Lerchenweg 19 in Potsdam was the nineteenth white house with a wiremesh fence in a series of virtually identical white houses with wiremesh fences, each with their own little patch of green grass, their own unique set of tiny decorations – garden gnomes, ceramic frogs, flower pots, wind chimes, tiny replicas of classical statues – on an identical ground, paved with identical tiles. Number nineteen didn’t even have a unique door or fancy window decorations. It was the same modern gray metal and glass door that almost every other house on that street had. The trees on the other side of the road, across from it, hinted at just how young this development had been. How much history they had paved over here to ruin it with their sameness.
Or this place had actually been a dump before, in that case good riddance.
The name on the white plastic door bell was Becker. That was not the name of the man who lived inside.
Nobody reacted to Joachim’s ringing, so Joachim jumped the tiny, yet locked, garden door and walked up to the front door.
Nobody reacted to Joachim’s knocking, so he casually pulled the door open, cracking its soulless frame with a violently loud snap.
The room on the other side looked fresh. Lots of white Ikea furniture. Classical books – The Odyssey, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Selected Shakespeare plays – sat on the otherwise empty shelves untouched. A staircase with fake marble slab leading upwards.
There were no pictures on the wall. The whole place smelled of plastic.
The carpet muffled Joachim’s footsteps as he made his way to the living room.
Emptiness here. Hardwood floors, no dents from furniture. Nothing. It was sort of zen actually.
Had he come to the right place?
The whole place was silent. The whole place was clean. It looked like nobody had ever lived in here.
He looked outside the window, just to see a narrow asphalt path, marked with a hopscotch cross drawn in colorful chalk, and the next row of houses. No garden.
Who would live upstairs? Who would live upstairs and cast aside the easy escape routes the ground level offered.
Joachim went back to the entrance to cast the carpet aside, revealing a trap door in the corner of a house that was not supposed to have basement.
The trap door was locked.
He opened it.
There was no ladder that led down in what looked like a drop of three meters. The good thing was that his super-strength included his legs.
The floor down there was hard, but it didn’t hurt him. It was covered in small white tiles, that much he could see before he tapped the light-switch.
When the light came, he saw more.
The place was some sort of laboratory. It had an experimentation area surrounded by acrylic glass, with a huge tube on top to suck off fumes. It had a bunch of equipment – electronic devices in the broadest sense – with white plastic casings and many buttons. On a cursory glance it didn’t even look all that weird. If one disregarded the mummified human arm inside the glass box, suspended above the countertops. Rows of cabinets waited above and below, their white doors closed and unlabeled, waiting like ghostly guards, impassively watching.
There was no chemical smell about the place, which surprised Joachim. The whole place smelled of… dust? A bit of rubber?
Was that how archaeologists worked these days? He hadn’t imagined to find a hat and a bullwhip down here, but whatever happened to digging tools? Or shelves filled with sixteen volumes about a time period of ten years?
There were no doors. This laboratory, built in an illegal basement, underneath a house that was a carefully constructed lie was all there was to it. Joachim briefly summed up the amount of money, time and effort that had to go into setting this up and estimated just how much the owner of this lab would have to charge to make up for it.
Joachim started opening the cabinets, discovering beakers, test tubes, a bunch of pointy metal things, all of it either unused or ridiculously clean. He had to work all the way to the end, to a large double-door cabinet, to find something more interesting.
The contents of the shelves inside of it were used. There were notebooks – handwritten, that was more like it! – stacked up on one. There were cardboard boxes, frayed with heavy use. There were rows of test-tubes labeled in immaculate handwriting. Alpha-4, Beta-1, Beta-2, Beta-3, Gamma-1, and so forth. They were soil samples.
Joachim grabbed the notebooks and leafed through them.
Sample Beta-4 inconclusive.
Some scientific jargon followed. Lots of abbreviations. Something about PCR results and restriction enzymes.
Joachim glanced up at the arm, then at the book again. He placed it down on the cleaner than clean countertop and started snapping pictures.
There were maps inside the book, neatly cut out and glued into place. Somebody had really been going for that gold star with this piece of homework.
The maps were too close to place them, but the labels were in… Arabic?
What followed were stunningly detailed drawing of corpses. Or rather mummies and bones. Then pieces of clothing with approximations of what they could have looked like. Medieval garbs. A sort of tunic and a cloak. Leather boots. More data. More terse words about procedures and experiments performed.
No match. That was what it said. No match to what?
Joachim pulled out the neat metal stands containing the tubes with the samples, one after the other. Which one was the most frequently used? Which one had a name that differed from the others?
The samples went all the way to Kappa. Was the arm in the case the original? Could Alpha be?
He looked at the contents of the tube and couldn’t quite make it out. Was this… human flesh?
Somebody had gone through a lot of trouble to secretly identify a grave. This couldn’t be Andrej. Joe had Andrej’s bones. Hannah wasn’t dead. At least not likely dead. For centuries.
Joachim looked at the arm again. It was a blackened, leathery thing, completely shrunken in on itself. So much so, that it didn’t even look real anymore. More like something made out of plastic. If it was real, Joachim couldn’t even tell if this arm – a right arm – had belonged to a male or female.
He went back to the notebooks and started flipping further. The digging sites had been chosen all over the world. There seemed to be no pattern to them, no logic. There was one in England of all places. There was one in the Czech republic. Why would there be…
Joachim looked at the garbs again. Medieval times. It could have been the Crusades. In that case there probably was a distinct path leading from Dourbershire, England all the way to a place in the Middle East.
Should he destroy this? Would it thwart Faust’s plan?
No. He was watching. In a way, Joachim did exactly what Faust had told him to do.
Joachim kept taking pictures of the notebooks with his cellphone, but he didn’t know if he really needed to be that subtle. What was going to happen if he just took everything? Whom was he trying to fool by clandestinely making copies?
On the other hand, he had to start practicing being a spy at some point.
It took him an hour to make the copies and put everything back into its place. There was no sign of the archaeologist who had done all of this work. The last pages actually detailed two routes going through Germany. Close-by even.
Joachim’s eyes widened. Of course. Why would the lab be this pristine and have only one shabby little cabinet filled with equipment that had actually been used? This was a field lab. It was new. Created for this very dig site.
And it was at this dig site where the archaeologist’s search had stopped.