The Quiet Twin
"You were with Zuzka last night," she said. "I saw you. It was quite late. You were standing by the window."
She said it quite simply, as a statement of fact, but he blushed nonetheless before that name - "Zuzka" - and the familiarity it implied. He felt the janitor's gaze upon him, curious now, one of his wrists rising to rub at his jawbone, then higher up, along the ear.
"A patient call," the doctor explained more to him than to the girl, too hastily perhaps, his own voice pedantic in his ears. "She has been unwell."
"Speckstein's niece? Aye, I've heard such a thing." The janitor let go of the paddle he was holding, simply tossed it on the floor, and scratched himself properly now, at the chin and above the ear. The doctor wondered whether it was possible he carried lice.
"She seemed upset about her uncle's dog," Beer said. "Apparently it has been killed."
"Killed? Gutted, more like."
The little girl heard the old man's answer and followed it with a gesture, oddly assured, as though she had practised it before. She made a spoon of her right hand and scooped deliberately at her mid-riff, from sternum to pubis, then dumped the contents in a pile by her feet. Standing before him like this, her chin almost on one shoulder, she looked even smaller than during her game, more fragile. Her eyes were turned downward now, on the invisible offal she had spilled across the floor. Beer felt his own eyes fasten there and removed them with a jerk; straightened up to face the janitor.
"And this happened in his apartment? A burglar-?"
"No, no. It was found in the yard across."
"He kept his dog in the yard?"
"Why don't you go on and have a seat, Herr Doktor."
And so they sat down. The janitor gestured for him to draw up one of the wooden folding chairs that stood piled against the far wall, and brought another, more comfortable chair from the back room for himself. They sat face to face across five yards of concrete, the girl kneeling down between them, gathering the dress around her like a tent.
"Here," the old man grunted and got up again to find a piece of cardboard to slide under her knees. She thanked him very seriously, then resumed her position, spindly arms wrapped across the hollow of her chest. The janitor waited until she had settled herself, then looked up at Beer, those old eyes piercing underneath their brows.
"So what is it you want to know, Herr Doktor?"
"Nothing," said Beer, "nothing at all, only it seems strange, does it not, a dead dog in the yard across. Did he keep it there?"
The old man shook his head. "No, he kept it in the yard right here. For the past few weeks that is. Before that, he had it up in the flat."
"Why the change?"
"That's what the police wanted to know."
"He got the police involved? How extraordinary."
"Yes. Though really, it was the police that came to him. See, there was some fellow got himself killed, the very same night. Knife in the throat, I heard. Not the first one neither."
"And so they came to Speckstein."
"Aye. Some genius down at the Wachstube came up with the idea that this was why he put the dog out there, in the empty yard. As bait." He snorted at the idea, then spat high across one shoulder. Both Beer and the girl watched the lump of phlegm land.
"And what do you say?"
"I think it's because the dog started pissing itself wherever it stood. Pissed in the stairwell, half the time. I had to scrub the stairs down with bleach."
"He should have had it put down."
"Aye, he should've. I told him so myself. But he wouldn't have it. Loved the big brute, past all sense. So he put it in the yard, right there by the tree, on a good length of rope. He would sit with it all through the morning until the sun chased him in. I'm surprised you didn't see him there."
Excerpted from The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta. Copyright © 2012 by Dan Vyleta. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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