Translated by Vincent Kling, Philadelphia After her mother took the secret to the grave with her, a young woman from an old patrician dynasty in Lucerne wants to find out who her father is. Joining forces with a supposed private detective, she begins looking for clues the lovers left behind in the early seventies. In their search, they penetrate ever deeper into the psyche of the city closely connected with the name of this young patrician, a city still today unable to get over its loss of significance. In a series of shifting encounters with pious nannies, tight-lipped market women, and mysterious chain- smoking Jesuits, they uncover evidence of a crime and ultimately of a love story that draws them Beat Portman was born in Lucerne in 1976.
After preparatory course work in the jazz now lives as a free-lance author and singer- and City of Lucerne for his work. His card Lucerne Conservatory. His first novel, Durst and is available. It has been translated into The unusually dressed woman lying on the gold- embroidered spread covering the antique bed seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Her eyelids were closed, her features relaxed, her narrow hands crossed over her breast and curved into fists, as if they were holding invisible insignia of pharaohnic power. Her right hand, on which she wore a ring, was clasping a pair of white gloves, and she was wearing a golden chain around her neck. The oddity of her appearance was caused by an outfit both folksy and chic at the same time. She was wearing a long-sleeved white blouse with lace trim and inserts and over it a glossy red pinafore trimmed with gold-threaded dark green ribbons and reaching to her ankles. On her small feet were high-heeled open- toed sandals; her toenails were lacquered dark red.
Her naturally blond hair, shading into silver, had been braided into an elaborate crown with a yellow cloth flower behind her left ear. It looked as if she had just lain down for a short rest, but her daughter assured «She’s ice-cold …» the young woman managed to get out. With a jerky motion she drew my attention to the medications on the night table, next to a black book. «I found them in the waste basket.» I looked at them, glad to be able to turn my gaze away from the dead woman. They were all labeled Digoxin and were apparently used for heart disease. I took the capsules out of the vials. Every last one of «She swallowed them all …» said Salesia Pfyffer in I was still holding the empty capsules in my hand, but now I set them back down on the night stand and turned to my client. She had pale, glowing skin, a fragile little nose—and astonishing eyes. Never before in my life had I seen eyes that large. Her face was surrounded by a dark-brown pageboy haircut and a black turtleneck. I guessed she was in her late With some thought of making a contribution to the intimacy that was starting to come about, I asked her if her mother had left a farewell letter.
She shook her head and assailed me again with her large brown eyes. There was no doubt about it—she was expecting answers from me, explanations, conjectures, anything that would show her what course of action to take from here. Or could she have I went over to the window and looked out onto the snow-covered monastery square. It was empty except for a group of old women standing by Saint Mary’s Fountain and a priest in his black cassock walking cautiously down the open stairs. Above the north tower there was a shimmer of pale blue between the «We had an argument last night …»I heard Salesia Pfyffer’s voice saying. «Before—before I telephoned «I summoned you to Einsiedeln to put pressure on I nodded, even though I understood nothing.
«And about half an hour before you arrived … Because it was so quiet the whole morning … I went to look in on her and discover— discover this.» She looked at me and dropped her arms.
«Don’t let your conscience bother you,» I began cautiously; «people do this of their own …» «I don’t have a bad conscience,» she interrupted.
«Did I say any such thing? I’m merely trying to point She turned away and threw her hands up to her face. The way she was crying, soundlessly and turned in on herself—only her narrow shoulders were shaking a little—would have been embarrassing for even the I could have just left at that point. The door to the bedroom was standing open—I could have reached it «You have to help me»; her voice made its way to my ear as if from a distance. She turned and let her glance slide down me, looked back up and stated: «I’ll «What do you have in mind?» I said, not exactly «I’d like to take my mother back to the house where she was born. This isn’t where she belongs.» The dead woman lay in my arms like a lifesize figure on an Epiphany cake. Earlier, Salesia Pfyffer had wrapped her in the bedspread with dexterous movements and concise instructions about how I was to handle the stiff corpse. While she was bringing her car to the rear entrance, I carried her mother into the corridor and set her down carefully.
It was never my intention to write scenes like this, let alone figure in them. Moreover, I balked at representing myself as something I actually wasn’t.
For example, pretending to a young woman whose mother had just committed suicide that I was a «Come …»she whispered, as she appeared in the doorway. And because I was hesitating, she added, «Let’s get going; we don’t have all the time in the Reluctantly I wrapped my arms around the dead woman and lifted her horizontally. Given her slender figure she was surprisingly heavy. I went sideways down the stairs to the ground floor, where Salesia Pfyffer was holding open the door to the courtyard.
The body of her car, a dark blue limousine, reflected our surroundings in vaguely expressionistic style. The tailgate door was open, and the back seats had been lowered. I slid the corpse feet first into the «Would you drive? I just don’t feel capable …» Shrugging my shoulders I took the key, took my place behind the wheel, breathed deeply and started While I was steering the car out of the courtyard onto the paved village street, Salesia Pfyffer was pushing buttons in search of a radio station. She settled on DRS 2 and some violin concerto or other.
I shifted into fifth gear and picked up speed.
Up until a few weeks ago I had been looking upon my career as a writer confidently.After I had lived through some turbulent times— my publisher in contract—everything had seemingly taken a turn for the better: my crime novel based on actual events had secured me a place with a new publisher in very short order, which had contributed to very decent sales figures— at least compared to my two previous novels.
But now I had been wanting to turn back to real fiction, that godlike exercise sovereignty in the still of a quiet chamber, where the author creates a small cosmos of his own. Real life, with its monopoly on realism, its dodges and feints, its abstruse flukes and «She looks so peaceful—as if she were just getting a little sleep.» Salesia Pfyffer turned her glance back Somewhat annoyed at her calling her mother a corpse, I shrugged my shoulders. «Not really …» I had quit when the second millenium took its last gasp. By now, that was almost exactly one hundred «Thanks, but I’d like to do it on my own.» She held the pack out to me and gave me a light.
I took the first drag cautiously while guiding the car out of the canyon and into the open landscape of the upland plateau. Then the second one, more rugged, and right after that the third. I grew a bit dizzy, my heart was pounding, and I felt at one with the surroundings and the padded winter sky.
A few weeks before, my new publisher had taken a look at my most recent project for a novel, into which I had been pouring my heart’s blood for several years.
First he had muttered to himself a little and then said,»This attempt to apply the principles of Romantic literature to the context of the last years of the twentieth century is actually very interesting.» Pause— and then with a sigh, «I just have to ask myself if there would be an audience.» Another pause.
«Do you think you could see your way clear to write another crime story first? I think you have a real talent My publisher thought he was on to something. He was evidently confusing my tendency to fall into complicated and sometimes dangerous adventures with an ability to concoct a criminological plot.
«You’re driving at an excessive speed.» And so I was. I took my foot off the gas pedal.
Salesia Pfyffer put her cigarette stub out in the ashtray. Then she applied gloss to her lips, pressed them together and said, «For a private detective you don’t strike me as especially curious.» I’d been somewhat surprised the day before— several weeks after the talk with my publisher—when a woman’s voice on the phone the day before addressed me as «Herr Arnold.» I’d listed myself in the phone book as a private detective under that pseudonym three years before but then had it removed the year after that. It turned out that Salesia Pfyffer was calling from her mother’s vacation apartment, where the phone book from 1998—the year the mother had moved into the apartment— was still lying around. In keeping with my nature, I interpreted it as a sign sent by fate.
«Do you still want me to locate your father?» I had to brake and go into low gear, because a tractor turned into our lane from a side road. After passing it I asked,»Do you have any specific leads or First she said no, only to contradict herself at once.
Then she talked for quite a good while, the whole time hard pressed to put her thoughts into words.
From the swirling turmoil of her outpourings I gathered that she had believed up to just a few weeks before that she owed her conception to a «romance» her mother had with an English aristocrat— appar- ently during a stay in Zermatt. Her father had supposedly, before she was born, never returned from a hike across a glacier. Her mother had evidently stuck to this version to the very end.
The thought of her mother’s death silenced her.
Looking sideways at her, I noticed how her lips were pressed together. She lowered her eyes and was listening—I assumed—to the violins, rising over the I’ll confess openly that sheerdesperation was what made me agree when Salesia Pfyffer asked me to come to Einsiedeln the following day. Possibly her name had made me curious as well—the prospect of meeting someone of such old and substantial a «How is it you suddenly came to cast doubt on that Salesia Pfyffer had lit a new cigarette and looked at «Someone sent me a copy of a contract …» She took a sheet of paper out of her purse and I took a look at it. The text was written with a typewriter and titled «Disclaimer of Paternity.» The date of April 23, 1973 was given. At my request she read it out loud to me: «In placing his signature on this contract, the biological father attests his willing- ness to renounce all rights and duties of fatherhood in return for a blanket compensation of two hundred thousand Swiss francs. Payment of said compensation will ensue upon delivery of the signed contract to the legal mother. The biological father commits himself by these presents to maintain lifelong silence regarding his paternity and this contract. The child shall grow up believing that its father met with a fatal On the copy, the father’s name had been completely covered over by a black bar, and his signature was missing as well. The contract was signed by only one party, Charlotte Johanna Pfyffer.
«A great deal of money for something other fathers I held the contract out to her and looked back out «Do you find that comment witty by any chance?» She tore the paper out of my hand and attacked the Author and Characters of the novels on facebook:



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