Business had been slow when he walked in. I expected a nice, normal case. A cheating lover, perhaps a lost object. I never anticipated… but I’m getting ahead of myself. My name is Hildegard Elizabeta Müller. I used to be in law enforcement. Now, I’m a private investigator.
The client was at the tail end of middle age. He had hair that was mostly grey with a bit of black still poking through. He was one of those balding guys who tries way too hard to look like they’ve still got hair. The comb-over was quite comical. I would’ve been tempted to laugh if he weren’t a customer. He fidgeted nervously while talking. Introduced himself as Professor Hans Klein.
“I didn’t expect you to be so young, My Dear,” he said.
I raised an eyebrow at him. I’d never liked diminutives. “Professor,” I said. “I would prefer if you call me detective or Miss Müller.”
“Terribly sorry, Detective Müller,” he said. “No offence was intended, I assure you. I wouldn’t normally come to one of your kind for help but I have a matter I’d very much like investigated.” His face visibly flushed when he noticed how that sounded. “I mean a detective. Not…”
I could have let him flail for a bit, but it’s not great for return business. “I know what you meant,” I interjected. “There are plenty of white investigators you could have gone to if that was your problem. Please, give me the details.”
He seemed relieved, wasn’t fidgeting as much, when he continued. “You’ve heard of the incidents around Dreisenberg, I trust?”
“The missing persons cases,” I said. “You want me to find someone, I take it?”
“Quite,” he said. “My nephew, Sebastian, is among the most recent victims. I would very much like to know what’s happened to him.”
“Do you have a picture?” Professor Klein held one out. Sebastian was a portly blonde with a thin moustache. Looked to be thirteen, maybe fourteen. I put the photograph in my bag. “I charge a hundred euros a day, plus expenses.” I gave him my best sympathetic look. “I can’t guarantee that I’ll find the boy alive. The police do suspect a serial killer in this case.”
His right hand started shaking. “I know. Just, please, see if you can find what’s happened to him.”
I shook his hand. “Don’t worry. I’m not given to failing cases. I’ll drive down there straight away and see what I can dig up. You’d better give me your e-mail. I’ll send you reports whenever I learn anything.”
The Professor thanked me and left my office. I wasn’t as confident as I’d sounded. There was a lot of wilderness around Dreisenberg and the police hadn’t managed to find any good leads. Still, it was always possible I’d find something they’d missed.
I put on my dark blue blazer and tan newsie hat, grabbed my handbag, locked the office behind me and got into my blue Volkswagen Beetle. It wasn’t a new one. In fact, it was about two decades old. Still ran fine, which was good enough. I wondered what I’d find when I got there. What method I might use to figure the case out. Well, there’d be plenty of time to think about it during the drive. I had an hour or two on the road, after all.
Dreisenberg was a small town with a population of a couple hundred people. The area was heavily forested, whoever was behind the incidents was probably hiding the bodies there somewhere. Of course, the regular police would have already thought of that. I needed a different lead.
I made my way to the town’s only coffee shop. It was a pretty big place with a two-sided sign. One for the coffee during the day and the second for night when it converted into the pub. Judging from the inside, they weren’t too picky about when they actually served pints. There were a couple teenagers, probably skipping classes, drinking at a table in the back. There were seven other clients & an elderly woman working the counter.
I quickly scanned the menu. “Can I get a medium Mocha, please?” I asked.
“Sure thing,” she said. “You just passing through or visiting on some business?” There was just a slight hint of concern in her voice. Probably because all the missing people had been visitors. Although it was also possible that she was worried about what I might discover.
“Just passing,” I lied. “I wouldn’t want to stay too long with all the nasty business going on. Why, is there somewhere specific I should avoid?” I said it like I was half-joking. Best way to get information from people, in my experience, was to appear like you didn’t actually care about it all that much.
She handed me my drink. “I’d stay away from the Hexe Manor if I was you. It’s the big place about two streets down.”
“Is that seriously their last name?” I asked, laughing. “How do you even get that as a last name?”
“Rumour says their ancestors sold their souls to the devil centuries ago,” she answered. “Strange lot too. Only ever women down there. I knew their old gran, rest her soul, as a young girl. She never married. Never even saw her with a boy. But one day she had a baby girl. Her daughter was the same. Never married. Never seen with a boyfriend. But she had daughters, three of them. Strangest thing, neither of them showed any signs of being pregnant either. Now that she’s passed her girls live there. You may laugh but they’re daughters of Satan, I’ll wager. Me own gran once told me that that’s always been the way. Only ever girls in that house. I’ve told those idiot officers that those girls are probably behind the tourists going missing but they won’t listen, call me a raving lunatic. You’ll stay away from those witches if you know what’s good for you.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll stay away.” I paid for my drink and went back to my Beetle. I felt a little bad, lying to the old woman, but I had a possible lead. Even if I’d thought for a moment that the devil existed, it wouldn’t keep me away.
The Manor looked nice enough. It had pale yellow paint with white borders, open windows and it was in pristine condition. The only somewhat odd thing was the broom propped up by the door.
“Maybe one of the Hexe sisters rides it,” I muttered, joking.
I left my beetle and approached the door. The house didn’t have a door bell but it did have a knocker. Lion-shaped, also not what you’d expect from witches.
I gave it two quick knocks. It took about twenty seconds for it to open.
She looked to be about my age, maybe a little younger. Roughly a hundred seventy centimetres tall, ten centimetres shorter than me. She had straight blonde hair in a pixie cut and the brightest blue eyes I’d ever seen. A Greek nose and a full, pouty-lipped smile. Her skin was somewhat pale and smooth looking. Wore a white tank top with a black and white plaid skirt. She was definitely a beauty.
“And who might you be?” she asked. “Wait, let me guess. You came because you heard the rumours and you wanted to offer your body to save me from my ‘wicked’ ways? No, that’s not it. You saw me from afar and immediately fell in love. Now you’ve come to confess and ask me to take you to my bosom and make you mine. No?” She was teasing me. Deliberately keeping things light-hearted so I wouldn’t be uncomfortable too. “All right, you can tell me.”
“Hildegard Elizabeta Müller, Private Investigator,” I answered without even thinking. Without wanting to. It was almost like some… force was compelling me to tell her everything. “I’m here on a missing person case and I heard you might be suspicious.”
She laughed, giddily. “Well, My ebon temptress, or shall I call you Hilde?” She turned her eyes to me. “All right, Hilde it is. Well, Hilde, I’m Bianca Hexe. My sisters, Brenda & Beatrix, are out right now. I can promise you, one hundred percent, that we don’t have anything to do with the case. But you’re a cutie, so I’ll find out who is. Just for you. Come in!”
She beckoned me with a long, slender finger. Before I knew what was happening, I’d followed her inside.
She led me to a sitting room. It was very… blue. The walls, rug, chairs, they were all shades of blue. A dark, not quite navy, colour for the furniture. A lighter sea blue for the walls, a medium shade for the rug.
“Go ahead and have a seat,” Bianca said. “I’ll get us some tea.”
I hesitated, but sat down. I figured that I was already inside. Might as well see what happens. Besides, I had my trusty Stoeger Luger securely strapped to my leg if things went badly.
She returned in a few minutes with a pot of tea in one hand and two cups in the other.
“I hope you like Rose tea,” Bianca said. She set the cups down and poured for both of us before sinking into her own chair and taking a long drink. I took a light sip of mine. Have to admit, it was damn good tea.
“Now then,” Bianca said. “Your case.” I didn’t see where she’d pulled it from, but she suddenly had a small crystal ball on the table. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said. “Sometimes the old ways work the best. Now, let’s see.”
The lights went out. I was sure no one had touched them. A timer of some kind? The ball glowed on the table. Bianca’s fingers ran over it. A red-haired woman in a green dress appeared. Then there were flashes, almost too fast to follow. She was with various people. I could’ve sworn I saw Sebastian. Then there was an image of her with a blanket-covered figure floating behind her. She ran to a large tree and ran her fingers along its trunk in a star shape. A shimmering light opened. Then, she was gone. Taking her burden with her.
“So, that’s it,” Bianca said. She looked directly at me. The lights came back on and the ball returned to normal. “What we have is an unlicensed witch. Probably doing experiments with humans or sacrificing them for spells.” She sighed. “You won’t be able to beat her. I’ll tell my sisters about her when they get back and the three of us will handle it. Why don’t you stay with me until then? We can get to know each other, dance, dine, have the type of naughty pillow fight that certain teenagers like to imagine girls have at slumber parties… It’ll be the best!”
I looked directly at her. “So, you’re telling me this whole incident is caused by magic? That if I find that tree and make that shape I’ll be transported to some other dimension where the missing persons were taken?”
“Pretty much,” Bianca answered. She reached forward and booped my nose. “I’m also telling you not to worry, Hilde. We’ll take care of it and you can tell the person who hired you how instrumental you were. We’ll back you up. It’ll save us trouble any way.”
“Well, thank you for the tea,” I said. “I really must be returning to sanity.”
“Just don’t go near that tree,” Bianca warned.
I made my way out of her house. It was a trick. It had to be. Witches, magic, all that nonsense, there was no way it was real, right? Still, it wouldn’t hurt to check. Maybe if I went to that tree I’d find the answers for myself. Not like it would hurt to check.