by Dennis Palumbo
“A Theory of Murder,” featuring Albert Einstein as an amateur sleuth, was first published in The Strand Magazine in 2007.
My friend Albert Einstein unwrapped his sausage roll, then looked up at me with those frank, dark eyes. “Tell me, Hector, what is the secret to living in harmony with a woman?”
I shrugged in my thick overcoat. It was cold out here in the dawn mist, beneath the wintry mantle of holiday snow. We sat, as we did every morning before work, on a bench overlooking the Aare River.
“I know less about women than you do,” I answered, sipping my tea. “At least you’ve managed to marry one.”
“I prefer to think that Mileva married me. For my money, perhaps?”
“It can’t be for your looks,” I said.
He smiled, then bit into his steaming roll, chewing as carelessly as he did most things.
Below us, the river flowed stubbornly around islands of scrabbly ice. Traversing its treacherous surface was a sleek racing scull being rowed by the university team, undaunted by the frigid conditions. I could just make out the half-dozen broad-shouldered students, encased in thick coats and heavy blankets, urged on by their coxswain.
We ate in a familiar, comfortable silence. Then I became aware of the rolling of cart-wheels on icy cobblestones, the flap of shop windows opening to the new day. Cool morning light poked through the haze, revealing the shapes of old, weathered buildings–relics of a past that young men like Albert and I had long since shrugged off.
We were the new generation, like those students on the water. The men of the future. It was the year 1904.
We finished our meager breakfasts and trundled down the snow-draped streets. It was two days before Christmas, and we passed several small clusters of religious folk, in gaily-colored mufflers and hats, ringing their bells and collecting for the poor. As usual, guilt made me dig into my own relatively poor pockets for some change.
Albert had said little as we made our way through the growing, early-morning throng. He’d seemed quite distracted these past months, though whether due to marital problems or his struggles with his arcane physics papers I couldn’t be sure. Whenever I asked about them, he’d merely say they weren’t ready for publication yet. I confess I doubted whether they might ever be.
At last, Albert and I arrived at the patent office. Inside, we found our employer, Herr Hoffmann, his thick
mustache stained with coffee. A copy of this morning’s Gazette was in his hand.
“Have you heard the news?” he said, more agitated than usual. “Have you?”
“Are the planets still holding to their prescribed parabolas?” Albert asked mildly.
“Are they what–? Honestly, Herr Einstein–”
Hoffman shook his head, and raised the folded newspaper like a flag.
“The most horrible of all,” he said gravely. “Just last night…not five blocks from this very room. And during Christmas, for the love of God.”
“More murders?” I said, stunned. “Like before?”
“Worse. An entire family. Husband, wife, three children. Murdered in their beds. Slaughtered like cattle.”
I took the paper he offered, my hands trembling as I read the horrible details. “You must see this, Albert,” I said. “It’s unnatural. A crime unlike any in history.”
“Now that, dear Hector, I sincerely doubt. I trust you’ve heard of the Boer War. The massacres on the African coasts. Certain penal colonies in the Australian continent…”
“Yes, yes,” I said irritably. Truly, Albert could be maddening at times. In such moments, I didn’t envy Mileva her choice of husbands.
“My point, Albert,” I went on cooly, “is that a monster is afoot in Berne.”
“Exactly!” Hoffmann sputtered. “We have a Jack the Ripper in our midst.”
Albert opened his eyes, at once penetrating and leavened with sadness. “Yet one far less discriminating. The Ripper chose his victims from among the women of the streets. This killer chooses them…at random? That, I suppose, is the great bafflement. How he chooses his victims, or why.”
Hoffmann nodded. “That’s what the police say. There appears to be no motive.” He pointed to the paper in my hands. “You see, they’ve listed the deaths so far. The watch-maker, stabbed in his shop. The knifing of the elderly couple. Three seminary students, hacked to pieces. Now this poor family.”
“No recurring pattern,” Albert mused. “So unlike the universe, when you think about it. Or the habits of most men.”
“Except for one thing,” I said. “He always uses a blade of some kind. A scissors for the watch-maker, a knife for the old couple, a thick cleaver for the students. Appalling.”
“And inefficient,” Albert said. “Unless the killer’s trying different approaches to discern the most effective. Trial and error. Hypothesis and experimentation. The scientific method.”
I stared at him. “The man’s obviously deranged! And you talk of methods…?”
Hoffmann clucked his tongue. “Sometimes, Herr Einstein, I worry about you.”
“I’m touched, Herr Hoffmann.”
“Exactly. That’s what I’m worried about.” Hoffmann laughed at his own wit and shuffled over to his desk by the front door. “However, should you feel inclined to join the rest of us in the real world, I’d appreciate the schematics of the Beringer application by first post.”
As I turned to my own work, I caught sight of Albert once again leaning back in his chair. He seemed to be staring at a spot on the ceiling. Or perhaps through the ceiling, and the sky beyond, to the very edge of the universe.
I hated to agree with Hoffmann, but Albert’s mind did usually seem everywhere except in this real world of brick and soil and sausage rolls, of yearning and sorrow and sudden, horrible death.
My odd friend Albert. So secretive about his as-yet unpublished physics papers, yet so casually sure that they’d stun the world. At times as playful as a child, at others sober and introverted. Especially today, since hearing the gruesome news about the murdered family. Albert and I had exchanged not a word, cloaked in a thick silence broken only by the shuffle of drafting papers, the scratching of pens, the muffled ticking of the wall clock.
Until lunch-time arrived…along with an Inspector Kruger of the local police, who entered stamping snow from his boots. Herr Hoffmann stood, mouth agape, as the tall, slender Kruger pulled his gloves from his hands and saluted.
“Just routine police work,” Kruger assured us. “We have these murders, you see. The whole Department is engaged.”
“Of course.” Hoffmann rubbed his hands nervously. “It’s a comfort, knowing our police are on the job. Berne is a peaceful town. We’ve never known such brutal events before.”
Kruger smiled. “Calm yourself, Herr Hoffmann. Men must be strong. It is our duty.” He turned to me. “Actually, I’m here to ask Herr Franks to come with me. To headquarters.”
“Me?” Like an idiot, I actually pointed to myself.
Albert rubbed his nose inoffensively. “Is Hector a suspect in these killings, ludicrous as that sounds?”
Kruger tightened his jaw. “I can’t say more.”
I looked over at Albert, whose own jaw tightened. He’d never handled authority very well, he told me once. I could plainly see that now.
“I suggest I accompany you, Hector,” he said at last. “As your second.”
Kruger looked as though he were about to respond, but then merely shrugged. He ushered us out the door.
* * *
The police wagon, wheels rattling, turned onto Aarstrasse. I frowned at Kruger, wedged between Albert and myself in the rear. “This is not the way to police headquarters.”
Kruger shrugged. “We must make one stop first.”
We pulled to the curb before a rambling, two-storied house shadowed by ancient firs thick with snow. A squad of uniformed policemen milled out on the lawn, hugging themselves against the cold, smoking brown cigarettes. As we climbed out of the wagon, the men came quickly to attention.
Beside me, Kruger merely grunted his displeasure and led me up the icy porch steps and into the foyer of the somber house. I heard Albert’s steady shuffle behind us.
The first horror awaited us in the drawing room. Splashes of dried blood covered the carpet, the arms of chairs, the gilt-edged picture frames—-even the still-hanging Christmas tinsel and carefully-wrapped presents under the tree.
The Inspector pointed at an obscene black stain near the hearth. “Herr Gossen and his wife were killed there.”
I couldn’t find words, but I heard Albert’s quiet voice behind me. “The children?”
Kruger nodded to the staircase. “Upstairs.”
He led the way up the velvet-lined steps and into the first of two bedrooms. Toys, stuffed animals, and colorful downy blankets attested to the ages of the former occupants. Twin boys, I recalled from the Gazette, not yet five.
Kruger drew our attention to the little beds. Blood-soaked. Sheets a tangle. “Murdered as they slept,” he said. “Perhaps it was a blessing.”
I found my voice. “But why are you showing this to us? To me? I don’t understand–”
Kruger stirred. “You will. In the girl’s room.”
He led us to the second bedroom, evidently that of a girl in her teens. Soft, feminine. I thought I saw the glint of a blond hair in the afternoon sun, where it adhered to a blood-stained pillow.
I took a breath, then felt Albert’s reassuring grasp on my arm. It was he who questioned the Inspector this time. “I don’t see the reason for bringing us here,” he said.
In reply, Kruger took a folded cloth from his pocket. Within lay a heart-shaped gold locket, smeared with blood.
“It was found clutched in the dead girl’s hand,” Kruger explained. “Which was severed from her body, and lay a few feet away from it on the floor.”
“No!!” I cried. It took both of them to keep me upright as I swayed, gasping. “It…it can’t be…”
“So you recognize the locket?” Kruger stared at me.
I nodded dumbly. How could I not? It had once been mine.
* * *
“It was a cruel act,” Albert was saying to Kruger, as we sat in the Commissioner’s office at police headquarters. “And unnecessarily theatrical.”
“Perhaps.” Kruger’s bald head shone in the wintry light from the windows. “But I thought it might be effective.”
“For what? Extracting a confession from Herr Franks? You can’t possibly suspect Hector of these heinous crimes?”
I sat in silence on a padded bench at the far end of the large, wood-paneled room. I felt disembodied. Adrift in a nightmare from which I couldn’t awaken.
Until I was startled from my melancholy by the arrival of a slender young girl, in the company of a police matron.
“Mina!” I said, leaping from my seat. Upon seeing me, Mina froze in her tracks, face turning pale as chalk.
She was as beautiful as I remembered, luminous eyes now red-rimmed from recent tears.
Kruger rose, and turned to Albert.
“This is Fraulein Mina Strauss,” he explained. “She was a school-mate of the late Fraulein Gossen.”
Mina’s voice quavered. “Poor Katie. She was my best, my truest friend. We…” She burst into tears, hands covering her face. The stoic matron idly handed her a handkerchief.
“Fraulein Strauss is also known to Herr Franks,” Kruger said, finally looking at me. “Isn’t that so?”
“Yes. I…we…” I looked at the floor. “I loved her once. Some few years ago.”
“Love?” Mina’s eyes found mine. “It was an infatuation, Hector. I was only sixteen, and even I had the wit to know that.” She turned to Kruger. “Hector worked for a summer for my father. He…flattered me with his attentions. But I never returned his affections. Even after he sent me the locket.”
Kruger pointed to the gold locket on the table next to us, still nested in the folded cloth. “This locket?”
Mina nodded, miserable. “I shouldn’t have kept it, I know. But it was so pretty. Perhaps I’m vain. Perhaps…” Her smile back at me was kind. “I’m sorry, Hector.”
Albert took a step forward, hands in the pockets of his loose trousers. Old pipe ash flecked his sweater.
“Might I ask how the locket came into the possession of Fraulein Gossen?”
Mina gazed warily at Albert’s careless appearance. I could sense that she found him…unimpressive.
“I gave it to Katie,” she said carefully. “As a token of our friendship, our bond. We shared a special kinship…a…”
She looked at me for a long moment, then away, as though having decided I wouldn’t understand. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Now my world is over. Finished.”
I found her words perplexing, and glanced over at Albert. But his expression was unreadable.
Suddenly, a heavy tread sounded in the doorway. It was the large, imposing figure of Commissioner Otto Burlick. In his wake came a sturdy-looking young man wearing rimless glasses and a crisp college uniform beneath his winter coat. He had the same thick, dark features as the Commissioner.
Behind him, lounging in the doorway, was another college youth. Though he had the sullen look of a street ruffian.
Burlick lumbered over to his desk, rummaging hastily through the top drawer until he pulled out a check-book.
“Won’t be a minute,” he said to the room, exasperated. “My son Jeffrey is in need of a loan.”
“It is a loan,” Jeffrey, the first boy, protested. He glanced neither at me, Mina, nor the Inspector. “I’ll pay it back.”
“Don’t grovel, Jeffrey,” said the boy in the doorway.“It’s disgusting.”
Jeffrey whirled at this, face reddening. “Do shut up, Hans. If it wasn’t for you, egging me on…”
Hans laughed sourly. “So now it’s my fault you bet on the wrong boat?”
Burlick looked up from his desk, bristling. “Hans Pfeiffer? I’ve heard Jeffrey speak of you. You think you’re some kind of tough character. No doubt you’d benefit from a good hiding.”
He turned to his son. “As for you, Jeffrey. Gambling on athletic events? Is this what they encourage at your university? I shall have to speak to the Chancellor…”
Jeffrey gasped, mortified. “Father, don’t!”
Burlick returned to his check-book. Jeffrey, seemingly at a loss, swept the room with his eyes. Then, with a forced casualness: “Hello, Herr Einstein.”
Albert registered a mild surprise. “Do I know you?”
“I’ve seen you around the campus,” Jeffrey said easily. “A real scholar, I’m told. Not like me. You wouldn’t want to hear about my difficulties with mathematics.”
Albert gave him a rueful smile. “I can assure you, young sir, mine are far worse.”
The sound of Commissioner Burlick ripping a check from his book drew our collective gaze. He gave it to Jeffrey, glowering. “Now go! And, by God, look to your studies.”
Jeffrey nodded, stuffed the check in his pocket and sauntered out. Hans turned to follow, but not before giving Mina a leering wink that made her look away.
An embarrassed silence filled the room. Then the Commissioner settled into his chair and smiled gamely.
“Sorry about the interruption. With children, one does what one can. After that…” He shrugged, then turned his attention to Mina. “So, Inspector, have we taken the young lady’s statement?”
“Yes, Commissioner.” Kruger sniffed. “It was Fraulein Strauss who gave Katie Gossen the locket we found. As a gift.”
Albert cleared his throat. “Excuse me, but how did the police know the locket had originally belonged to Hector?”
Kruger laughed shortly. “Because we are not incompetent, Herr Einstein. The locket is inscribed at
the back with a serial number and the name of the maker, Gerd Oberlin, on Marktgasse. He checked his records and declared it had been sold to one Hector Franks, at whose instructions it was sent by post to Fraulein Mina Strauss.”
Albert nodded. “And from whose hands it then passed to the murdered girl. So I don’t see how Herr Franks is further involved.”
“Perhaps he learned his gift had been unappreciated by its recipient,” Burlick said officiously. “That in fact it
had been given to another. Driven by jealousy and rage, he stole into the Gossen home to retrieve it. There, surprised in the act, he was forced to…”
“Butcher the entire family?” Albert chuckled.
The Commissioner looked at him sternly. “I have seen stranger things in the course of my career, young man. And I don’t appreciate Jewish impertinence.”
Inspector Kruger seemed embarrassed suddenly, but by what I couldn’t tell. At any rate, he was quick to usher Mina, Albert and myself out of the Commissioner’s office, and into the bustling corridor beyond.
“Am I free to go?” I said to Kruger, trying to sound indignant. I had somewhat found my feet again.
“For now. But keep yourself available to us.” He turned to Mina. “The same for you, Fraulein Strauss.”
Mina nodded, then turned and allowed the matron to escort her briskly down the corridor. She never even glanced in my direction. And I knew, as one knows these things, that I should never see Mina Strauss again.
* * *
That night, I sat in my rooms surrounded by discarded newspapers. The murders had gripped the imagination of the Continent. The killer’s reign of terror was recounted in explicit detail, including wild theories of genetic insanity, religious cults, political anarchists gone amok.
I poured myself an unaccustomed second brandy and sat, sleepless, in my chair by the fire. I couldn’t imagine sleep. Not after what I’d seen that day.
And Mina? Seeing her again after all these years. Learning what had happened to the locket. How could she have been so callous as to give what I had offered her to another?
I was stewing in this self-pitying broth till almost four in the morning, when a pounding at my door broke me from my reverie. I glanced at the mantel clock. At this hour?
I pulled open the door to find an equally exhausted-looking Albert Einstein, bundled into a thick wool coat.
“My God, Albert, do you know the time?”
“More intimately than most, I promise you.” Then, with uncharacteristic urgency, he brushed past me into the room and began looking about. “You’ll need a warm coat, of course. And boots. You don’t happen to own a revolver?”
“A revolver? What are you talking about?”
“All will be explained.” He stared at me, impatient. “Well, are you coming or not?”
* * *
The pre-dawn chill was like a cloak of ice. It had also snowed again during the night, leaving two-foot-high drifts that impeded our progress toward the boat-house. Beyond the long, wood-framed structure were the venerable spires of the university, which lay under the gloom as though crouching for warmth. The only sound was the distant tolling of Yuletide church bells for the morning’s first service.
As we carefully approached the silent building, I could now hear the river lapping gently at the dock. Out
on the frigid water, silent as ghosts, the rowing team propelled their boat smoothly through the mist.
Albert led us to the near side of the boat-house, and then to a position beneath the single window. We peered through the smudged pane at an empty room, warmed only by the light of a huge cast-iron stove. At the far end of the room stood a large water keg.
I turned to see Albert nodding to himself. “Of course, the drinking water…I wondered how he planned to subdue them. Some kind of soporific in the water. Then he could–”
“I swear, Albert, if you don’t tell me what’s going on–”
“It occurs to me, Hector, that I might be putting you in harm’s way. I did leave a note for Inspector Kruger, but I doubt he’d take me seriously…” He frowned. “Not that I blame him, given my gross stupidity about these murders…”
By this point, I merely stared at him.
“It was so obvious, I couldn’t see it,” Albert went on. “There is a pattern, of course. Prime numbers. Divisible only by themselves and one. Perhaps a mocking reference to his own troubles with mathematics? Who can say with such a man? One who kills so ruthlessly…I recall reading Buhler on the subject of compulsions, Atwood on multiple murderers. Mileva has some interest in psychology, and keeps many books on–”
Flustered, I cut him off. “Wait! Prime numbers..?”
“Yes. 1,2,3,5,7, etcetera. One watch-maker, two old people, three seminarians, a family of five, a rowing team–”
“Of seven!” I exclaimed. “Six oarsmen and the coxswain.”
He nodded. “Where better to find the necessary seven victims than at his own university? He’s familiar enough with the sport to gamble on it. And there has to be at least one more murderous act for the pretense of a killing spree to be maintained.”
“To hide the real motive for the crimes, and the real–and only–intended victim. Katie Gossen. The killer knew her murder would inevitably lead the police to his door…unless it was merely one in a series of brutal, senseless deaths. Part of an insane pattern based on prime numbers.”
A sudden noise from within the boat-house silenced us. Footsteps against creaking floorboards. Muffled, secretive. Carefully, we once again peered into the shadowy room. A figure in a black overcoat and gloves was leaning over the water keg. On the bench beside him, its blade glinting dully in the half-light, was a thick-handled axe.
I felt Albert’s restraining hand on my arm, but I risked another look. The man was lifting the keg lid, pouring some kind of powder inside. As he bent, his face shone in a pale shaft of light.
I sank back next to Albert, stunned. “But I thought it was–I mean, you saw what kind of creature Hans Pfeiffer is. The way he winked at Mina…”
Albert nodded. “Yes. Coarse, familiar. But how could he not take notice of Mina Strauss? An uncommonly beautiful girl. Yet Jeffrey never gave her a glance. I thought that was odd …unless he knew her. Unless he purposefully ignored making eye contact. Because Mina knew him–or, at least, of him–from hearing of his unwanted attentions to her friend Katie.”
“How in God’s name do you know of this?”
“I asked around at the campus,” Albert replied. “Jeffrey was hopelessly enthralled by Katie, and she spurned him. I thought something like that might be at the core of this, thinking of how Mina had likewise rebuffed you.”
I stiffened. “Thanks very much.”
He ignored this. “I’m sure his advances were crude and improper. He has a reputation for violence and drink. A loutish, aggressive type, under which lies an even darker, murderous nature. He finds being thwarted in his desires intolerable. Emboldened by his father’s wealth and position, thinking himself above the laws of God and man, he’s driven to murder. But to disguise the motive, he embeds the killing of Katie Gossen in a series of brutal slayings, seemingly the work of a madman, following some absurd, fanciful pattern…”
I struggled to absorb his words. “So you guessed that he needed at least one more to make a convincing picture. The seven members of the rowing team…But how did you know?”
“Imagination, Hector. The unheralded seed-bed of all theory.” A wry smile. “I simply imagined what I would do in his place.”
Another squeak of floorboard from within drew our eyes to the glass. Jeffrey was moving back against the far wall, axe in hand. Melting like a wraith into the lattice of shadow.
“Now all he need do is wait,” Albert whispered. “The team will be returning any moment. After a vigorous workout, they will doubtless drink from the water keg. Jeffrey knew there were too many to handle unless they were incapacitated.”
I nodded. “So after the drug takes effect, he can move in for the kill. Unless…”
Where this sudden flush of courage–or foolishness–came from, I cannot say. But suddenly I was barreling as fast as possible through the snow, around the corner of the low-slung building and through the opened double doors.
“Hector!” Albert called out, but I’d already crossed the threshold into the room.
Jeffrey Burlick had turned at the pounding of my foot- steps, and rushed now from the shadows to confront me. I leapt at him, hands outstretched, a cry bursting from my lips. We ended up in a heap on the floor, Jeffrey awkwardly trying to bring the axe to bear. I saw the horrible glint as its blade sliced down toward me. I saw my own death. Then I saw Albert, face red with exertion, struggling with both hands for the axe. But the burly young student merely flung Albert to the floor.
Winded, scrambling to get up on our elbows, we looked up at the glowering face of a demon. Jeffrey hefted the axe as though it were weightless, raising it high.
“You two thought you could stop me?” he cried. “Two penniless patent clerks? No one can stop me!”
“You must stop!” I gasped. “Even you must see, killing these men avails you nothing. You’ve had your revenge on Katie…you’ve ended her life. Why must you end these others?”
“Revenge? On Katie?” His eyes narrowed to dark slits. “She’s nothing! She means nothing to me. The design is all. The purity, the immutable beauty…”
He paused then, regarding me with bemusement. “Something a man like you could never understand. Bound by your pathetic, bourgeois pieties…”
As, tightening his grip, he raised the great axe once more to strike–
When another voice shot through the room. “Not as pathetic as you, Jeffrey!”
Burlick froze where he stood, as the tall, ramrod figure of Inspector Kruger stepped through the doorway. He held a police revolver pointed at Jeffrey’s chest. “Put down the weapon, or I’ll be forced to fire.”
Jeffrey wavered, glance darting from us to the Inspector.
“I assure you,” Kruger said sharply, “I don’t care who your father is. I will shoot you where you stand.”
A strange, anxious smile played across the young man’s lips. “My father? With his rules and regulations. So rigid, unbending. The unspeakable hypocrite! You don’t know what he’s really like, what he did to–” His voice caught. “He’s the monster.”
His eyes blazed now as he turned to stare at Albert. “And yet powerless against the march of mathematical inevitability! Surely, Herr Einstein, you must understand. If no one else, surely you…”
Then suddenly, in two brisk strides, Kruger was at the killer’s side, the revolver pressed hard against his ribs. Jeffrey Burlick gave the Inspector the merest look, before letting the axe fall with a clatter to the floor.
Albert rose beside me and smiled at the Inspector. “I see you received my message,” he said. “I’m surprised you gave it any credence.”
“I’m surprised that anything surprises you, Herr Einstein. Not after this.” He nodded at Jeffrey, who, to my utter incomprehension, stood calmly with his arms folded, as though waiting for a train.
“No.” Albert was shaking his head. “I miscalculated. Your arrival here was an unexpected variable. A random occurrence. If I didn’t know better, I’d think perhaps God plays dice with the universe after all.”
I struggled to my feet, my fear rapidly being replaced by irritation. I hated when Albert talked like this.
“Forget your theories, for the love of heaven!” I snapped at him. “We were almost killed this morning.”
“I wasn’t the one who seemed intent on heroics. Honestly, Hector, that was perhaps the most amazing surprise of all.”
In a matter of minutes, a police van had arrived, and Jeffrey was bundled away in restraints by two stout officers.
Inspector Kruger followed them out.
Alone with Albert in the eerie stillness of the boat-house, I gave voice to my thoughts. “Young Burlick must suffer from a diseased mind…it’s the only explanation…”
Albert looked off, in that way I’d become accustomed to. “No, he’s not mad. He knows the difference between right and wrong. I saw that clearly. He just…doesn’t care.”
“But that’s unthinkable! To butcher innocent people without remorse? Without a conscience? Believe me, Albert, I doubt there’s a word for such pathology in your wife’s scholarly books.”
“Perhaps not,” he replied with a sad smile. “But I fear one day soon there will be.”
* * *
Outside, another gentle flurry of snow had begun to fall, and I realized with a start that tomorrow was Christmas Day. Though, admittedly, such holiday thoughts were far from my mind at that moment.
Albert and I stood with Kruger, watching as the rowing team, oblivious, began making their way to shore. From the dock, I could hear the sounds of another pair of policemen, dumping the keg of drugged water into the river.
Another sound, that of boots scraping heavily against frozen earth, made us turn. Jeffrey Burlick, shackled hand and foot, was being led to the rear of a police van. As the door was held open for him, he paused and looked directly, nakedly, at us. Then, showing a small, tight smile, he turned and stepped into the van.
As it rumbled away in the blur of morning light, Albert looked gravely at Kruger.
“He’s the Commissioner’s son. This will cause a scandal.”
“Not my concern.”
Their eyes locked. “I am curious why you believed me,” Albert said quietly.
“Let’s just say, not all of us share the Commissioner’s prejudices, Herr Einstein.” Then, with a curt bow, Kruger went to join his men.
Albert watched him go, before brushing himself off and heading in the opposite direction. I followed.
“That’s quite enough adventure for me,” he said. “Now it’s back to my physics papers.”
“No,” I said. “It’s back to the office, and the Beringer patents. We work until six, even on Christmas Eve. Or Hoffmann will dock your pay.”
He grimaced. “And Mileva will be furious.”
Then, smiling, Albert Einstein put his arm around my shoulder. “Ah, Hector, the mathematics of love. Compared to it, physics is but child’s play.”
On the way back to work, we stopped for a sausage roll.