I don’t know what they told you – and to be honest, I don’t care. I always thought I was holding our little world together by my fingertips.“Haben Sie das alles verstanden, Hr. Erdeschalk?“
And I was right. I just had no idea what it would cost us.
Forget what they told you. This is my story. This is our story.
[ TRUMAN ]
And I was right. I just had no idea what it would cost us.
Forget what they told you. This is my story. This is our story.
[ TRUMAN ]
“Do you understand, Mr. Erdeschalk?”
The Staatsanwalt levelled his gaze on Sebastian Erdeschalk, clearly trying to intimidate. It is, of course, the temptation of all great offices – to make words greater than they would be from another, implying greater consequences (or even the existence of consequences). Sometimes the implied threat was hollow, sometimes not.
“Ich verstehe.” Sebastian affirmed, nodding his head. The prosecutor regarded Sebastian for a moment, as if waiting for the young man to crack under the pressure, and then stood up. Sebastian did as well, and then the five others in the room did so as well. The two principles shook each other’s hand respectfully and then turned to their individual teams before Sebastian and his two companions shuffled out of the room in a polite silence.
“You navigated that well.” One of his companions said in an easy British accent, and while he didn’t whisper it was clear that he didn’t want to be heard.
“Not here. Not now” the other said, surveying who else was in the hallway. Stefan held out an arm to subtly urge the pair to his right, “The press could be here. There are a few outside as well.”
“My apologies.” Reginald James Darby said, coughing lightly, as the three continued through the thin hallway. The German government, like all governments, had gorgeous architecture and fantastic, welcoming spaces – but never when one was to meet prosecutors. Thin hallways, off-colored lights, and tight meeting rooms all helped them keep corporate raiders and two-bit criminals on edge by keeping them uncomfortable.
Reginald’s portly frame didn’t make it any easier. The fifty-and-so year old lawyer adjusted his double-breasted jacket and tucked his spectacles inside the custom pocket he had installed before re-fluffing the pocket square in his breast pocket. A bit shorter than Sebastian – up to his chin, roughly – the Englishman checked his pocket watch before holding the whole group up for a moment.
“Not yet.” Reginald said, holding up a hand, “A few more moments.”
The group remained silent. Stefan, though he was trying his best to appear relaxed, was clearly not. Sebastian seemed fatalistic at this point, somewhat detached from the world around him. But this moment of forced stillness gave him the opportunity to reflect on Reginald – the man’s curious nature, how they had met, and how fortunate the unfortunate sometimes is.
Reginald James Darby was a lawyer without parallel, yet retained the humblest personality imaginable. He had learned this at the poker table, where everything one did transmitted information…best, then, to do as little as possible to avoid mistakes. His (former) firm had worked well with large multinational companies that felt no reputation was the best reputation, he avoided showmanship, and he understood the intricate and indirect relationship between the various chess games of life.
Reginald hadn’t come to Sebastian. Sebastian had found the Englishman in the middle of a “train accident”. He was a fledgling, weak, underdeveloped Quincy…but he was a Quincy. The death of his life partner had exacerbated his survival instinct enough to bring the weak flicker of his powers to life, exposing him to danger. Sebastian had been in the right place at the right time.
“Now - bitte.” Reginald said with nigh-perfect pronunciation, striding forward and holding the front door open for Sebastian. Sebastian nodded, took a deep breath, and then stepped outside.
He was greeted by the clicks of digital cameras capturing his likeness at incredible intervals, but was comforted by how quiet the noises were – it had been much more pronounced in the beginning. Sebastian strode forward, Reginald at his side, Stefan following right behind.
“Good morning. I’ve just left the Staatsanwalt’s office and will not be charged. As I have previously said, this investigation has proven my innocence.” Sebastian said calmly – it was clearly rehearsed.
“What about other affairs at Rothskinder?” one of the reporters pressed – Sebastian knew him, he was from the Financial Times.
“The Bundesrepublik Deutschland has the right to investigate any wrongdoings they believe has probable cause.” Sebastian nodded, “As they should. Our international banking system is predicated upon the people trusting our institutions, and the government represents the people. This is why Rothskinder has instituted a culture of compliance. The Attorney General did not mention any other active investigations or inform me of any other interviews.”
As if he would. Sebastian reflected to himself.
“What will happen with Robert Hammond?” This question was from the Wall Street Journal, and Sebastian artificially reflected for a few moments before easing into a carefully-formulated answer.
“I don’t know – that is for the Staatsanwalt to decide. Robert is a generous man who has always been kind to me. I believe what he’s done in the recent past doesn’t fully reflect the man that he is, and while I wish him the best, no one is above the law. I hope that he and his family will be able to move through this challenging time.”
“That’s it everyone, thank you. Mr. Erdeschalk will have no further comments.” Reginald stepped in, as practiced, and politely himself in front of Sebastian. Stefan tugged Sebastian’s jacket lightly and guided him to an understated yet longer-than-normal black sedan. Stefan opened the door and then closed it immediately after Sebastian took his seat, ensuring that there were no last-minute photographs snuck in.
A few moments of audible chaos later – Reginald opened and closed his own door as Stefan rounded the front of the sedan and situated himself in the driver’s seat. Both Reginald and Sebastian’s phones were out before the engine purred to life, though for different purposes.
“Yes – it’s me.” Sebastian said in a measured voice to the professionally-yet-stiffly-polite communications employee whom he had called.
“Sebastian.” It was as if the carrier of this withered voice was observing, instead of greeting, the young man. Sebastian knew the voice well, though he rarely heard it.
“Herr Rothskinder.” Sebastian greeted the bank’s patriarch with a stiff response, “It is done.”
“Indeed. So much unnecessary effort simply due a misunderstanding.” Sebastian could picture Hans Rothskinder shaking his head lightly – his last white hairs slicked backwards, his weathered face frowning in a measured bit of emotional expression, his still-bright eyes burning with that famous intensity, “Are you able to return to work again?”
“Excellent. Come to Munich– we can have breakfast together tomorrow. Stay at the Kempinski…I have a friend there.”
“Understood – I look forward to it.” Sebastian confirmed, and then there was an unceremonious click before the phone connection was severed. Bloomberg had written about that once, how the eldest statesman of German banking used a flip phone…it was indeed the luxury of the super-rich to use outdated technology to their benefit. The article hadn’t written about, however, how many aides also had similar phones so the Rothskinder patriarch could contact persons that he perhaps shouldn’t be seen reaching out to…
Sebastian breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and then another one. It was only now that he realized how under attack his body felt, how tense his muscular frame had been, how tight his breathing had become…how much he was hardened his presence…
“And?” Reginald asked.
“Munich tomorrow, and then we are done with this.” Sebastian said, knowing how foolish that sentiment was, “I need a few moments to relax.”
“Try these out – I just bought them.” Reginald rummaged through his bag and pulled out a pair of large over-the-ear headphones, “Noise cancelling. Top shelf.”
Sebastian didn’t think for another moment and embraced the silence. A few deep breaths later, and the young(-ish) man was aware of his body. Of his breathing, of his muscles, of his spiritual-
!!!Sebastian’s eyes snapped open and he looked out the rear window of the car, eyes scanning Frankfurt’s sparse skyline. “Shinigami…”
“In daylight?” Reginald asked, clearly skeptical.
“It’s always nighttime if you think you can’t be seen.” Sebastian chided Reginald.
“Ah yes, my apologies.”
“Is something the matter, sir?” Stefan asked from the front. Sebastian chided himself…Stefan could have only seen it from is facial expression.
“…no. Let’s continue.” Sebastian responded after a moment’s pause. Though they had known each other their whole life, Stefan still didn’t know. And if it was up to Sebastian, he never would.
“As you wish, sir.” The driver, however, clearly shifted into a more aggressive driving style. He may not know what worried Sebastian, but had clearly associated physical distance with a type of safety. Sebastian kept looking out the back window for a few more moments before looking forward again.
“We’re lucky.” Sebastian sighed, absent-mindedly flipping a switch on his armrest. A soft hum was heard as a pane of glass erected itself between the backseats and driver’s area, and a final clunk that signified some type of locking device, “If we had been in Tokyo, they might have noticed us.”
“I didn’t feel anything.” Reginald sighed, “Still.”
“You’re still untrained.” Sebastian said, half-explaining to and half-comforting the man, “It will come in time, if you remain vigilant.
“It was partially my fault. It is a natural human reflex to tense up when under stress…and for those like us, that associates itself with an expressed presence.”
The two Quincies sat in silence for a moment. Reginald was indeed untrained – Sebastian had stumbled upon the young Englishman in Tokyo years ago, by accident, at a conference. He was weak and insignificant but he was drunk and that had complicated matters. Though Reginald was a crumb as far as spiritual beings went, even Hollows get hungry sometimes…and Sebastian had made the mistake of not hiding well enough. Thus the Englishman had seen a flash of the tranquil blue-purple of Gottverlobten, and Sebastian had been forced to introduce him to the world of annihilation.
Reginald was one of the many Quincies that had no wish for their powers, had no dream for their powers, could not truly comprehend their powers, and no need for their powers. Afraid of this change and what it brings, many cursed through the night and ignored their gift, hoping these particular spiritual muscles would atrophy. Or even worse, they stumbled through the world never understanding that unhappy accidents were indeed monsters. In order to control their powers, they needed to expand their powers – and that meant confronting the reality that they were indeed different, that they were gifted, and that they were in danger every moment of their lives. This burden was sought out by very few, accepted by even fewer, and embraced by only the select.
Even Sebastian himself, the German reflected, hadn’t fully embraced it.
It seemed foolish that the Patriarch of the Erdeschalk Quincy family wouldn’t embrace his powers…but he would have to embrace not only his powers. Sebastian’s powers came connected with obligations, with forced priorities, with hard decisions, with-
Bzzt. Bzzt. Sebastian’s phone vibrated in his pocket, and he pulled it out.
It came with compromises.
“Erdeschalk.” Sebastian stated, his customary greeting for incoming calls.
“Hello, Sebastian. It’s me.” A level, female voice responded, “Annika.”
“Hello Annika.” Reginald’s glance flicked over to Sebastian before he tried to disguise it as him itching a weird part of his neck. This disguise was…not effective.
“Is there anything that I need to know?” the phone asked directly.
It irritated Sebastian. She irritated Sebastian. Not even a measure of faked concern, not even a question on how the discussion with the government went. The government! Sebastian had sat down with someone whose job was to find crime and to punish those responsible, and all Annika could ask was-
“Sebastian?” Annika repeated, also clearly at the limits of her patience, “Can you hear me? Is there anything I need to know?”
“No. It is done.” Sebastian responded tersely, clearly trying to end the conversation as fast as possible.
“Understood. Have a safe trip home.” And that was it. The line beeped twice before the phone fell dormant.
“…f*ck.” Sebastian said two moments later. He looked at his phone for another moment before sending her a quick text message: In MUC tonight.
Reginald clearly wanted to say something but just as clearly didn’t think it was appropriate to do so. For a lawyer, it was quite easy to unsettle the Englishman…outside of work. Reginald belonged to that class of persons for whom work and outside-of-work had two different persons, of which the work persona was significantly stronger and more capable.
Okay.Sebastian exhaled a sigh of relief-
Why didn’t you tell me?The sigh of relief had clearly come just a moment too soon.
We talked about this.
We talked about this.
The subsequent messages brought Sebastian just before the point of spontaneous combustion. The Quincy Patriarch flexed his entire body in an effort to physically trap his flaring anger, clenching his jaw and hands. All he wanted to do was stop the car and throw this phone and that damned woman beyond the stratosphere. He could picture it in his head – with a single mental command he could release Irische Fesseln, throw the phone into the air and shoot the contraption and its tie to Annika until there wasn’t a single particle remaining. How on Earth could she think this is the correct response at a time like this? How could-
“Sebastian.” Reginald said lowly, “…please…”
And suddenly the Patriarch was in the real world again.
“Sorry.” Sebastian attempted to force himself to relax, which was by its nature not fully effective.
“You okay?” Reginald asked, now visibly nervous and looking outside.
“Yes. I apologize.” He repeated. A few measured but mentally laborious breaths, “I need something to busy myself. What is on the agenda?”
“A significant amount.” Reginald’s gaze was still caught outside, flicking from shadow to shadow and rooftop to rooftop.
“It’s fine, Reginald.” Sebastian said, “I’m back. I’ll notice them first, anyway.”
The portly man nodded, “…alright. Alright, Sebastian. What do you want to start with?”
“Walk me through what happens next. With the Staatsanwalt.”
“Are you worried about Robert?” Reginald’s tone made it clear he had, unconsciously, become his greater self, his lawyer-self.
“Not that.” Sebastian said, shaking his head.
“Excuse me, sir.” Stefan’s voice called over a speaker, “To the manor?”
“To Munich. We’ll need a hotel – the Kempinski. Thank you Stefan.” Sebastian said, pushing a button to activate the microphone. A moment of pause before turning to Reginald, “Not Robert. With me. With us.”
“Ah, yes. Well, there are a few scenarios…” Reginald pulled out some papers, and the rest of the ride began.
It took four and a half hours on the A3 for the trio to travel from the Staatsanwaltschaft Frankfurt to Munich, and another twenty to navigate to the front of the Kempinski. They had filled the time with business – there was much to be done. It never ended.
“Anything else?” Sebastian asked Reginald, the second half of the sentence clearly implied: that we can’t discuss in public.
“No. I think that’s everything.” Reginald nodded. Sebastian flipped the switch to lower the physical barrier. Stefan had already stepped out of the car and asked the employees to wait a moment, clearly waiting for that signal that the confidential meeting was at an end.
Doors were opened by uniformed bellhops and very pleasant/expensive courtesies were exchanged. The hotel was not known for being affordable, but it was known for who else often stayed here…and that those guests often brought private protection. A valet had asked Stefan for the keys and followed him after not quite understanding why Stefan has politely refusing to let someone else drive the car.
“I have a breakfast meeting tomorrow.” Sebastian informed the other two as the three (plus the annoyed-yet-trying-to-be-professional valet), “Stefan, I’d like to be leaving the hotel around quarter of eleven. Reginald, we will book flights after I’ve had breakfast…so feel free to sleep in a little bit.”
“Excellent. Time for a proper sleep.” Reginald sighed with some relief.
“Don’t forget to pay your tab this time.” Sebastian struck a surprisingly good “father voice” for someone who had no children, “See you both tomorrow.”
And the three split – Reginald, bags in hand, to the bar while Stefan and the valet went outside so they could continue their negotiations, and Sebastian went straight to the check-in desk.
“Checking in – Sebastian Erdeschalk.” He said, striding up to the check-in desk. The young man behind the desk gave a polite nod and started working his keyboard before frowning and taking a moment…
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have a reservation for you.” He said slowly, not quite sure how that could happen.
“May I speak to your manager?” Sebastian asked. He was used to this now.
“You didn’t do anything wrong.” Sebastian smiled, “Please. I think this will be the fastest way to resolve this.”
“I…yes, of course. One moment please.”
He had dark brown eyes, Sebastian perceived suddenly, and a strong jaw. The way he walked implied that he was sore from working out the day before, and while his suit didn’t fit (no uniform did) it belied a strong frame underneath the overly-proper dress. And in a moment, Sebastian saw the uniform covered in blood.
“May I help you?” a woman in her mid-thirties with long brown hair in a very professional braid interrupted Sebastian’s hallucination.
“Yes. I believe someone called ahead for me, but there is no reservation in the system.”
“Of course.” The woman was clearly trying very hard to be polite, “Although if someone called ahead, it should be in the system.”
“I understand.” Sebastian remained relaxed through the exchange, now quite comfortable with a routine that seemed outlandish to others, “Can you please see if a Mr. Müller called?”
“I…I can check.” The woman said, frowning, “But that is a very common name.”
“I know.” Sebastian said, “Please.”
The young woman was gone for a few moments before a third person came back – this one an older man with shock-white hair and an easy smile. It was clear to see that Sebastian had found the right person.
“Mr. Müller.” The man said, “I apologize for the mix-up. Your associate called a few moments ago and I hadn’t had the chance to tell my staff.
“Welcome to the Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski. Please, come with me. Your elevator is in the back.“
This was more like it. Throughout this entire process, Sebastian had been shuffled into back doors and up freight elevators, driven into service entrances and exited via the back out doors clearly marked STAFF ONLY. It is the nature of one who is being investigated to avoid attention in any of its various forms.
They rode up a spacious elevator clearly made to hold up to four cleaning carts and multiple more staff, though in silence. The hotel manager – Sebastian assumed confidently – knew better than to ask. They remained in the elevator quite a while, though, until it finally came to a stop.
“Sir.” The door was opened automatically, and Sebastian strode forward into a hallway with only a few doors. As he was guided to his room, the young man was shocked to find he was in one of the penthouse suites.
“Compliments of our mutual associate.” The manager said, once he had closed the door, “This is how he rewards loyalty.”
And what a reward it was – a gorgeous room with multiple champagne bottles on ice. Summer was starting in Bavaria and it was a sight to behold. The sun remained high until after nine p.m. and everyone was enjoying the last drops of red hue in the sky before the sunset started. Sebastian’s view of the Museum Fünf Kontinente and the Maximillianeum took the young German’s breath away.
“I see.” Sebastian turned, “And you are…not the hotel manager, I suppose.”
The Quincy Patriarch’s hunting instincts kicked in. The man’s suit was similar but it was not the same. The cut was different, implying a greater level of comfort. And it was not so rigid…clearly the cotton was from another source. The man was well-kept in a way that implied a lifetime of such work, not just a job in the hotel industry. But above all, glaring bright, were those eyes.
“I am Mr. Müller, just as you are Mr. Müller.” The man said, taking two champagne flutes out of a cupboard and opening one of the champagne bottles in a single, practiced motion, “I trust your trip from Frankfurt was uneventful?”
“Our mutual associate frowns upon this type of talk.” Sebastian cautioned.
“Indeed. Especially since you were followed by the police.” The elder man handed Sebastian a half-full flute. The liquid inside, so outrageously expensive for fermented grape juice, spoke of a promise. A promise of darkness, of action, of never being still. A promise of separation – as some bubbles rose to the top, so did the majority of the liquid simply fall into the darkness forever unseen. Sebastian regarded the glass for a moment.
“Dom Perignon?” he asked blindly, not looking at the bottle. The police tail didn’t bother him…he had assumed he had been followed for the past three years straight. That was part of the reason he had had to disappear from Japan.
“Please, sir. Don’t be gauche.” The elder man laughed, “You are in a new world now. We do not share our secrets with many. If you read about a new trendy wine, it is because our circle has stopped enjoying it. Or perhaps because we bought half the company.”
The two clinked glasses, maintaining a mutually predatory glance. Sebastian didn’t regard the champagne bottle, feeling his body return once more to a state of aggression and defense.
“I have met many young men in this way – a few when I myself was young, and even more as I am now. I have seen far fewer a second time.” The elder man cautioned, “If you do not go to breakfast tomorrow, he will be disappointed, but he will understand.”
“I am not here to hesitate.” Sebastian pressed back.
“Considering the situation is not hesitation, young Mr. Müller.” An audible chuckle, “Then…let us be decisive.
“Let us shape the future. May it endure as we wish.”
A second clink, a small sip of champagne. Sebastian, his predatory nature alive in this moment of perceived danger, felt every nuance of the liquid. How the bubbles rose only to explode, how the liquid was unstable by nature, how it remained under pressure simply to be enjoyed for a single moment.
“May it endure as we wish.” Sebastian said, taking a second sip.
Alles, für die Familie.