In Haarmann’s way (reading series edit)

When we last left our heroes in 1921, German gay rights pioneers Magnus Hirshfeld and Adolf Brand, along with the rentboy Charles Thickbroom, arrived in Hanover, to investigate the murders of several male prostitutes.  But little did they know the danger awaiting them there!

Inspector Kurt Hagen greeted them at the police station.  A bright pink scar ran down the side of Hagen’s face, interrupted by a patch over his left eye.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Dr. Hirshfeld.” Hagen said.

“Likewise,” Magnus replied, These are my associates, Adolf Brand and Charles Thickbroom.  They have done, ah, extensive field work in the matter.”

“Don’t mince words with me, Doctor.  I know of Brand.  I suppose little Charles here has come all the way from Cleveland Street?  No matter.  Young males are being murdered in my streets and I don’t give a damn who ends it.” Hagen said. “Come, I’d like to introduce you to one of our finest informants and reformed criminals, Fritz Haarmann.”

“How do you do,” The informant said, smiling politely at Charles, “You can call me Fritz.”

Hagen pulled a rucksack up and emptied the contents onto a dirty table.  An enormous pile of bones clattered onto the slab.  Hirshfeld picked up a femur and studyied the rotting meat.

“These were found in a dumpster only a few blocks away from the train station.”  Hagen said.

Fritz was tough, but not tough enough for the sight of children’s bones.

“How do you know these are, uhm, rent boys?”  Thickbroom said.

Hagen replied, “We have ten missing persons ages seventeen to eleven.  Since the hyperinflation, I know what they do out there.  I’m not stupid.”

Magnus squinted through his tiny glasses and reported, “Judging from the bone structure, these are in fact teenage boys.  Hm. It looks like there are bite marks on the back of some of these skulls.”

“Fritz, do you know anyone making a hobby of this?” Hagen asked.

“Nothing of the sort, Inspektor.”  Haarmann said.

“Well?” Charles asked, “What are you going to do about this?”

Hagen answered, “We don’t quite yet have a plan of action.”

Charles said, “You’re going to need bait, right?  And the local boys wouldn’t trust cops.  Sign me up.”

Hagen answered reluctantly, “I’d hate to put you in danger, but you make a good point. You’re a brave lad.  Dr. Hirshfeld?  Stay here with Herr Brand.”

“Why the hell should I stay here?” Adolf said.

“Those line boys have enough pimps out there,” Hagen sneered.  Brand rolled his eyes.

“I’ll stake out Charles at the railroad station.  We’ll see who we can pick up.  Mr. Haarmann, thank you for your services.  Let us know if you hear anything.”

“You’ll be the first to know,” Fritz said.  “And Charles, I know you are a brave young man.  Here.  I want to give you this little toy train.  I had it when I was last… visited by youth.”

“Thanks, Mr. Haarmann,” Charles said.  He rolled it along the slab, but the wheels didn’t move.  He left the broken toy on the evidence table.  Hagen and Charlie took to the streets… and Fritz followed close behind.

It started to rain.  Hard.  Within a few minutes, Charles Thickbroom was soaked to the bone.  It was no different than the years of chimney sweeping or delivering letters from the post office.  Still, it was hellish to be so cold.

Hours passed at the police station and Adolf Brand was BORED, pushing the broken tin toy train along the evidence table.  Hirshfeld chided, “Do you leave your toys everywhere for me to pick up?”  Rust flaked off the train, revealing untarnished paint.

“Hey Maggie—“

“Please don’t call me that, Adolf.”  Hirshfeld said.

“Look at this.  This isn’t rust–It’s—It’s dried blood!  I know who the Werewolf of Hanover is!”

Charles Thickbroom tried real hard not to shiver when he saw Fritz.  “Oh Hello, Mister Haarmann.  What are you doing here?”

“Hello Little Charles,” Fritz Haarmann said with a vacant stare, “I spoke with the Inspektor and he told me to come pick you up.  We’re all coming over to my place.  I’ve found… some leads.”

“Really?  That’s great!”  Charles said, “I’m freezing out here.”

“I think I might have some clothes that would fit you, perfectly.”  Fritz said.

Brand and Hirshfeld exploded out of the examination room.  Hirshfeld kicked open the livery stable door. “Get me your two fastest horses NOW!”

The stable boy looked at the two men and exclaimed, “But sir!  It’ll take minutes for me to strap on a saddle!”

Brand waved his cane menacingly at the stable hand, “Make it quick boy!  I never ride bareback!” The stable boy’s hands worked fast.  After servicing so many police officers, it was like tying a shoe.

The police Komissioner stormed in, bellowing, “What is the meaning of this?”

“There’s no time!” Brand said, mounting the horse.  “Get to the Hanover Railway as soon as you can! Hagen may already be dead!”   Brand’s horse reared up with a whinny as the two men broke into the streets.  Civilians screamed, scattering.

The Komissioner nodded, “Do it.”

Hirshfeld’s dumpy body barely stayed in the saddle, but Brand held the reins like an equestrian.  Hirshfeld yelled over, “I’ll hit Haarmann’s place.  You hit the station!”

Brand said, “No! That son of a bitch is mine! No one fucks with my boys!”

Hirshfeld nodded.  With a rap on the hind of his great galloping beast, Brand swooped down a side street with the grace of a hawk.

As the rain hammered, the carriage dropped Haarmann and Thickbroom off at the tiny apartment. Fritz seemed distant and bashful, which Thickbroom assumed was how he acted around rent boys.  Charles was familiar with such awkwardness and found it charming.  “Hagen’s waiting upstairs.” Fritz said.

Charles walked into the small apartment and heard the door close behind him and Hagen was nowhere to be seen.  Charles turned around and saw Haarmann’s smile turn demonic.  Harman reared up, growing twice his size.  A heavy arm swiped Charles clear across the tiny room through the kitchen door.  Thickbroom looked up in horror as bloody arms and tiny legs reached out from buckets of lye.  Knives lined the walls. Haarmann laughed mockingly, pulling the boy back by the ankle with a spider’s malice.

Brand hopped off the horse and ran up the stairs.  He drew his cane sword and kicked in the flimsy door.  Haarmann hunched over Charles’s body like a ghoul.  No sign of humanity showed in the eyes of Fritz Haarmann, whose blood-soaked smile terrified Brand.  Though the boy’s body was open, Charlie’s eyes still reached for Brand.

Brand swung his cane sword, only for it to hack a splinter of door Harmaan wielded.   Harman yanked the blade out of Brand’s hand when the beast tossed the wood aside.  By the time Brand muttered a curse, he flew through a flimsy wall onto the roof of the neighboring building.  He felt his wrist snap and go limp, thereby originating the stereotype.

He collapsed on the tar paper, gasping for a breath.  Brand saw Harman climb through from the blood lit room like a demon free of hell.  Cold, hard rain gave Brand focus as he struck a boxer’s stance.  Blood traced Haarmann’s footsteps on the rooftop.  Brand yelled above the rain’s applause, “Come on, then!  Everyone knows it’s you!  You can’t win!”  Haarmann just laughed.  Adolf threw his mightiest punch and it was like hitting a tank.  Haarmann countered, sending Brand flying through sparks of pain.  Brand croaked, “Is that all you’ve got?” and threw another sad punch.  Haarmann landed a direct hit to Brand’s face.  His nose broken, his eyes began to swell shut.  Still, he stood up, wavering.  Another blow sent Brand skimming across rooftop puddles like a stone.

His peripheral vision began to fade when he heard a clatter beside him.  He looked over, making out the vague shape of his unsheathed cane sword.  Brand looked up to see Charlie Thickbroom leaning in  the opening, holding in his stuffing in with a tiny red hand.

Haarmann pulled out a large chunk of chimney, ready to drop the mass on Brand.  Brand swiped his cane sword and spun to his knees, hacking into Haarmann’s thigh.  Haarmann roared and dropped the mass of brick at his feet.

Brand took a defiant fencer’s position.  Busted hand behind his back, Adolf jabbed Haarmann into a corner of the roof.  The wounded creature howled at the multiple punctures coming too fast for retaliation.  Driving the blade to the hilt through the monster, Adolf Brand growled, “No one fucks with my boys.”

Haarmann shrieked, stepping  backward off the ledge, where his howl abruptly ended in the street below.  He turned to where Charlie Thickbroom stood…and where a crumpled little thing remained.  And the world went black.

“Adolf!  Adolf!” Hirshfeld said, “It’s me!  My word, you look dreadful!”

“I’m all right,” Brand said, feeling his loose teeth in a mouthful of blood.  “What about Charles?”

“He didn’t make it, Brand.  I’m so sorry.” Magnus said, leading the temporarily-blinded man away from the ledge. “The police are here.  Everything is going to be fine.”

Brand said, “You gotta work on that bedside manner of yours, Maggie.  Things are closer to fucked.” He could hear half a dozen officers on the roof.

Magnus said, “Let’s get you back to Berlin.”

“Yeah,” Brand said, “Hanover sucks.”

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