As the young man fell to his death, he did not cry or yell or scream. His body descended at an ever increasing rate, ever faster, so that when he hit pavement the speed of impact reached 128 kilometers per hour.
It is impossible to know what he might have been thinking in his last moments alive, if anything. Math, physics and biology do provide some clues, however. Clues are always important.
The 27 year old man weighed 90 kilograms and the building was fourteen stories (amounting to approximately 65 meters high). He was traveling at a speed of 128 kilometers per hour, or 35.69 meters per second.
That is why he did not cry or yell or scream. Wind pressed hard against his face, making it difficult to even breathe.
His muscles tensed, a natural response to bracing for an unavoidable impact. So we know he was awake and aware of what was happening.
Synapses in the brain work at a speed of one meter per second. He fell at a speed of 35.69 meters per second. His fall lasted 3.68 seconds. If he had fallen at the same speed the synapses in our brain work, he would have appeared to be falling in slow motion. He would have survived the fall.
If it’s true that in our last moments we see flashes of our life, that we make peace with how we lived and the mistakes we made, Mr. Guido Wehrheimberger had less than four seconds to do that.
Even for a saint, that isn’t nearly enough.
Breezy cuddled her baby girl Noodles (aka Serena of the very curly, very blonde-to-nearly-white hair) and hummed a little.
Her sister stood in the kitchen, rinsing plates and putting them in the dishwasher. “You need me to pick anything up for you? I’ll be stopping at the grocers today. Big haul, so I’m taking Ward’s car for it. If you need a bunch of stuff you don’t want to schlepp across town, this is the moment to ask.”
“Diapers. Lots of diapers. I’m too tired to think of anything else right now.” Breezy’s hair was looking a bit oily. Noodles had been sick with a cold for the past week, which meant she needed extra attention and extra everything else from her Mommy. Fortunately, Breezy’s boss was very understanding.
“No worries. I’ll just get the usual.” Agate was dressed casually for the day, but by any standards looked quite fashionable. All black and tight fitting everywhere, she had black leggings and a black turtleneck, and red canvas sneakers. Her hair lately was also black, and as she was going for a slightly Audrey Hepburn look, she wore super short bangs with the rest piled high on her head in a sloppy beehive. The month before, she had dressed like a Manga doll with pink hair back-teased to insanity. The cool clean look Agate donned now was her typically wide pendulum swing to a totally different Look, but there was no telling how long it would last.
“How on earth do you manage to pull this off with three kids? I feel like I can barely manage with just one. And she can’t even talk yet.”
“You just deal with whatever you have to deal with, and let go of what doesn’t matter. And remember to breathe.”
Breezy breathed in, held it in a little, and then tried to slowly let it out again. She choked a little, but it still helped. It also made her realize how tired she was, and considerably more aware of how ripe she was.
“I need a bath.”
“I’m glad you figured that out.” Agate sauntered over and held out her arms to take baby Serena.
“Trust me,” she grunted a little as she lifted the little bundle to her. “I mind more that you waited this long. Take your bath, enjoy it. I’ll take care of Noodles.” She tipped her nose against the baby’s little nose and said, “Boop. Little Noodles and I will be just fine.”
Breezy slid into the tub, uttering ouches and acks all the way down until the bumps on her skin subsided and she could relax into the heat. She closed her eyes and let the steam rise up over her face and drip back down again.
In just a few short hours, Mr. Guido Wehrheimberger was due to show up, so it was a good thing she had Agate for support and the chance for a long, hot bath.
Breezy tried not to wrinkle her brow as she thought about the man who was coming to stay, to stay in her apartment with her and her baby. It was a little strange because he was sort of known in the whole area, and yet had been living abroad in America for several years. Now, he would be staying with her. He would not be staying with his family at the estate.
He would prefer my old couch over the comforts of the vast estate. Breezy couldn’t stop thinking of it, wondering about it. But it didn’t matter, because he was coming soon. She had to get ready.
Breezy slipped further down into the hot water, her thick black hair floating all around her round face. I’ve got to stop worrying. It’s all going to be fine. At least, that is what she told herself.
The man very slowly drove up to the curb sitting upright on an old minty blue Vespa, a bright white cigarette sticking out of his mouth. He wore on his head a nearly matching minty blue open face helmet with little daisies stickered onto it. His pants were tight fitting around the legs and just loose enough around the seat, a bright yellow denim. His crocodile boots matched the color of his very fine button up shirt, which looked like it cost as much as the bike.
On his back was a black, boxy looking backpack.
He took a few drags from his cigarette and flicked it away. Breezy frowned. There was an enormous ashtray standing next to the door, not even a meter from where she was standing.
When he parked the motorbike and removed the flowered helmet, it revealed a shock of snowy white hair. It matched the white of his cigarette. His brows were dark brown, a stunning contrast to crystal blue eyes.
His face and body were young, certainly in his twenties. His smirk, which hinted at all sorts of mischievous behavior, was without age.
“Are you my landlady for the next few nights?” He spoke directly to Breezy with a smirk that slowly stretched to the other side, and with the swagger of a man who knows when a woman is single or married but doesn’t care either way.
“I’m Beatrix. Breezy if you like. Nice helmet.” She waited for an explanation. There was definitely a story there.
“Yes. Not quite my style, but it works just as well.” In a few long-legged steps, he reached Breezy with an outstretched hand. “I’m Guido.”
“About the cigarette-.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll never light up inside your place.” He had the decency to be almost bashful about it. He had definitely lied when he claimed to be a non-smoker.
She took his hand. It was warm and dry. “Guido. Forgive me for asking, but are you by any chance related to the Wehrheimberger family of Wehrheimberg? Descendants of the town’s founders?” She knew he had to be, but something in her insisted she make doubly sure.
There was only a slight alteration, almost invisible, but Breezy noticed. She noticed how the twinkle in his eyes went out.
“You know my family?” The question was stated more like a sentence that had been used so many times it had at some point died at the side of the road. But he dragged the old corpse with him, everywhere he went, because he had no choice.
Breezy shook her head. “Oh, Honey! If I had the kind of money that would afford me friends in such high places, I wouldn’t have space on my sofa for a stranger!”
He laughed warmly and she joined him.
“I only know your family name. Trust me, I know what it’s like to be recognized for the sins of the mother, or the father for that matter.” Guido visibly relaxed. Breezy gestured, “Shall we go up then?” He nodded.
Breezy wondered about his luggage. “All you have is a backpack. Just the backpack?”
“I travel light.”
Breezy envied him his lightness. She had always wanted to travel light, live light. It seemed to her the most comfortable, stress free way to exist, but she just couldn’t seem to pull it off. But anyhow, she had to practically pack a suitcase just to go to work, and that was a regular weekday. Breezy wasn’t kidding anyone, not even herself, but she couldn’t let go of that dream of lightness.
She still wondered where he got the Vespa. Maybe he bought it on a whim, or borrowed it. The bizarre thing was he looked good with daisies on his helmet.
They stepped into the elevator and Breezy pressed the button for floor fourteen.
Breezy asked, “You have a sister, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“She’s still living on the family estate, I believe.”
“Yes.” His voice sounded stiff, a little cold.
“I’m sorry, I think I’m making you uncomfortable.”
“No, it’s fine,” he sighed. “You’re wondering why I’m not staying with my family at the estate.”
“Of course. They must have every imaginable luxury there and plenty of rooms-.”
“And security cameras, and servants, and old arguments that will never go away.”
“Well, there’s none of that here,” smiled Breezy. “Just poopy diapers.”
That surprised him. He laughed out loud. “The lap of luxury.”
That evening, Agate decided to stick around longer than originally planned. She called Ward, “Darling, I’m going to stay for a while, just to be sure Breezy and Baby Noodles will be alright with this Man staying here. I need you to feed the kids. Just warm up the casserole. Yes, I know. Of course. Darling, you’re just one floor up. If I scream you’ll probably hear it. But I don’t think it’s that, really. Well, it’s hard to put my finger on it, just that-.” Agate tried to find the right words, the right way to explain why she felt uneasy about this particular houseguest. After all, it wasn’t as if he were the first stranger to sleep on her sister’s couch.
Then Agate told her husband something that he would later tell the police when they questioned him.
His wife of ten years pronounced the words slowly and deliberately, “Things are far too interesting and I just don’t trust it. I don’t trust him.”
“Beatrix ‘Breezy’ Han, age 31, single mom with a 15-month old daughter, lives in a small 2-bedroom apartment in town, and the victim’s body was found at the foot of her apartment complex.”
“So why is the lady with a baby our primary suspect?”
“The victim was staying with her, in her apartment. She claims she hardly knew the man.”
“Then why was he there? Please tell me she isn’t a hooker.”
Sergeant Sandra Polk shook her head and cleared her throat. “We checked. She teaches English as a Foreign Language up at the language school. You know, that villa with the blue trim at the outskirts of town. That one. Teaches adults, mostly. But she’s part of a thing, sort of a community of nomads. They call themselves Couch Surfers.”
“Couch Surfers.” Detective Inspector J. J. Rick put effort into stating questions rather than asking them. Every sentence, every question, fell out of his mouth as a solid thud; his piercing gaze was the mallet that pounded it into the ground to make sure it wouldn’t ever move, ever veer from a point of his intention.
There was nodding all around, as now a couple more cops tilted their heads to listen. In the town’s only precinct, there weren’t that many walls. Mostly just Chief Tronke had walls around his desk, and it really was more “just walls” than an office because there was almost nothing inside the room but a desk and a couple of chairs. A word like “plain” would have been high praise. Chief Tronke only went in there when he was ticked off, having been brought up with a “don’t fence me in” sort of philosophy. The man was bow-legged from birth. But he was at his desk now, with the door closed.
Tronke had some uncomfortable phone calls to make. The Deceased came from a prominent family with deep roots in every facet of business and government all through the region. From Chief’s perspective, the only upswing to all this was that the victim was reportedly estranged from his family.
“Do you expect me to know what that is, Sergeant?” Detective Rick tried not to sound irritated and failed.
“Let me rephrase that: tell me what a Couch Surfer is. Please.”
“It’s basically just a person who travels on a tight budget and is willing to sleep on anyone’s couch for a night or two, maybe longer. They don’t generally pay for food and lodging. It’s more on a barter system, or just a friendly gesture.”
“What sort of friendly gesture?”
“Like fixing something, or crafting a personal gift for the host or hostess. Weaving a basket maybe, I don’t know.”
“Other than dying at the foot of her building, what did Guido Wehrheimberger do in return for staying – how long was it?”
Sergeant Hermann Meissner was ready with an answer. “Two nights, Sir. He was pushed the morning after his second night with the suspect.”
Sergeant Polk set the file down and added, “Right: far as we know, he only played the clarinet for her and her family.”
“Her family being the baby.”
“Also her sister.”
“Yes, and that’s kind of the other thing.” This comment came from Meissner.
“The other thing.” Detective J. J. Rick waited.
“The suspect’s sister is her twin. They’re identical.” Meissner started blinking too much. There was more to tell, and already Detective Rick was getting edgy.
“Great.” This was highly sarcastic. “That‘ll make verifying her whereabouts a real joy. How identical are they?”
“Well, that’s another thing.” Meissner showed a picture, and then another and another and another. All together, there were ten pictures.
“Who are all these women?”
Sergeant Sandra Polk stepped in for her partner. She pointed, “This one is Beatrix Han. These other nine photos are all her twin, a Mrs. Agatha-.” She checked her notes, “‘Agate’ Kremer.”
“She likes to play dress up,” Meissner added.
Detective Rick was vexed. He didn’t actually speak words, but grunted in a way that suggested, “What? How?”
“She says that all of these looks are achieved with make-up and clothing.”
Detective Rick grunted in a way that prompted further explanation.
“She’s a costume designer for a few theatre groups in the area, Sir. It’s sort of her thing.”
“But these all look like completely different women!”
“So our primary suspect has an identical twin, and that twin has a knack for complete physical transformations.”
“You understand of course what this means.” He inhaled deeply and fast, as if he was in an urgent hurry to calm down. Everyone knew Detective Rick had high blood pressure. “We don’t have one primary suspect, we have two, and either one of them can look like any one of these other nine women. Possibly more. How did you come by these photographs?”
“Mrs. Kremer showed them to us. We asked her why she looked so differently from her twin, and she proudly displayed these. We asked if we could borrow them, she said sure.”
“She didn’t seem interested in hiding anything, Sir. She was open with us and answered all of our questions.”
“All that doesn’t make her innocent, Sergeant. It makes her cunning. She’s a twin. She’s had experience, her whole life, with being mistaken for someone else. She’s perhaps even quite comfortable with it. Being mistaken for the wrong person, or posing as someone else is not a thing she had to learn or train to do. Giving us all these pictures was perhaps the best possible play the twins could have made.”
“I don’t understand.”
“These pictures. They so readily provided us with them. So many. They have an advantage over us, and they know it.” He pointed to the ten pictures. “This is the proof. We’re in this Day One, and they managed to increase the suspects we need to track down by about a thousand fold.”
“If they’re guilty.”
“Guilty or not, we have our work cut out for us.” With that, Detective Rick divvied who should track what. Everyone was instructed to carry copies of all ten pictures on their phones. It was going to be, “Excuse me, have you seen this woman? How about this woman? And this woman?” What fun.
Detective Rick was going to have a talk with both women, of course. This Ms. Beatrix ‘Breezy’ Han first. She was supposedly the one who played hostess to the murdered man. The Detective decided he would need to push a little hard on this one. Something about all this bothered him, like some old thought, a forgotten name or small fact, bumping the back of his head. He frowned at his insufficient memory. He would definitely need to push hard on this one.