cold pursuit

Berthauld Fregt took off his felt hat and placed it, very patiently, down on the bar. He ordered a beer for himself and a double shot of the local moonshine. He breathed deeply.

When the moonshine arrived, he canceled it all down this throat immediately. He ordered one more shot and additionally requested the bill. A shadowy bartender obeyed his requests. The bartender was uninterested in engaging with the husky outsider from town who seemed soaked in a tense attitude.

Fregt had every right to his foul disposition but he also knew he had to keep it to himself. The villainous, slippery and malignant Doctor Sinvarius Lorelei had evaded him once again; maybe even for the dozenth time. Fregt left his third shot alone for the moment and sipped his beer.

Berthauld Fregt had once been a very distinguished policeman. A detective of the highest order. He had been recognized for his swift rise through the ranks of the capital’s police force. He had been a close option for commissioner whenever the commissioner might intend to retire. The only thing separating Fregt from his promotion to captain had been his age. It wouldn’t sit right, he and the commissioner had agreed. Perhaps in a few more years they could touch on the subject again.

That was long, long ago now and Lorelei had been the ruin of it all. Fregt sighed. No, he admitted to himself, it wasn’t Lorelei. It was Fregt who had destroyed his own trajectory by diving headlong into the quixotic mania of the mad scientist. Fregt had bent all of his powers of discovery onto one, mutilating murderer who had long ago left the jurisdiction of his capital.

“He’s bested us,” the commissioner had said. “Leave it alone. There will be more murderers for you to catch, I promise you that, young man.”

Fregt had agreed initially. Plenty of murderers out there in his city, all needing catching and the proceedings of law. But then he would find himself in the imperial library, checking out volume after volume on the medical practice of reanimating flesh. One day he rose from bed in his comfortable, affluent home to find the entire place had been overrun by books on this particular subject. He could barely make a pot of coffee for himself without moving aside some article or scribbled note on how and where one might procure freshly dead corpses or a detailed financial analysis of the money it might take to hole up in a capital shanty town for six to ten months. He spent morning, noon and night reflecting on the smallest details of the Lorelei case from when it had still been active.

It had been over twelve years since Fregt had turned out from his imperial service. The day he ended his formal career, the commissioner had become angry with him. Screamed at him. It was the most intimate the two men had ever been, even after many long years of friendship. Fregt wept with shame on his tram ride back home to his suburban dwelling. But the suitcases had already been packed. The home sold. His housekeeper engaged to a new family. He left one week later and had never returned to the city.

Instead, he had spent over a decade cataloging and chasing Doctor Sinvarius Lorelei throughout the continent and overseas. He moved from miserable outskirt to miserable outskirt in all weather, wherever the doctor suited himself. Fregt’s life consisted of his notebooks, fitting odd jobs to complement his savings, and the tremendous breadth of moonshine that all humanity makes in its meantime. And still, he always remained a few, crucial paces behind the doctor. All Fregt was ever able to discover were the wasted remnants and machineworks of the doctor’s abandoned laboratories.

Fregt downed his third and final shot. He knew what was in store for him for the rest of this month. He’d have to stink it out here in the basin until he gathered some clues as to where Lorelei might have slipped off to next. It would be a lot of ground work and parodying himself at the post office. He replaced his hat, left the bar, and disappeared into the evening.

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