Below is an extract from Nik Gryabski's new novel from the Leo Katz series:
Due for publication October 2021
The dead are all around us. As memories, ghosts, or guilt-driven images that remain etched into our mind like a tattoo. I tried to erase the notion that Sophia was now a corpse, but all I could think about was death. I sat in Max’s study. Shoulders hunched, head drooped, I closed my eyes and sank into the soft leather of his favourite chair, ruminating about the woman David Jäger claimed to be his deceased wife, knowing she was not.
Scenes from my childhood swarmed around my head like hungry bees. A sickly eight-year-old child without playmates, I occupied my time fantasising about journeying to exotic places. Huddled under the covers, I ventured to the city of Cairo to crawl down a dark passageway of a pyramid. However, before I could enter the secret chamber of a King of ancient Egypt and seize the wonders there, Miriam called my name. With a snort and a sigh, I threw back the covers, brow furrowed, lips tight. On seeing my aunt’s face wet from tears, I froze. She wiped her nose, sat on the edge of the bed, took my hands in hers, and said, ‘Mammele has left us.’
I swallowed hard, then lowered my head. ‘Why would she leave? Did I upset her? Did I make a noise?’
Miriam touched my cheek. ‘Dearest little ketzele, you did nothing wrong. She has passed away, gone to heaven.’
I blinked and frowned. ‘Where is this place mother has fled to?’
Miriam pointed to the ceiling. ‘Above the clouds. Remember when I told you about the many domains of heaven?’
The passages my aunt read from the Talmud filled me with fear. Nightmares plagued my slumbers for days. I spent my waking hours looking out of the window, trying to see beyond the sky, beyond this earthly world to the realm of angels and deceased souls. I did not dare to sleep, imagining my mother alone in a swirl of bodiless heads that wailed, groaned, and shrieked in pain. Which of the seven heavens was she? In the last, Araboth sitting next to the throne of God? Or was she still in the first with Gabriel, chatting with Adam and Eve? Or worse, in the northern side of Shechaqim, the third heaven where hell and all its terrifying demons are situated.
My throat dried. I fidgeted and pulled at the tassels on the cushion. The fire crackled, shooting sparks up the chimney. I watched the shadows made by the flames dance on the floorboards and up the walls. My nostrils twitched, my neck and shoulders stiffened. The air was charged, filled with rumbling sounds like horse’s hooves wrapped in blankets thudding along the cobblestones. A trickle of cold sweat slid down my temple. I wiped it away with shaking fingers, rose from my seat and went to my room.
I turned up the wick on the bedside oil lamp, threw off my thick green housecoat, and stared at my reflection in the mirror. What a pale and down-mouthed spectre I had become. I looked at the invitation on my dresser. Klaus sent it, asking me to accompany him and Lucy to a lecture on using electricity in medicine. The perfect escape from lingering here and dwelling on my misfortune. I dipped my fingers into my pomade, smoothed back my hair, parting it on the right, took my evening clothes from the wardrobe, and put on my Leo Katz disguise.
A loud boom shook the jug and bowl on the table. I fumbled with my cufflinks. My stiff collar twanged open, hurtling the top button against the wall. The flattening vest beneath my shirt squeezed my bruised ribs. Inhaling staccato breaths, I went to the bedroom window. Through a chink in the curtain, I watched nature rage and spit out fire in blinding flashes.
I closed my eyes. A white filigree pattern twitched and swirled on my lowered lids until it became a silhouette of Lucy’s face. Hairs on my neck and arms rose to the thrill of her remembered touch, sending a quiver of pleasure through my body.
I pressed my hands against the rattling pane. A dazzling many-fingered lightning bolt cracked open the black sky above the tall buildings opposite my home, illuminating the towering many-windowed tenements in a blazing light.
Who is the mysterious woman with the strange scars on her face that turns up with a travelling Freak Show?
Why are there so many rats in Vienna?
What are the men from The Galvanisers Association of Vienna doing in their secret laboratory?
Where can Leo hide when people from his past arrive in the city?
When will Lucy discover Leo’s true identity?
Find out in the next exciting instalment of
The Leo Katz Mysteries.