thing left, "Then you go back to what you have; the letter
itself. You analyze the content and message behind it… Hey,
what's with the interrogation Lil'?" he winks at me.
"Oh so that's what I get for taking interest in what
you do?" I ask, looking falsely appalled.
"Mmmmmmm-hm!" he lifts an eyebrow, in a that-won't-work-on-me
kind of way. I jokingly stick out my tongue at him, then take my
coffee and quickly head back upstairs. I needed to take his
advice somehow. What if the drawing carried some sort of message?
And what if I put all awe aside and tried to look at it
I delicately close the door, and take the portrait to my desk,
putting it right under the desk lamp. The awe element is
inevitable… The pixie-like aspect of the features is very
pleasant to look at… The hair looks almost real, along with the
minutest light reflected on every wave; then there's the pout in
the lips, the chin… And then I freeze. I'm so stupid! The only
thing that stands out! The necklace!!! It must be there for a
reason, I know it. Go back to what you have, analyze the content
and message… God, my dad's smart!
Quick, my laptop! All I have to do is google "chain necklace" and
compare designs… I'm so amped that my fingers find it hard to hit
the right keys, and my skin is covered with goose-bumps.
Two hours later, I start to get a headache. There are so many! I
could spend days comparing and squinting at the smallest links,
without the slightest guarantee of finding similarities. Maybe I
should speak to a jeweler or something? Aw damn… This is going to
be harder than I thought! Why did this guy choose a signature
that looked more like a necklace than a name?! Would that have
been too prosaic for him? I cross my arms on the desk and drop my
head down in frustration.
A fraction of a second later, it dawns on me. I pop my head up,
eyes wide as if I've just had the revelation of the century. I
grab the portrait and bring it as close as possible to my eyes,
and muffle a squeak when my suspicion is confirmed: these are not
links in the chain! They are tiny, stylized, almost