Terror in Tivoli

by

Here is another of the more obscure Harry Harrison short stories – this one’s a mystery story which appeared in the Saint magazine in June 1962 in England, and August 1962 in the USA.

Terror in Tivoli
by Harry Harrison

“A great lunch, Captain Nielsen, Tivoli is everything you said it would be.”

“May the rest of your stay in Copenhagen be just as pleasurable, Captain Miles – Skol!”

Both policemen raised their glasses of akvavit in a friendly toast. Sunlight spangled their table, shining through the leaves of the trees above. In the background was the pleasant murmur of many voices, laughter, excited shrieks from the riders on the rumbling roller-coaster. A band, dimly heard in the distance was playing a Strauss waltz. It was warm and pleasant.

The scream sliced through the air like a slashing knife, destroying the tranquil fabric in an instant. It was piercing, throbbing, the sound of a woman in terror.

Captain Nielsen’s chair went down with a clatter as he sprang to his feet. The open-air restaurant was close to the ferris wheel, and he was one of the first people to get there. As he ran he was aware that the American policeman was close behind him. His heavy shoes thudded on the wooden platform as he pushed through the gathering crowd. The woman who had screamed still stood before the open door of the ferris wheel carriage, her mouth open and shaped yet by her horrified cry.

The two policemen looked at the man slumped into the corner of the carriage, the blood that stained his coat, the handle of the knife that projected from his back.

It was routine for Captain Nielsen to cordon off the area, have the witnesses watched by the policemen who quickly arrived, and make things just as orderly as is possible when a dead man is concerned. He even remembered that there were people in the other carriages and, after making sure that the huddled form was really dead, he had the ferris wheel started once more. The tall attendant went silently about his job. The next carriage had no occupants, but the others were full. One by one the suddenly grim merrymakers climbed down and left, until once more the carriage with the dead man was in front of the Captain.

There was no way to avoid the need to begin an investigation. With a silent groan Nielsen wished that he could withdraw the words he had spoken during luncheon. Though Miles was from the United States, the two men had much in common. Both were policemen, both were detectives, both were captains. Both made a specialty of homicide. When the New York policeman had asked the Copenhagen policeman about murder investigation methods, he had been rash enough to answer in detail. With more than a little pride he had told how few cases of homicide they bad, but how quickly these few were solved and the matter settled. Captain Miles had been almost jealous, wishing that things could go that smoothly for him.

At no time while he was talking, had Captain Nielsen expected to have been put to the test so quickly. As he leaned forward to look at the body he was painfully aware of the American policeman standing close behind him.

“I’m not going to move anything until the photographers and fingerprint men have arrived, but perhaps we can find out the identity of the unfortunate man.” As he said this, Captain Nielsen draped a handkerchief over his fingers and probed delicately inside the dead man’s breast pocket. Careful not to blur any fingerprints on it, he drew out the thin form of a passport.

“West German,” Captain Miles said, standing on tiptoe to look over the tall Dane’s shoulder. “Looks like you have an international incident on your hands as well as murder.” Nielsen could only nod in unhappy agreement. He turned to the attendant who stood silently to one side.

“Can you speak English?” he asked. The man nodded. “Will you please tell us then what you know.”

The attendant had a thick accent, and there was little enough to tell. Both policemen listened intently. The dead man – Schultz – had been alone. If there had been anyone waiting for him the attendant had not noticed. Schultz had not seemed to be worried, or acted unnatural in any way. In fact he seemed to be enjoying himself. The attendant had taken his ticket, closed the gate and seen him whisked aloft. Alive. People came and went in the other carriages, the ferris wheel had turned, and roughly three minutes passed before the gate of the Schultz carriage had been opened again. The girl, waiting outside, had screamed. That was all he knew.

Sometime during those three minutes, high in the air, in full sight of everyone in the pleasure park, the man had been killed.

“It might have been suicide.” Captain Miles said, chewing pensively on a dead cigar.

“I considered that,” Nielsen told him, “but the chances seem very slim. In the first place, you will notice, the knife has been driven into the body for the full length of the blade. It strikes me as being impossible for a man to strike himself in the back with enough force to do that.”

“True, true,” Miles said. “But he might have wedged the knife into a crack and backed onto it.”

“A possibility,” Nielsen said politely, “but not a very big one. I can see nothing in the carriage that might have suited this purpose. Also – the knife is a pocketknife with a folding blade. It would be very hard to do without the blade folding back into the handle.”

Miles nodded reluctant agreement. “Well – if he didn’t kill himself – the knife might have been thrown from one of the other cars.”

“I’m afraid two things rule that out,” Nielsen said with deepening gloom. “Firstly, the carriage behind this was empty, we saw that for ourselves. And this is the only one with a clear view of Schultz’s carriage. From the other ones, the axle and machinery are in the way. And even if someone had been in the carriage, I doubt if it could have been done. Knife throwers use carefully weighted and balanced blades. I doubt if any one of them – no matter how skilled – could hurl a pocketknife over this distance with any kind of force. The knife is unstable, much heavier in the handle than the blade. An almost impossible thing to throw with any degree of accuracy.”

Miles had his eyes half closed, squinting up at the webwork iron structure of the ferris wheel. “I don’t suppose there were any mechanics working on the machinery or on the wheel during the time?” The attendant shook his head no.

“It is forbidden by safety rules,” Nielsen said.

The New York policeman brooded over this a minute, then began to count on his fingers.

“Firstly, he can’t have committee suicide, that has been ruled out. Then he wasn’t killed by a thrown knife, or by anyone on the wheel or after the cage stopped. Is that right?”

Nielsen nodded in grim agreement.

“Then we seem to have ruled out all the possibilities,” Miles said “The only possible conclusion I car reach is that he wasn’t killed at all – but the body rules that one out. I am reluctantly forced to admit that I don’t know how he was killed, and I’m very glad this is your department, Nielsen, not mine.”

It was a bitter moment for Captain Nielsen. The visiting policeman – from a city twice as big as Nielsen’s entire country – had admitted defeat. Could Nielsen do any better? Could he solve the murder – or would he just make a fool of himself? He made his mind up abruptly and turned to the uniformed policeman next to him and borrowed his handcuffs.

“I am arresting you for murder,” he said, turning to the silent attendant. The man slowly extended his wrists and the cuffs clicked closed.

“His name was not Schultz,” the attendant said, speaking Danish with the same thick accent, “it was Meise. He was a pig.”

“Why did you do it?” Captain Nielsen asked.

“I recognized him when he climbed into the carriage, but he didn’t know me. He was a sergeant in our concentration camp, an S.S. man. He killed my father, both my brothers. When I saw him I remembered everything and killed him. That was all.” The attendant still stood quietly, his face unchanged by any expression.

“He is more a case for the hospital than the prison,” Nielsen sighed as he watched the man being led away.

“But how did you know?” Captain Miles asked.

“I didn’t,” Captain Nielsen said calmly, “not for sure. But the fact that the carriage behind Schultz was empty gave me the idea. That meant that no one was waiting in line behind him and the attendant could have reached into the carriage and killed the man without being seen. This was the only possibility, no matter how illogical it seemed, so I acted upon it. I hoped my sudden action would get a confession – and my hopes were justified.”

“I owe you an akvavit on that,” the American said. “I must say you police here live up to your reputation.”

“We try,” the Dane said, waiting until the other’s back was turned to wipe the tell-tale dampness from his forehead.

© Harry Harrison, 1962

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