Suspicion - Friedrich Dürrenmatt - E-Book

Suspicion E-Book

Friedrich Dürrenmatt

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Inspector Barlach has a year to live, but he's not going quietlyWhen Inspector Barlach notices that a successful Swiss surgeon bears a striking resemblance to an infamous Nazi war criminal, a Suspicion begins to gnaw away at him - could they be one and the same person? Determined to expose the monster behind the surgeon's mask, the ailing inspector checks himself into the doctor's exclusive clinic. But all does not go to plan, and soon Barlach realizes that he is at the mercy of his own prey. Will he find a way out before it's too late?Suspicion is a dark mystery about a dying man's struggle to destroy a wickedness lurking in plain sight.Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990) was a Swiss author and dramatist, most famous for his plays The Visit and The Physicists, which earned him a reputation as one of the greatest playwrights in the German language. He also wrote four highly regarded crime novels - The Pledge, The Judge and His Hangman, Suspicion and The Execution of Justice, all of which will be published by Pushkin Vertigo.

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Inspector Barlach had checked into the Salem—the hospital overlooking the town hall and the old parts of Bern—in the beginning of November, 1948. A heart attack had delayed the urgent and difficult surgical intervention by two weeks. The operation was finally performed with success, but the surgeon’s findings confirmed his belief that Barlach’s sickness was incurable.

The inspector’s boss, Investigating Magistrate Dr. Lutz, had twice given him up for dead and twice regained hope before an improvement finally set in shortly before Christmas. The old man slept through the holidays, but on the twenty-seventh, a Monday, he was awake and chipper, looking at old issues of Life magazine from the year 1945.

“They were beasts, Samuel,” he said when Dr. Hungertobel stepped into his room for his regular evening visit. “Beasts.” And he handed him the magazine. “You’re a doctor, you can imagine this. Look at this picture from the Stutthof concentration camp! There’s the camp doctor, Nehle, photographed while performing an abdominal operation on a prisoner without anesthesia.”

“The Nazis did that sometimes,” the doctor said, looking at the picture. But he turned pale just as he was about to put the magazine aside.

“What’s the matter?” the sick man asked, surprised.

Hungertobel did not answer immediately. He put the open magazine on Barlach’s bed, reached for the right upper pocket of his white smock, and pulled out a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. As he put them on, the inspector noticed the doctor’s hands were trembling slightly. Then Hungertobel looked at the picture a second time.

“Why is he so nervous?” Barlach wondered.

“Nonsense,” Hungertobel finally said with irritation, and put the magazine on the table with the others. “Come, give me your hand. Let’s check your pulse.”

There was silence for a minute. Then the doctor let go of his friend’s arm and looked at the chart over the bed.

“Things are looking up, Hans.”

“One more year?” Barlach asked.

Hungertobel was embarrassed. “Let’s not talk about that now,” he said. “You have to be careful and come back for a checkup.”

“I’m always careful,” the old man grumbled.

“So much the better,” said Hungertobel, taking his leave.

“Hand me that issue of Life, will you?” the sick man said, casually, it seemed. Hungertobel gave him a magazine from the pile on the night table.

“Not that one,” said the inspector, giving the doctor a slightly mocking look. “I want the one you took away from me. I can’t skip over a concentration camp that easily.”

Hungertobel hesitated for a moment, blushed when he saw Barlach’s probing gaze, and gave him the magazine. Then he quickly walked out, as if to avoid something disagreeable. The nurse came in. The inspector asked her to take out the other magazines.

“Not that one?” the nurse asked, pointing at the magazine on Barlach’s feather blanket.

“No, not that one,” the old man said.

After the nurse had left, he looked at the picture again. The doctor carrying out his fiendish experiment looked calm and composed, like a stone idol. Most of his face was hidden behind a surgical mask.

The inspector carefully put the magazine in the drawer of his night table and folded his hands behind his head. His eyes were wide open, and he watched the night gradually filling the room. He did not turn on the light.

Later the nurse came and brought him his supper. It was dietary fare, and a small portion at that: oatmeal gruel. He didn’t touch the lime blossom tea, which he disliked. After finishing his gruel, he turned out the light and gazed again into the darkness, the deepening, thickening shadows.

He loved to watch the lights of the city shining in through the window.

When the nurse returned to prepare the inspector for the night, he was already asleep.

At ten in the morning, Hungertobel came.

Barlach was lying with his hands behind his head, and on top of his blanket lay the open magazine. His eyes were intently focused on the doctor. Hungertobel saw that the picture in front of the old man was the one showing the concentration camp doctor.

“Won’t you tell me why you turned deathly pale when I showed you this picture in Life magazine?” the sick man asked.

Hungertobel went to the bed, took down the chart, studied it more carefully than usual, and hung it back. “It was a silly mistake, Hans,” he said. “Not worth talking about.”

“Do you know this Doctor Nehle?” Barlach’s voice sounded strangely agitated.

“No,” Hungertobel replied. “I don’t know him. He just reminded me of someone.”

“The resemblance must be a strong one,” the inspector said.

“It is,” the doctor admitted, and looked at the picture again. Again he was visibly alarmed. “But the photograph only shows half the face,” he objected. “All surgeons look alike when they’re operating.”

“And who does this beast remind you of?” Barlach asked relentlessly.

“But this is pointless!” Hungertobel replied. “I told you, it has to be a mistake.”

“And yet you could swear it was him. Isn’t that right, Samuel?”

“Well, yes,” the doctor replied. “I could swear it if I didn’t know that this man can’t possibly be suspected of this. So let’s just drop this unpleasant subject. It’s not a good idea anyway, leafing through this magazine right after an operation where your own life was in jeopardy.”

Then he stared at the picture again, as if hypnotized.

“That doctor there,” he continued after a while, “can’t possibly be the man I know, because he was in Chile during the war. So obviously it’s all nonsense.”

“In Chile, in Chile,” Barlach said. “When did he come back, this man whom you know and who can’t possibly be Nehle?”

“In forty-five.”

“In Chile, in Chile,” Barlach said again. “And you don’t want to tell me who this picture reminds you of?”

The old doctor hesitated. He was obviously flustered.

“If I tell you the name, Hans,” he finally said, “you’ll end up suspecting the man.”

“I’m already suspecting him,” the inspector replied.

Hungertobel sighed. “You see, Hans,” he said, “that’s what I was afraid of. I don’t want you to do that, do you understand? I am an old doctor and I don’t want to feel that I’ve harmed someone. Your suspicion is pure insanity. You can’t just suspect a person because of some photograph, and this one doesn’t even show much of the face. And besides, he was in Chile, and that’s a fact.”

“What did he do there?” the inspector interjected.

“He directed a clinic in Santiago.”

“In Chile, in Chile,” Barlach said again. “That’s a dangerous refrain, and not easy to check. You’re right, Samuel, suspicion is a terrible thing, it comes from the devil. There’s nothing like suspicion to bring out the worst in people. I know that very well, and I’ve often cursed my profession for it. People should stay away from suspicion. But now we’ve got it, and you gave it to me. I’d gladly give it back to you, old friend, if you would just forget about it yourself; because it’s you who can’t drop this suspicion of ours.”

Hungertobel sat down by the side of the old man’s bed. Helplessly he looked at the inspector. Slanting bars of sunlight fell through the curtains into the room. It was one of those beautiful days of which there were so many during that mild winter.

“I can’t,” the doctor finally said into the silence of the sickroom. “I can’t. God help me, I can’t shake off this suspicion. I know him too well. I studied with him, and twice he substituted for me. That’s him in this picture. The scar above the temple from an operation, there it is. I know it, I operated on Emmenberger myself.”

Hungertobel took off his glasses and put them in his right upper pocket. Then he wiped the sweat off his forehead.

“Emmenberger?” the inspector asked calmly after a while. “That’s his name?”

“Now I’ve said it,” Hungertobel answered uneasily. “Fritz Emmenberger.”

“A doctor?”

“A doctor.”

“And he lives in Switzerland?”

“He owns the Sonnenstein clinic on the Zürichberg,” the doctor replied. “In thirty-two he emigrated to Germany and then to Chile. In forty-five he returned and took over the clinic. One of the most expensive private hospitals in Switzerland,” he added in a low voice.

“Only for the rich?”

“Only for the very rich.”

“Is his scientific research any good, Samuel?”

Hungertobel hesitated. “That’s a hard question to answer,” he said. “There was a time when he was a good researcher, but we don’t really know whether he remained one. He works with methods that seem questionable to us. We hardly know anything about the hormones he’s specialized in. Wherever science sets out to conquer some field, it’s a free-for-all, everyone tries to rush in ahead of the fray—scientists and quacks, often combined in one person. What can you do, Hans? Emmenberger’s patients love and believe in him, he is their god. That’s the most important thing, I believe, for patients who are that rich and want their sickness to be another luxury; faith moves mountains, and it definitely moves hormones. So he has his successes, he is revered, and he makes money. We call him the ‘heir apparent.’”

Hungertobel suddenly stopped talking, as if he regretted having revealed Emmenberger’s nickname.

“The heir apparent. What’s that name about?” Barlach asked.

“A lot of patients have willed their estate to the clinic,” Hungertobel replied with obvious embarrassment. “It’s sort of a fashion there.”

“So you doctors noticed this!” the inspector said.

They both fell silent, and in that silence there was something unspoken that filled Hungertobel with fear.

“You mustn’t think what you’re thinking,” he suddenly said, horrified.

“I’m just thinking your thoughts,” the inspector calmly replied. “Let’s be exact. Even if it’s a crime to think what we’re thinking, let’s not be afraid of our thoughts. How can we overcome them—presuming they’re wrong—unless we examine them, and how can we do that unless we admit them to our conscience? So what are we thinking, Samuel? We are thinking that Emmenberger uses methods that he learned in the concentration camp at Stutthof to force his patients to leave him their fortunes, and that then he kills them.”

“No!” Hungertobel cried with feverish eyes. “No!” He stared at Barlach anxiously. “We mustn’t think that! We’re not beasts!” he cried out again, and stood up to pace back and forth in the room, from the wall to the window, from the window to the bed.

“My God,” the doctor groaned, “this is the most horrible hour of my life.”

“Suspicion,” the old man said in his bed, and then again, unrelenting: “Suspicion.”

Hungertobel stopped next to Barlach’s bed. “Please let’s forget this conversation, Hans,” he said. “We let ourselves go. It’s true, we all like to play with possibilities sometimes. It’s never a good idea. Let’s forget about Emmenberger. The more I look at this picture, the less it looks like him, and I’m not just saying that to wiggle out. He was in Chile and not in Stutthof, and that makes our suspicion meaningless.”

“In Chile, in Chile,” Barlach said, and his eyes sparkled greedily for a new adventure. His body stretched, and then he lay motionless and relaxed, with his hands behind his head.

“Your patients are waiting, Samuel,” he said after a while. “I don’t want to hold you up any longer. Let’s forget our conversation. That’s the best thing to do, I agree.”

When Hungertobel turned in the doorway to cast a suspicious glance at the sick man, the inspector had fallen asleep.


The next morning Hungertobel found Barlach studying the City Gazette. It was seven thirty, shortly after breakfast. The old man looked surprised, for the doctor had come earlier than usual, at an hour when Barlach was normally asleep again, or at least dozing with his hands behind his head. The doctor also had the impression that Barlach looked peppier than usual. The old vitality seemed to be shining through his narrowed eyelids.

“How are you feeling?” Hungertobel greeted his patient. “Hopeful,” was Barlach’s cryptic response.

“I’m earlier than usual, and I’m not here officially,” Hungertobel said, stepping up to the bed. “I just wanted to quickly drop off a stack of medical journals: the Swiss Medical Weekly, a French one, and especially, since you understand English, some issues of Lancet, the famous British medical journal.”

“It’s sweet of you to assume I’d be interested,” Barlach replied without glancing up from his Gazette, “but I’m not sure this is appropriate reading matter for me. You know I’m not on good terms with the medical profession.”

Hungertobel laughed. “After all we’ve done for you!”

“Indeed,” Barlach said. “That doesn’t make it more palatable.”

“What are you reading in the Gazette?” Hungertobel asked.

“Ads for stamps,” the old man replied.

The doctor shook his head. “Nevertheless you will look at these magazines, despite your habit of keeping us doctors at arm’s length. I want to prove to you that our talk last night was a lot of foolishness, Hans. You’re a criminologist, and I wouldn’t put it past you to have our fashionable doctor-suspect arrested out of a clear blue sky, along with his hormones. I don’t understand how I could have forgotten it. There’s no problem proving that Emmenberger was in Santiago. He sent articles from there to various medical journals, including English and American ones, mainly on the subject of internal secretion, and made a name for himself that way. Even as a student he had a literary flair, his papers were witty and brilliant. You see, he was a good research scientist, hardworking and conscientious. And that’s what makes his current turn toward the trendy, if I may call it that, all the more regrettable; because what he’s doing now is really a cheap trick, and I’m not just being orthodox when I say that. The last article appeared in Lancet in January of forty-five, a few months before he returned to Switzerland. That’s certainly proof that our suspicion was a red herring. I give you my solemn vow that I’ll never play criminologist again. The man in the picture cannot be Emmenberger, or else the photograph is forged.”

“That would be an alibi,” Barlach said, folding the Gazette. “You can leave the magazines with me.”

When Hungertobel came back at ten for his regular visit, the old man was lying in his bed, eagerly reading the magazines.

“So you’re interested in medicine after all,” the doctor said with surprise as he checked Barlach’s pulse.

“You were right,” the inspector said, “the articles came from Chile.”

Hungertobel was glad and relieved. “You see! And we already had Emmenberger pegged as a mass murderer.”

“It’s amazing, the advances that have been made in this art,” Barlach dryly replied. “Time, my friend, time. I don’t need the English journals, but you can leave me the Swiss ones.”

“But Emmenberger’s articles in Lancet are much more important, Hans!” objected Hungertobel, who was already persuaded of his friend’s interest in medicine. “Those are the ones you should read.”

“But in the Swiss Medical Weekly Emmenberger writes in German,” Barlach replied somewhat ironically.

“So?” asked the doctor, who understood nothing.

“I mean that I’m intrigued with his style, Samuel, the style of a doctor who was once noted for the elegance of his language and now writes rather clumsily,” the old man said cautiously.

“So what?” Hungertobel asked, still unsuspecting, busy with the chart above the bed.

“It’s not so easy to furnish an alibi,” the inspector said.

“What are you getting at?” the doctor said, dismayed. “Are you still not rid of that suspicion?”

Barlach thoughtfully looked into his friend’s appalled face, the noble, wrinkled face of a doctor who had never dealt lightly with his patients and yet knew nothing about human nature. Then he said, “Do you still smoke your ‘Little Rose of Sumatra,’ Samuel? It would be nice if you offered me one. I imagine lighting one after my boring oatmeal gruel would be a very pleasant experience.”


But before lunch was served, the sick man, who had been reading and rereading an article by Emmenberger on the function of the pancreas, received his first visit since the operation. It was the “boss” who came into the sickroom around eleven and sat down by the old man’s bed, without taking off his coat, holding his hat in his hand, and looking vaguely embarrassed. Barlach knew exactly what this visit was about, and the boss knew exactly how things were going for the inspector.

“Well, Inspector,” Lutz began, “how are you? There were times when it seemed we had to expect the worst.”

“I’m coming along,” Barlach replied, folding his hands behind his neck.

“What are you reading?” Lutz asked, looking for an opportunity to avoid the real purpose of his visit. “My, my, Barlach, medical journals!”

The old man was not embarrassed. “It reads like a thriller,” he said. “When you’re sick, you want to widen your horizons, so you look around for new fields.”

Lutz wanted to know how long Barlach was required to remain in bed.

“Two months,” the inspector replied. “Two more months they expect me to lie here.”

Now the boss could no longer evade the issue. “The age limit …” It took him an effort to get the words out. “The age limit, Inspector, you understand, I don’t see how we can get around it, we have regulations.”

“I understand,” the sick man replied. His face betrayed no emotion.

“There’s no getting around it,” said Lutz. “You need rest and recreation, Inspector, that’s what it boils down to.”

“That and modern scientific criminology, where you find your criminal like a labeled pot of jam,” added the old man by way of correction and inquired who would be his successor.

“Rothlisberger,” the boss replied. “He’s already substituting for you.”

Barlach nodded. “Rothlisberger. He’s got five children, he’ll be pleased with the pay-raise,” he said. “Starting with the New Year?”

“Starting with the New Year.”

“Till Friday then,” Barlach said, “and from then on, I’ll be an ex-detective inspector. No more public service, not in Turkey and not in Bern. I’m glad that’s over, not because I’ll have more time to read Molière and Balzac—though that would be very worthwhile, to be sure—but mainly because, as I see it, there is something very wrong with the way the world is run. I know what goes on. People are always the same, whether they go to the Haga Sophia on Sundays or to the Bern Cathedral. They let the big scoundrels go and lock up the little ones. And there’s a whole heap of crimes no one pays any attention to, because they are more esthetic than those blatant murders