by Nupur Tustin
Enjoy this never before published Easter mystery short story. Author’s Note: The adventures of the fictitious Christoph Bach are loosely based on incidents in the life of a more famous member of the family, Sebastian Bach.
The sun’s rays filtered dimly through the dingy schoolroom window. Kantor Bach sighed. There was nothing good about this Friday. He could barely see the notes on his scores, but to light a candle at seven a.m., no matter how grey and overcast the morning, would only invite the disapprobation of the town council.
What a wasteful expenditure, Kantor Bach! Councilman Meyerlink’s unmusical voice rang in the Kantor’s head. Make do with the sun’s light. Do you think the city of Leipzig can afford to squander its limited money on candles?
No, the window could not be enlarged. And as for cleaning the small windowpane set high up in the schoolroom wall, if the Kantor could reach it, he was welcome to clean it himself.
The matter of the candles was but one instance of the numerous ways in which the town council opposed him. A hue and cry had been raised on the subject of the venue for the performance of his Passion after the Gospel of St. Matthew.
By tradition, the Easter Passion was performed every other year at the Church of St. Nicholas. But the church conditions were so appalling—the organ in disrepair, the harpsichord so old, its wood was rotting, and the choir platforms barely able to take the weight of one man, let alone seventeen sturdy boys—that Kantor Bach had respectfully petitioned for the use of St. Thomas again.
Had his immediate superior, the school Rektor, been on his side, the petition might have been granted. But Johann August Ernesti, a man not quite thirty, despised music and the Kantor’s devotion to it. Not a particularly religious man himself, Rektor Ernesti had inexplicably taken over the service at St. Nicholas since the passing of its pastor. Naturally, the Passion had to be performed at his church, then.
After a long period of wrangling, some necessary repairs had been undertaken. Every note on the organ sounded. The valves had been replaced so that no note was sustained longer than the organist intended. But not every key was in tune.
The choir platforms had been rebuilt, but with such flimsy wood, Kantor Bach still feared for his students. It would be a miracle if one or other of them did not crash through the wood panels to the hard stone floor below.
He sighed again. “Patience, Christoph,” he whispered to himself. “It will be all right. Somehow, the good Lord will make it right.”
The bell rang. Time to get to St. Nicholas and prepare for the performance. He pushed back his chair, about to seek out his singers, when the door was rudely flung open and Dietl, his prefect, burst into the room.
“You were not at Philology.” It was more a statement than a question. Dietl, panting heavily, still had on his hat and coat. That he had been nowhere near Rektor Ernesti’s Philology class was quite apparent.
“Rek—” Dietl wheezed, struggling to inhale. “Rektor Ernesti never arrived.”
“Never arrived?” The Kantor frowned. That was most unlike the Rektor whose passion for Philology only exceeded his pleasure in obstructing the Kantor’s every move.
Dietl shook his head. “When after fifteen minutes he had still not arrived, I set out to look for him, and…” The boy turned green and swallowed violently.
“What is it, Dietl?” Kantor Bach gazed at the boy in concern. The lad looked as though he was about to retch. “The Rektor is not ill, is he? Or injured?”
Dietl shook his head again. “I found him at the church. St. Nicholas,” he added when Kantor Bach stared at him, perplexed.
Practicing his sermon, no doubt. Kantor Bach suppressed a sigh. His third one this morning. That meant neither his singers nor his instrumentalists would be able to rehearse the Passion one last time before its performance three hours later.
The work was two hours in length. There would be no point starting a rehearsal any later than half past seven.
“Oh,” he said, his shoulders drooping. What else was there to say? Then he noticed the expression on his prefect’s features. Dietl’s wild, staring eyes, speaking of the strain to which they had all been subject, aroused him out of his lassitude.
“It is no matter, Dietl. I dare say we shall do well enough without our final rehearsal.”
Dietl swallowed nervously again, his face deathly pale. “I found the Rektor in the nave. Lying flat on his back, Herr Kantor, in a pool of his own blood. God have mercy, he is dead!”
“Dead!” For a single moment, Kantor Bach’s entire soul exulted. God be praised, the Passion might yet be performed at St. Thomas. Then his prefect’s words sank into his mind.
Rektor Ernesti was dead. Murdered from the sound of it.
He found Councilman Meyerlink at the coffeehouse, quaffing a large mug of the beer brought in from Dresden. The only kind the town council permitted the brewers to brew being too weak even for his tastes.
Kantor Bach coughed. “An unfortunate incident has occurred,” he began.
“What is it, then, Kantor Bach?” The Councilman didn’t deign to turn around, his voice brusque with the impatience of one compelled to deal with a habitual rabble-rouser. “Have you lost a singer or an instrumentalist? Or are you here to argue about the rights enshrined in your contract?”
“It is Rektor Ernesti.” Kantor Bach held his head high, determined not to be talked down.
This time the Councilman did turn around. “The matter has been decided Kantor Bach. The Passion shall be performed at St. Nicholas. As it is every other year. May I remind you that the council undertook at its own expense the numerous repairs you insisted upon?”
And at whose expense would the repairs take place? Kantor Bach left the thought unvoiced.
“There is a dead body in the nave of the church, Councilman. That of the Rektor. He lies in a pool of his own blood. I am merely reporting the matter to you as to do anything more is beyond both my purview and that of my students.”
He remarked with some pleasure the tightening of the other’s lips and his sharply indrawn breath at the news.
“The nave will have to be cleared and mopped clean if the performance is to take place as usual.”
The Councilman’s mouth twisted. “Very well. Given the circumstances, you may remove the performance to St. Thomas. The city will have to be informed—”
“I imagine that is your responsibility as well,” Kantor Bach replied smoothly. “Far be it from me to encroach upon your duties.”
The sour expressions on their faces told him he was not about to be congratulated on the “most superb performance any Leipziger has experienced since the days of Telemann.”
The words of the reporter from the Leipziger Zeitung, who had been visibly impressed. The entire congregation had been moved by the Kantor’s music and the singing of his choir.
The council members may have been moved themselves, although they would be loath to admit it.
“You have been summoned here,” Councilman Meyerlink began, “to answer to the charge of assault and murder against your superior, Johann August Ernesti, Rektor of St. Thomas School.”
What! Kantor Bach’s head jerked up. “But this is utter nonsense,” he blurted out, unable to contain himself any longer. “I have been at the schoolhouse since five o’ clock last evening. When could I have killed him?”
“Who else would have a reason to kill him, Kantor Bach?” The other council members nodded. “Your disputes with your superior were constant, the petty wrangling never-ending.”
“It has been my misfortune to have numerous disputes with the Rektor, it is true. But I did not kill him.”
“Yet his death gave you what you wanted, Kantor Bach. The performance of your Passion within the Church of St. Thomas.”
The Kantor’s shoulders sagged. It would be futile to argue. But if he were arrested what would become of his wife? His children, thirteen boys and girls?
He straightened up. “You have no evidence against me. I cannot be summarily arrested for a crime on the mere suspicion of having committed it.” He would appeal to the King-Elector himself if it came to that.
His eyes turned toward the poorly executed portrait of that personage hanging on the wall behind Councilman Meyerlink’s chair.
The Councilman saw the gesture and pursed his lips. “Very well. You may have twenty-four hours—no more, you hear—to prove yourself innocent of this heinous crime.”
“But that gives you no time at all, Herr Kantor,” protested Carl von Deyling, the student Konzertmeister of the Leipzig University’s Collegium Musicum.
Kantor Bach bowed his head. Deyling was a student of medicine at the University, the son of a minor Count in Thuringia. It was for those reasons that his prefect had sent for the young man.
But not even Deyling could work miracles. It would take more than twenty-four hours to set into motion any attempt to rescue the Kantor from his current predicament.
Deyling placed his strong white hand over the Kantor’s worn brown one. “It was the unfairness of the stricture I was protesting, my dear Herr Kantor. I would come to your aid even if I had but an hour’s notice.”
The Kantor nodded his gratitude, too overcome with this demonstration of friendship to trust himself to say anything.
“Now, let us start at the beginning,” Deyling said briskly. “When was the last time you saw or heard of the man. You were at the schoolhouse the entire night, were you not?”
“As I am every third week of the month, yes.” The Kantor cast his mind back to the previous evening. “We all supped together, the boarders and I. That must have been at seven o’ clock. The Rektor took his meal in his rooms, but he must have been alive then or the housekeeper would surely have raised the alarm.”
“That is good. It matters not whether he was alive or dead at that point. What matters is that the students and the housekeeper can testify you were in their presence. What else do you remember of the night?”
“An hour later, the boys went up to bed. I looked in on them shortly after, making sure the candles were out. And. . .” The Kantor hesitated. He had heard raised voices, but to say anything might cast suspicion on the poor boy whose misfortune it had been to arouse the Rektor’s ire.
Deyling gazed sharply at him. “What is it, Herr Kantor?”
“Your life stands in the balance,” Deyling quietly reminded him when he stayed silent.
“I heard the Rektor’s voice raised in anger when I retired to my room at about nine o’ clock.”
“Against one of the students?”
“I could not be certain. But who else could it have been? The housekeeper leaves shortly after supper.” There! He had been as honest as he could be.
Deyling studied his countenance. “Very well, then, he was still alive at nine o’ clock. What of the early hours of the morning?”
“I arose at five o’ clock as did the entire school. We were all at breakfast earlier than usual. The Rektor wanted the students to be at their Philology lesson no later than six o’ clock.”
“He was at breakfast, then?”
The Kantor shook his head. “He preferred to eat on his own.” The Rektor had professed an aversion for the bland porridge served everyday for breakfast and usually procured his own richer fare from one of the neighboring inns. Would it be speaking ill of the dead to mention that?
Deyling stroked his chin. “If he died shortly after breakfast, that will put you in the clear.”
“But how can we know when he died?” Surely Kantor Bach would not stand unjustly accused if the time of the Rektor’s death could so easily be established.
“Leave that to me.” Deyling jumped up and strode to the door. “Let us walk to the tavern, Herr Kantor.
The tavern was in a part of town few respectable people frequented. Why Deyling should be so certain of discovering anything about Rektor Ernesti there, Kantor Bach did not know. The Rektor had been nothing if not respectable.
He had no vice that Kantor Bach could detect. He had not gambled. Nor had he drunk. The Kantor had never known him to so much as glance at a woman. It was unthinkable that he had consorted with the sort of people who came to the tavern or that he had ever visited the brothels that did their business nearby.
“Why are we here, Deyling?” he asked, hesitating at the threshold of the tavern. He had never seen a more disreputable establishment.
To see the barber-surgeon,” Deyling replied. “The examination of a corpse so disgusts him, he hurries here to drown the image of death and decay in ale.”
“You had a body this morning, I hear?” he said cheerfully.
The barber-surgeon grunted. “It is yours for the usual fee. And much good may it do you?”
To the Kantor’s astonishment, Deyling put down fifty thalers on the counter. “Corpses are hard to come by, Herr Kantor,” he explained. “And much may be learned about disease and health from one.”
Turning toward the barber-surgeon, he continued. “Finished examining it, have you?”
“Would I be offering it to you, if I hadn’t?”
“Was the body stiff when it was brought to you?”
“Brought to me?” The other laughed. “I had to bring it in myself. Brought to me, indeed. That’ll be the day. And, yes, it was as stiff as a board.”
“And the stomach? Was it full?”
The barber-surgeon swiveled around, leaning his elbow on the counter. “Why should I know anything about the stomach? The man was bludgeoned to death. Not poisoned. I saw no reason to desecrate the body by cutting it up. Not to mention, you would have wanted nothing to do with it, if I had.”
“I shall need your rooms for my dissection,” Deyling informed the other.
The barber-surgeon grunted again.
The stench of death was so strong, the Kantor was nearly overcome with nausea. How could any man reconcile himself to a job so foul? He stood outside the barber-surgeon’s rooms, but the obnoxious odor that emanated from within still assailed his nostrils.
Deyling had been within for an hour. How much worse must it be in there?
A creaking sound startled him, and he spun around. It was only Deyling opening the door. It creaked even more as it swung slowly open on its rusty hinges.
“What is it?” the Kantor enquired, seeing the grave expression on the student’s face.
“His stomach was not empty.”
“Then he died shortly after breakfast?” If that were the case, had the Kantor not established his innocence? But this nascent hope died before it could even take wing.
“I would have been able to determine what he had eaten, had that been the situation. But the food in his stomach was partially digested and almost wholly unrecognizable.”
“That means. . .?” The Kantor struggled to understand.
“That he was killed sometime in the night.” Deyling stared at him. “Who was the pupil arguing with the Rektor last night, Herr Kantor?”
The Kantor stared at Deyling, still bewildered. “But what was he doing at the Church last night?”
The Kantor was already striding away from the noxious atmosphere of the barber-surgeon’s rooms. What reason had the Rektor for going to the Church in the middle of the night? Why had. . .
“Who was the pupil, Herr Kantor?” Deyling caught up to him at last and grabbed him by the arm.
“It was Dietl. My prefect Dietl. The Rektor has been threatening to oust him from his Philology lessons. His mother is widowed, Deyling. He has brothers to feed.”
“And you have a wife and thirteen children. Tell me all. There may be a way out.”
“It was all in jealousy of me. The Rektor could see no other way of forcing the students to eschew their study of music with me. They would not do it willingly, so he thought fit to force them to do so. The prefects, in particular, are compelled to shun music.”
“Dietl saw no reason to do so. But he would need his lessons in Philology to gain entrance into the University.” Deyling took a deep breath. “Poor boy. Who can blame him for taking matters into his own hands?”
“I cannot believe he would do such a thing. Besides, the sixteen other members of the choir were in the same predicament as he.” Moreover, it was poor Dietl who had discovered the body. Nothing would convince the Kantor the boy was guilty.
“Then there were sixteen reasons to kill the Rektor. It puts you in the clear, and the council can determine on its own which of the boys did the deed. No need to mention it was a choir member. Simply say it was a student. They can hardly prosecute the entire student body.”
Councilman Meyerlink wrinkled his nose and grimaced as though in the presence of a putrefying piece of carcass.
“For shame, Kantor Bach! Would you bring an accusation against one of your own students? Merely to save your skin?”
The other five members sitting around the oak table nodded sagely.
“He is not accusing anyone, Councilman.” Deyling’s large frame loomed over the table.
“We are merely pointing out that more than one person had a grudge against the Rektor. His stance on music alone alienated the entire Collegium Musicum. Besides, he was alive at nine o’ clock last night and given the state of the body, it was clear he was killed some hours before he was discovered.”
Councilman Meyerlink’s gaze swiveled toward the student.
“May the Council remind you, Herr von Deyling, that the University has no authority in matters pertaining to the city.”
“But I do not represent the University in this matter. I am merely a private citizen—“
“Who does not belong to the city of Leipzig and therefore has even less say in its affairs.”
“Given the time of his death, anyone could have killed him,” Deyling insisted.
“The Rektor was alive at nine o’ clock?” another gray-haired council member enquired.
“How can we be sure the Kantor here did not kill the poor man and carry his body into the Church?”
“There was no blood in any part of the schoolhouse. Nor any signs of violence,” Kantor Bach replied before Deyling could say anything further that suggested they had approached the barber-surgeon for information. The town council would not take kindly to that, he knew.
“Kantor Bach.” Councilman Meyerlink entered the fray again. “Is it not your duty to look in upon the students at night to ensure each boy is in his bed?”
“Yes, it is.” What had made the Councilman bring this up?
“Did you discharge your duty last night?”
“Yes, of course. I—”
“And was every boy accounted for?”
“Yes, I can swear to it.”
“Then either you are lying or one of those boys was out of bed for the accusation you have leveled to be true, Kantor Bach.”
Deyling rolled his eyes. “But that was before nine o’ clock. The Kantor heard the Rektor arguing with one of the students.”
“Then he should have intervened. He was grossly negligent to have ignored the incident.”
“Besides,” the gray-haired council member spoke up, “how can we be sure the Kantor did not follow the Rektor to the Church and kill him there? If he died there, as you so strenuously argue, Herr von Deyling.”
“Which begs another question, Herr Görner. What business did the Kantor have at the Church at night?”
“It is not much, but it gives us a few hours’ respite,” Deyling said as he and the Kantor walked back to the schoolhouse.
“You think whoever he was meeting at the Church killed him?”
“It is a more reasonable assumption than to suppose that either you or one of the students followed him there for the sole purpose of killing him.”
“How so?” Kantor Bach unconsciously slowed his pace as he asked the question.
“A student arguing with him might have struck him in a fit of rage. But he would do so immediately. Not wait several hours before following him out for the purpose of killing him. Would his anger not have cooled sufficiently for him to think better of his purpose?”
“True enough. But someone with a deep-seated grudge against the Rektor might have waited for the right opportunity.”
“Then, I should hope,” Deyling replied, “the person would have the intelligence not to attempt his act in the very place and at the very time he was most likely to have a witness.”
“Assuming Rektor Ernesti was meeting someone at the Church,” the Kantor pointed out.
“Why else would he go there?” Deyling demanded. “To pray for his soul? We all know how religious he was.”
For the first time that morning, Kantor Bach smiled. As far as the Rektor was concerned, religion and music were both equally without significance. “If only we could discover who he was meeting.”
“It will have been an illicit meeting, that much we can be sure of. A woman, perhaps.”
“Surely a woman could not have struck the fatal blow.” The Kantor had no hesitation dismissing Deyling’s surmise.
“He was struck by the silver cross that lies atop the Bible on the pulpit. I saw the shape of the wound on the back of his neck. And the barber-surgeon had yet to clean the blood off the cross. Anyone could have inflicted such a blow. Even a boy.”
A slender, dark-haired woman was leaving the schoolhouse as the Kantor and Deyling approached it.
Deyling snorted. “Not content with persecuting you himself, the Councilman sends his wife to take on the task as well.”
The portly, middle-aged housekeeper, Frau Haber, was beating a rug on the doorstep.
“What did Frau Meyerlink want at the schoolhouse?” Deyling demanded as soon as the housekeeper greeted them.
Frau Haber addressed her remarks to the Kantor. “She asked to go into the Rektor’s rooms, Herr Kantor. He had apparently promised her his Bible and cross, in the event that. . .” She glanced away, unable to continue.
“But Rektor Ernesti was a young man,” the Kantor exclaimed. “No thought of death could have entered his mind.”
“It was merely an excuse to gain access to his rooms, my dear Herr Kantor,” Deyling explained. “You had the good sense to refuse her admission, of course, Frau Haber?”
The housekeeper nodded. “I informed her the Kantor here was in charge of the Rektor’s personal effects and would deal with them as he saw fit.”
“Excellently done, my good woman!” Deyling sprang up the steps and strode into the hallway. “Now, to the Rektor’s rooms.”
“But what are we looking for, Deyling?” the Kantor asked, hurrying after the student.
“Some reason for our Frau Meyerlink to kill the Rektor,” Deyling replied as he pushed open the door to the Rektor’s rooms—a small parlor with a door on the right leading to the bedroom.
“Look for the Bible, Herr Kantor. It will likely furnish us with some useful evidence.” Deyling began opening the drawers of the small secretary that stood opposite the fireplace. “I will see if I can discovery anything useful among his papers.”
The Kantor crossed the threshold into the Rektor’s bedroom, feeling awkward. When Ernesti was alive, he had never so much as set foot in the Rektor’s parlor.
Yet, here he was in the dead man’s bedchamber. Without so much as a by your leave.
To what indignities do we subject the dead? the Kantor thought as he hesitantly penetrated the room.
“Have you found anything?” Deyling called from the parlor.
“I am still looking.” The Kantor hastened to his task. There was a small silver cross on the nightstand. He lifted it carefully and scrutinized it. It looked innocuous enough. But where was the Bible?
If there even was such a thing in the Rektor’s possession. His eyes searched the room.
“Well, well, well. What have we here?” Deyling’s loud exclamation, reverberating through the room, startled him.
He turned toward the door just as Deyling strode in, a small iron chest in his hand.
“Our Rektor was a man of wealth, apparently.” Deyling held the chest out for the Kantor, who peered into its depths.
An astonished whistle escaped his lips. “That is more money than I have seen in a lifetime, Deyling. There must be over a thousand thalers in that box. Where do you think he obtained it?”
Deyling shrugged. “From the town council, I suppose. I saw some papers amongst his belongings. Mundane matters pertaining to the council. To whom money was awarded; to whom it was denied. It would not surprise me if they counted him an honorary member.”
Kantor Bach nodded, unsurprised that the town council should have bent its own rules to accommodate a man who so willingly followed its every lead. Why should the Rektor not be paid as a councilmember? He was one in all but name.
“But where is that Bible?” Deyling surveyed the room. “I assume he had one for Frau Meyerlink to seek it.”
Kantor Bach followed Deyling’s gaze around the room. “Most people would keep it on their nightstand. But the Rektor had no use for religion. . .” The Kantor shrugged.
“The drawers of the nightstand, perhaps.” Deyling tugged at them. The first one was crammed with odds and ends.
“Ah! Here it is.” Deyling withdrew a thick, black leather-covered volume from the second drawer. The word “Bible” was inscribed on it in fine gold lettering.
The book fell open to a page in the middle, and a cluster of notes fell out. All written on perfumed paper, in a large, looping, feminine hand.
Meet me at the church at the usual hour.
Tonight at the church. You shall have what you want.
Deyling stooped down to pick up the notes and began reading them out loud.
Tonight as usual. I can scarcely wait!
Tonight, dearest. I have what you want.
“Dear God!” Kantor Bach whispered.
“Every man has his vice, my dear Kantor,” Deyling remarked, unaffected by their discovery. “And we seem to have stumbled upon the Rektor’s.”
“But to seduce the Councilman’s wife?” The notes made it clear enough who had initiated the affair.
“She seems to have eagerly succumbed” Deyling commented dryly. “I long to embrace you! Not the words of a woman who holds her marriage vows sacred.”
“Then that is why she wanted his Bible.”
“To destroy all evidence of her ill-conceived passion.” Deyling inclined his head. “It would not bode well for her if her husband found out.”
The Kantor wiped his brow. It could not have been worse if they had found out the Rektor was secretly visiting brothels. Far better if he had been, in fact.
“If she loved the man, Deyling, she had no reason to harm him.”
“Not if she wanted to end it. Look at this!” Deyling held out another note.
Tonight, but this must be the last time, dearest. I can go on no longer.
“And this—” Deyling held out yet another piece of perfumed paper.
Please. Let it go. I can betray him no longer.
The Kantor and Deyling were walking past Davidstrasse on their way to Frau Meyerlink’s house when the barber-surgeon accosted them.
“You left this behind on the corpse.” He shoved a large pendant on a gold chain into Deyling’s hands.
“It is not mine.” Deyling sounded puzzled. He examined the round, gold pendant, engraved with the features of the Elector-King’s deceased spouse.
“Whose else would it be, then?” the barber-surgeon demanded. “It was not around the dead man’s neck, so it cannot have belonged to him.”
“No, it did not,” Kantor Bach, peering curiously at the pendant, agreed. He was certain he had seen it before, but not in the Rektor’s possession. Rektor Ernesti being the kind of man who was as likely to honor a pious woman as he was God Himself.
Deyling looked up. “You found it on the body, you say?”
“Within the palm of his right hand,” the barber-surgeon replied.
“Had the stiffness departed from the body when you returned?” Deyling leaned forward as he asked the question, his eyes gleaming.
“It is as limp now as a rain-soaked suit. Why do you ask?”
Deyling took a deep breath, seemed about to say something, then caught himself. “No reason.” His fingers closed around the pendant. “I shall endeavor to discover whose it is,” he said.
“What is it, Deyling?” The Kantor waited until the barber-surgeon had walked away to ask the question.
“Proof of your innocence, my dear Kantor,” the student replied. “The Rektor must have torn this from his killer’s neck.”
“And clutched it in death until the muscles released their stiffness?” Kantor Bach asked. It was the first ray of hope the day had afforded him.
Deyling nodded. “His palms were tightly closed when I examined the body. It would have been impossible to drop anything into them after death.
“And now to confront the killer.”
“But I did not kill him,” Frau Meyerlink protested, her face, pale and tear-drenched, turned from Deyling’s rigid features to the Kantor’s mild, round mein. “You must believe me. I would not do such a thing.”
“You deny having an affair with him, then?” Deyling loomed over the woman.
She clasped her hands together. “No, no, I do not. It was wrong, but. . .”
“But you wanted to end it after a while?” Kantor Bach prompted her.
Frau Meyerlink raised her eyes, puzzled. “End it? No, I—” She brushed the tears from her face. “I suppose I should have. But I am afraid I did not.”
“The messages you sent him say otherwise,” Kantor Bach said as Deyling held the notes before the woman’s eyes.
She cast her eyes away. “Those refer to something else.”
“And what about this?” Deyling thrust the pendant retrieved from the Rektor’s corpse at her. “Do you deny it is yours?”
Frau Meyerlink looked up. The last remnants of color left her cheeks; her fingers clutched nervously at her throat. “It is not mine. I swear it.” Her eyes, wide and staring, remained fastened on the gold pendant dangling from its gold chain.
“But you recognize it, don’t you?” the Kantor ventured, recalling at last where he had seen it.
“I have recovered evidence that can identify Rektor Ernesti’s killer,” the barber-surgeon announced to the council after Deyling had prodded him in the ribs.
The poor fellow looked none too pleased, Kantor Bach thought, at the role Deyling was forcing him to play.
“There is no other way,” Deyling had said as he thrust the man into meeting room of the town council. “An innocent man will pay for this crime if you refuse to help us.”
“What kind of evidence?” Councilman Meyerlink glared at Deyling and Kantor Bach, who stood behind the barber-surgeon.
“A pendant that the deceased tore from his killer’s neck when he was struck. It remained concealed within his palm until the stiffness left his body and his fingers relaxed their hold upon it.”
The barber-surgeon held up the pendant for all to see.
“Is that your pendant, Councilman Meyerlink?” Herr Görner, gray-haired and ancient, turned his wizened features toward the councilman. “The one the Electress, God rest her soul, gave you when she last came here?”
“His wife has already identified it as his,” Kantor Bach spoke for the first time.
“What business did you have with her?” Councilman Meyerlink slammed his fist into the table.
“It was she who provided the Rektor with the material he needed to blackmail you.” Deyling’s lips curved into a cruel smile.
The Councilman looked as though a bolt of lightning had penetrated his body.
“Blackmail!” Görner repeated, his eyes still on the Councilman.
“We discovered the papers—evidence of the Councilman’s corruption—in the Rektor’s rooms along with a thousand thalers in ready money.”
“It is a lie. My wife would never betray me.” The Councilman breathed heavily.
“She was in love with the Rektor. They met at the Church of St. Nicholas every opportunity they could.” Deyling’s smile grew wider. “Did you not wonder why a man with so little use for God should insist on taking over a church in disrepair?”
Deyling crossed the room to where the Councilman sat huddled in his seat.
“And to think that you would have gotten away with it had you not insisted upon persecuting an innocent man!”
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