The Devil and the Deep Blue Chiemsee Cozy Mystery Short Fiction By Mary Jo Rabe

The Devil and the Deep Blue Chiemsee: Cozy Mystery By Mary Jo Rabe

Mary Jo Rabe, author of The Devil and the Deep Blue Chiemsee, grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa, got degrees from Michigan State University (German and math) and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (library science).

She worked in the library of the chancery office of the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany for 41 years, and lives in Titisee-Neustadt, Germany.

*****

Annegret Gumpert sighed and dragged her dented travel trolley with the useless spinner wheels through the Prien train station. It had been a mistake to assume this trolley could last one more trip. Frugality didn’t always lead to the best decisions.

It had been a long train trip from the edge of the Black forest to the Chiemgau region here in Bavaria. Her train had left Freiburg a little after five a.m. that morning.

By now, of course, her feet were swelling up again. They didn’t like it when she sat for too many hours at a time. No matter. She wiped the sweat off her middle-aged face, and looked down the street for the little steam-powered Lake Chiemsee train to take her to the dock.

Actually, despite swollen feet and useless wheels, Annegret probably could also walk to the lake. All the running around she did in her library with offices and stack rooms spread out over five stories in two buildings kept her fit and trim.

She wiped the sweat off her middle-aged face, and looked down the street for the little steam-powered Lake Chiemsee train to take her to the dock.

According to her favorite search engine it was supposed to be only a little over two kilometers from the train station to the ferry. Even dragging her overweight, semi-lame trolley, she should be able to manage that short distance.

Annegret was probably in Prien too early anyway. She always hated the idea of missing any travel connection and was therefore a little obsessed with choosing careful schedules.

However, the library conference of church librarians on the island of Frauenchiemsee wouldn’t begin until supper. Unfortunately it looked like none of the colleagues she hoped to meet had taken as early a train as she had, at least none had gotten off here with her.

Fortunately she was wrong. A train from Stuttgart arrived in Prien a few minutes later, and Annegret saw some friendly faces get off, Heidi Groh, Sister Hildegardis Wiesler, and Brother Pirmin Lechtenbrink. Annegret waved at them enthusiastically, and they started walking in her direction.

As soon as they got closer, the green Chiemsee train came huffing and puffing on the streetcar track to the train station. The cars looked quite practical for a hot summer day, roofed with open window frames.

Annegret wondered vaguely how pleasant the Lake Chiemsee train would be to ride on during a cold, winter day or in wind and rain, but that wasn’t relevant for the here and now. She waved to her colleagues again and started dragging her trolley toward the train. It was slightly slow going.

“Annegret,” Heidi, her friend from the Catholic Bible Society in Stuttgart, called out. “Wait up. I’m so glad that you could make it.”

Like Annegret, Heidi was in her fifties but considerably more athletic. She wore a pair of women’s lederhosen and a checkered shirt and didn’t seem at all burdened by the huge knapsack on her back. She looked more like she was ready for hike up the nearby mountains than a sedate librarians’ conference.

With their orders’ respective historical habits and sandals Brother Pirmin and Sister Hildegardis were dressed the most sensibly for this hot and humid weather. At least Annegret had had the good sense to wear her loose, tunic-length, tan blouse and roomy slacks. It wasn’t fashionable or particularly professional, but she also didn’t need to climb any mountains in the near future.

“How are things in the Bible Society?” Annegret asked Heidi as the group caught up to her.

“Not great for the library,” Heidi said. “They’re asking me to do more web design and promotion for the publishing house and are starting to complain about how much space the library takes up.”

“I hope you can persuade them to hang on to it,” Brother Pirmin, an older monk whose bald head no longer needed any tonsure, said. “Your little library in Stuttgart has the most extensive Biblical collection in the whole country. You have Bibles in hundreds of languages, some of which are probably valued in the range of five to six figures.”

“That’s what I keep telling them,” Heidi said. “But, like in all publishing houses now, the bean counters are only interested in the bottom line. It’s discouraging.”

“Well, you can forget them for a few days. These conferences always cheer me up,” Annegret said. “Especially when there has been an overload of nonsense in the chancery office.”

“What now?” Sister Hildegardis asked. She had retired from teaching ten years ago and then, due to decreasing numbers of nuns in her Franciscan convent in Siessen, was immediately assigned new tasks, including care of the huge convent library.

“Don’t ask,” Annegret said. “A repeat of the usual. Our bean counters keep asking, ‘Since the employees have an Internet connection, why do they need a company library?’ and ‘If they need a library, why can’t they use the excellent university library where everyone can get a library card for free?’ The previous archbishop and vicar general appreciated our library; the current ones don’t. Is your Mother Superior still willing to support your library?”

“Fortunately the convent still has enough money,” Sister Hildegardis said. She was over eighty, but when she smiled she looked like a teenager.

“After our Sister Innocentia Hummel drew those pictures, the convent has licensed them out to one factory after another to make the figurines that sell so well. And without any personnel costs, the library doesn’t run up that many bills. How are you doing in Beuron?” She looked at Brother Pirmin.

“Our library’s breaking even,” Brother Pirmin said. “I’ve been selling off duplicates of books we already have cataloged. People keep giving us books we already have, and then we sell them. With the money these sales earn we buy new books, better equipment, and more sophisticated software without being a burden to the monastery.”

They all climbed into the Lake Chiemsee train which took off soon after they sat down. The train managed almost 25 kilometers per hour, and so there was a slight breeze. From the train stop at the lake it was only a few meters to the Lake Chiemsee pier. A group of almost twenty people waited patiently in the bright sunlight for the ferry to the island of Frauenchiemsee where the library conference was to take place.

Annegret doubted that most of these people were there for the library conference, especially since she didn’t recognize any of the group. The tiny island of Frauenchiemsee with a circumference of about two kilometers was famous as a somewhat old-fashioned vacation area.

There were no hotels, just bed and breakfast establishments in homes where the owners themselves lived. Motor vehicles and even bicycles were forbidden on the island. The island was long since a participant in the dark skies movement. There were no street lights. The view of the night sky was said to be the best in all of Germany.

There were no hotels, just bed and breakfast establishments in homes where the owners themselves lived.

If the Benedictine Frauenwörth convent hadn’t already been there since the year 782, its fairly large campus would never have been allowed on the island. It was the only venue large enough for the hundred and twenty or more librarians at the conference.

The weather was unbearably hot and humid, typical for August. The state of Bavaria always had its school vacations, only six weeks in the summer, in August, which was when many Bavarian librarians could take time off for continuing education conferences. The convent no longer ran a boarding school and had large numbers of guest rooms available.

The ferry to Frauenchiemsee only ran once an hour; the ferry to the more popular Herrenchiemsee, where mad King Ludwig had built his copy of the palace of Versailles, ran more often. Now that she had friendly colleagues to talk to, Annegret didn’t mind waiting.

Annegret always looked forward to seeing other librarians. It was encouraging, even almost uplifting, to talk to intelligent, educated colleagues. This annual convention was generally the only opportunity she had to meet up with colleagues from fairly far away.

“Is anyone else coming from Freiburg?” Brother Pirmin asked.

Unfortunately her so-called colleague from the archdiocesan library in Freiburg, Daliah Nimburger, was probably also coming.

Annegret ground her teeth and swore to herself that she wouldn’t let the presence of this one unpleasant person spoil the whole conference.

“I can’t be sure,” Annegret began, trying desperately for a neutral tone of voice. “First Frau Nimburger said she wanted to come, and then she said she didn’t, and then she said she did again. I really don’t know whether to expect her or not.”

“I thought your chancery office was more bureaucratic than that,” Heidi said. “Don’t you have to officially request permission to attend conferences weeks ahead of time?”

Again struggling to sound neutral, Annegret said, “Frau Nimburger doesn’t have any problems with the hierarchy.” The truth was that the higher-ups gave in whenever Frau Nimburger demanded something or other. They were all extremely averse to conflict, and Daliah was the world’s greatest drama queen.

“So things haven’t improved with her?” Heidi asked.

Annegret sighed. She had complained to Heidi often enough when Daliah had driven her crazy. “No,” Annegret said. “Nothing has changed. The previous vicar general promoted me to head of the library and demoted Daliah to staff librarian. Unfortunately, he retired shortly thereafter, and ever since then Daliah tells everyone that she and I are equally in charge of the library. She reverses every decision I make, denies everything I tell the users.”

“And no one contradicts her, not the head of your department or the personnel department?” Heidi asked.

“No,” Annegret said. “They have more important priorities, the main one being keeping Daliah happy.”

“So no solution in sight?” Heidi asked.

“Just the usual one in the chancery office: wait until the problem person quits or retires. In Daliah’s case, that means five more distressing years,” Annegret said.

Fortunately the ferry was now in sight, quite large, actually more of a multi-storied ship. The last thing Annegret wanted to do was dwell on her situation back in the archdiocesan library. That’s why she liked to go to conferences, so that she could get away from a few idiots, even if only for a few days at a time.

The trip to the island was relaxing. Lake Chiemsee, formed some ten thousand years ago from a stubborn glacier that stopped moving when it got to this dip in the road, was calm, deep, and generally quite cold. Just looking at the bright, blue water made Annegret smile.

The boat ride took about twenty minutes, after which the check-in for the conference seemed to take hours. Apparently not everyone had read the information about the conference. The letters they got weeks ago stated clearly that participants had to pay for their room and board in cash upon arrival.

Once Annegret, Heidi, Sister Hildegardis, and Brother Pirmin got to the head of the line, things progressed more quickly. They got their keys, their conference bags ─ filled with the usual goodies ─ and their name tags, long before the scheduled evening meal.

“I’m off for a swim,” Heidi said. “Anyone going with me?” Sister Hildegardis and Brother Pirmin shook their heads and laughed.

“Won’t the water be a little cold?” Annegret asked. “It never occurred to me to bring a swimming suit.”

“Cowards,” Heidi said. “I plan to go swimming every morning before the church service.”

“I’m going to drop my stuff off in my room, read through the program, and then, if there is time, take a walk around the island,” Sister Hildegardis said.

“A walk around Frauenchiemsee should take about a half an hour,” Brother Pirmin said. “I think I’ll hike around the convent campus to see where the talks will take place so I don’t miss out on anything once the conference officially starts tomorrow.”

“If I hurry, maybe I can do both,” Annegret said. “See you at supper at the latest.”

Annegret took the elevator up to her room. This tract of the convent had obviously been renovated and modernized quite recently. Since most convents didn’t get any new postulants or novices, they had these huge properties and not enough nuns to work outside the convent to bring in some money.

Boarding schools also weren’t as successful as they used to be. So, renting out the rooms for conferences or other meetings was a sensible solution. Financially astute nuns modernized their convents to attract the greatest number of customers. It seemed that the Benedictine sisters here in Frauenchiemsee were at the top of their game.

Annegret’s room was tastefully furnished with dust-free, oak furniture, a wide single bed, a padded lounge chair, and a huge wooden desk with matching chair. The bathroom at the side of the room gleamed. Since Annegret was on the fifth floor, she had a great view of the lake.

Annegret unzipped her recalcitrant trolley suitcase, took out her clothes, unpacked her laptop, and ran it up. She was amazed at the speedy, steady, and truly excellent wifi. The Frauenwörth convent was living up to its reputation.

Sister Walfriede Hensler, Mother Superior of the Frauenwörth convent here, was famous as Germany’s “Internet nun”. She was the go-to person whenever companies had their servers hacked or infected with malware or ransomware. She had been able to rescue or retrieve data when no one else could.

Annegret skimmed through the conference program. She was especially interested in Sister Walfriede’s talk the next day, about how libraries could protect their databases while offering their users unlimited access.

Annegrete yawned. Instead of exploring the island or convent campus, she took the easy way out and lay down for a nap. She woke up an hour before supper and decided to look for the others. After fifteen minutes of wandering around the convent, she began to regret not exploring the convent campus earlier. She had no sense of direction, and even though there were enough signs, she got lost several times in the twists and turns of the convent walls.

Finally, she met Sister Hildegardis who showed her the direct path from the front door of the convent to the refectory and to the underground chapel.

“Thank you,” Annegret said. “I always get lost in these places.”

“Those of us who live and work in convents or monasteries find our way around more easily,” Sister Hildegardis said. “They all have similar basic floor plans, which, however, can vary, depending on what got built onto when.”

“The Frauenwörth convent here on Frauenchiemsee was built, torn down, rebuilt, and remodeled many times during the past centuries. There is a little booklet in the goodie bag they gave us about the history of the convent. It contains a great map of the campus including all the buildings and all the rooms on each floor.”

“Right,” Annegret said. “I think I remember seeing that. Thank you. I’ll read it tonight so I don’t get as lost tomorrow.”

As she and Sister Hildegardis got to the refectory door, Heidi joined them. “How was your swim?” Sister Hildegardis asked.

“Refreshing,” Heidi said. “The water is cold, but it feels good to jump in and get out of this hot air. I swam around the whole island and can’t wait to go out again tomorrow.”

“Is it safe to swim alone?” Annegret asked. “What if you got a cramp or something? Lake Chiemsee is quite deep.”

“I’m a good swimmer,” Heidi said. “And I doubt that I’ll ever swim alone. With this weather everyone wants to dive in and cool off.” She shook her still wet hair, and the three of them went to look for a table in the refectory.

Like the whole convent so far, the refectory was clean, furnished with modern, light-colored wooden tables and chairs, and well insulated so that everyone could talk at the same time without the noise getting deafening. Full buffet tables were lined up along the walls.

Generally the evening meals consisted only of bread, cheese, and cold cuts, but tonight the buffet tables were generously full of hot dishes, salads, and desserts. The tables had liberal selections of beer, wine, and mineral water. The people she enjoyed meeting most sat at Annegret’s table.

In this safe environment, all the librarians exchanged embarrassing and amusing anecdotes about their organizations. With increased consumption of alcoholic beverages the conference participants got more and more uninhibited. Annegret was thoroughly enjoying herself when the door burst open and Daliah stomped in, looking angry as usual, her chunky figure making the floorboards tremble.

Naturally she lumbered over to Annegret’s table, pulled an empty chair from a neighboring table and sat down next to Annegret. Before saying anything, she grabbed Annegret’s unused wine glass, poured herself a good quarter of a liter and downed it in one gulp.

“They wouldn’t let me use my debit card,” Daliah said, shaking her dyed red head without, however, budging the short, stiff, unflattering haircut. “And there isn’t an ATM anywhere on this stupid island. I had to take a boat back to Prien to get enough cash to check in.”

Annegret took a slow sip of her mineral water and let the others at the table explain to Daliah that she could have known this if she had read the materials they had all gotten weeks before. Daliah continued to complain until it occurred to her that she’d better race over to the buffet tables before everything got cleared away.

Daliah returned with a plate piled up with meat, pasta, salad, fruit, and cake. “I never have much appetite,” she said as she shoveled the contents of her plate into her gaping mouth. “My husband always says, he has never seen a human being who eats as little as I do.” She continued to gorge herself enthusiastically as she criticized the food, the accommodations, her train ride, and the weather. When her plate was empty, she ran back to the buffet tables to fill it up again.

Annegret sensed a brief opportunity to flee. “I have to get some sleep,” she said to those remaining at her table. “If I remember correctly, Mass is at seven, breakfast at seven thirty, and the first talk is at nine. I don’t want to be late for anything.”

“Me either,” Heidi said as she stood up. “I want to get in a swim before Mass.”

Annegret was able to get away before Daliah returned to the table. Safe from Daliah’s nonsense, back in her modern guest room, Annegret fished the booklet about the Frauenwörth convent out of her goodies bag. The convent indeed had a long, complicated history.

Before falling asleep at her desk, Annegret did vaguely wonder about the finances. The convent was beautifully renovated, the furnishings were modern and quite comfortable, and the technology was absolutely state of the art.

As far as the booklet revealed, the convent made its money from donations, from the guest rooms and fees for meetings, and from sales in the gift shop, especially the products the convent produced itself, its own herbal liqueur and marzipan. It was hard for Annegret to believe that a gift shop would make much of a profit, but maybe the liqueurs and marzipan were that good. She’d have to take a look.

But first she had to get a good night’s sleep. She was completely exhausted.

The next day started off well. The church service included surprisingly good music and an extremely short sermon. The breakfast buffet was sumptuous, unusually generous considering the modest amount the convent charged the church librarians for room and board. Either the sisters really appreciated librarians or they didn’t need the money.

Annegret couldn’t wait for the first talk. She had read so much about Sister Walfriede. She hurried to the newly renovated auditorium in the hopes of getting a seat in the front row. The comfortable, blue, padded seats looked like they had been ordered from a movie theater.

Sister Walfriede turned out to be quite young, perhaps in her late twenties. She wore the dark habit of the Benedictine order, but highly modernized. Her skirt was knee-length and her veil was a short piece of cloth resting on the back of her head. She smiled and hopped around the stage like a teenage cheerleader.

The presentation technology Annegret noticed in the room was impressive, but Sister Walfriede quickly took charge. “Don’t be overwhelmed by all our computer toys,” she said. “Technology is nothing but a tool. The work you do in your libraries is what’s important.”

Then she continued with her multi-media presentation. The main message was scary. Libraries were very vulnerable to online attacks and needed to invest in protective software, no matter how much it cost. Libraries also needed to secure their data adequately offsite, no matter how much that cost. Unfortunately Annegret knew that her organization did care how much things cost.

The question-and-answer period after Sister Walfriede’s talk was even more intense. Many of Annegret’s colleagues had very specific questions about how to get their technology to work well in their libraries.

Dr. Kasemann, the head of the Bavarian Lutheran Library in Nürnberg, asked, “Walking around the island I noticed that you have an entire building filled with generators. Have you had problems with reliability of electricity?”

“We started accumulating generators when we still ran the boarding school,” Sister Walfriede said, chuckling a little. “It was just too much of a nuisance when the electricity went out and our students couldn’t use any electrical devices. They complained bitterly, as did their parents who were paying a fairly high tuition and expensive room and board. ”

“Now of course we are glad to have more generators than we need so that we never have to worry about electricity. However, I think all libraries should give some thought to what happens to them if the lights go out.”

Sister Hildegardis asked about the Frauenwörth convent. “What are your convent’s priorities now that you have closed your boarding school?”

“As with many convents, there aren’t many of us nuns left here. We do what we can. We feel obligated to help the poor and powerless all over the planet, not just the people here on the island of Frauenchiemsee. We provide financial support to twenty different European centers that care for the homeless and for refugees.”

“How do you earn enough money to do that?” Sister Hildegardis asked.

“That is our challenge and, in the final analysis, that is my problem as Mother Superior of the community here,” Sister Walfriede said and laughed briefly.

“We rent out our facilities for conferences like this one, our gift shop sells our liqueurs and marzipan, and I do freelance information technology support work.”

“We do get donations for our work. The bed and breakfast establishments here on the island are very generous. And, of course, we trust in God to help us do His work.”

Annegret admired her optimism. It was hard to believe that the little convent could come up with enough money to support itself, much less other charitable entities.

Daliah of course didn’t show up until the noon meal in the refectory. Annegret wasn’t surprised. Daliah never came to work on time. Why would she come to talks here on time? Of course she came straight to Annegret’s table.

“I couldn’t find the auditorium,” Daliah said. “I looked and looked. I found a huge room in the basement, but it was full of computers and unfriendly people. They yelled at me and said I should leave. I refused and tried to walk through the room to get to the other side, and two nuns stood up and pushed me back out the door. I told them I’m going to complain. I’ll write a letter to the newspaper, and my husband will put my letter on the Internet where everyone can read it.”

Brother Pirmin pulled out his map of the campus. “You must have stumbled into the computer center,” he said. “Sister Walfriede said that it is the most expensive room in the whole place. No wonder they don’t want to be disturbed there. Wasn’t there a ‘no-access’ sign on the door?”

“Yes, but I just wanted to walk through the room and get to the other side,” Daliah said petulantly. “I paid the fifty Euros to go to this conference, and I’ll use whatever rooms they have here whenever I feel like it. No one has a right to throw me out of any of the rooms.”

Annegret shook her head, and the others at the table quickly reached for something to drink. Annegret remembered that she wanted to go to the gift shop and was able to flee.

The gift shop wasn’t all that large, maybe the size of three guest rooms. One wall had floor-to-ceiling windows, and the other walls were indeed filled with various herbal liqueurs and packages of home-made marzipan. “How is business,” Annegret asked the young woman behind the cash register.

“There are never that many customers,” she said. “Only the people who attend conferences here. The tourists who stay in bed and breakfast places never find our gift shop.”

“That’s too bad,” Annegret said. “I’ll have three packages of your marzipan.”

The afternoon talks were of direct importance for Annegret. A legal librarian explained the newest regulations with respect to copyright, book sales, and personnel management.

As a librarian, Annegret’s heart was with open access. She wanted to make everything the library possessed accessible to her users. However, the new online world changed the possibilities and the rules. She didn’t want to enable digital piracy.

Discussions about these problems dominated the conversations at supper. “That’s why the Bible Society doesn’t want me to let any users into the library,” Heidi said. “They want people to buy their Bibles, not read them for free in the library or at home on their computers.”

“We have a problem with copies for our users,” Annegret admitted. “The publishers never minded if we made paper photocopies, but digital copies are a whole different ball game. Unfortunately our users don’t see the difference.”

“Are you all coming to our local group meeting after supper?” Sister Hildegardis asked. “It’s in one of the basement rooms, I hope in a large one.”

“That’s right,” Brother Pirmin said. “Together with our Protestant colleagues, the church librarians in the state of Baden-Württemberg make up the largest group in the whole conference.”

This was more than evident when Annegret opened the door to the specified room. Almost all the chairs were taken. She found one next to the door, unfortunately also next to Daliah, who, of course, managed to come early to a mostly social event that didn’t involve any learning.

When it looked like everyone was there, Brother Pirmin stood up and suggested that they all introduce themselves. “Let’s go around the room, and each of you can say a little about your own library and what you do there.”

This was a good idea. Annegret only knew about half the people in the room and none of the Protestant colleagues. She heard fascinating stories about the problems other librarians had, many of which made her problems in Freiburg seem almost trivial. Unfortunately, when it was Daliah’s turn, she loudly declared herself to be in charge of the Freiburg archdiocesan library.

That was too much for Annegret, the proverbial last straw. She stood up and interrupted Daliah. “No,” she said, perhaps a touch too loudly. “Ten years ago the vicar general removed Frau Nimburger as head of the library and appointed me to the position.”

“Frau Gumpert and I run the library together,” Daliah insisted.

Annegret was embarrassed at how all the librarians were staring at them, but she was so tired of Daliah’s behavior, she just didn’t want to put up with it any more. “No,” Annegret said. “That is not correct. I am in charge of the Freiburg Archdiocesan Library and Frau Nimburger is a staff librarian there.”

“You are as arrogant as you are hostile,” Daliah yelled. “It’s impossible to work with you.”

Annegret had enough. “See you all tomorrow,” she said and left. She couldn’t stand to hear anything more from Daliah. Sister Hildegardis immediately followed her out the door. “Now I see what you have to deal with in your library,” she said. “I admire your restraint. I would have long since strangled the woman if I had to put up with her.”

“Thanks for the encouragement,” Annegret smiled. She went straight to her room and to bed without even running her laptop up or looking at her phone to check on e-mails. Strangely enough, she had no trouble sleeping. Obviously it was healthier to confront Daliah than to endure her behavior silently.

After breakfast the next morning they all headed out to the dock to catch a ferry to Herrenchiemsee for the official excursion of the library conference. The boat ride was unusually pleasant, perhaps because Annegret didn’t see Daliah anywhere. On the island of Herrenchiemsee it was a good twenty-minute hike to the palace, but the tour was worth the effort.

Mad King Ludwig had built a worthy copy of the Palace of Versailles on his island. The tour of the premises and gardens took more than two hours. It had nothing to do with libraries, but the tour could perhaps be classified as a cultural event.

Various people came up to Annegret to express their sympathy for her having to put up with Daliah. This was generally accompanied by horrific anecdotes of experiences they had with their own library employees and colleagues.

It was nice to be able to laugh about the whole catastrophe. Annegret was beginning to enjoy the library conference again.

This ended abruptly when their boat docked back at Frauenchiemsee. Two young police officers were waiting there.

“We need to talk to all of you who had any contact with Frau Nimburger,” the youngish policewoman said. Her mid-length, blonde hair, pulled back in a half-hearted ponytail, bounced around her back.

“Those of you who might be able to tell us anything, please come with us to the auditorium,” the older policeman with the sad, lined face said.

“Frau Nimburger and I work in the same library,” Annegret said. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“They pulled her corpse out of the lake this morning,” the young policewoman said. “She seems to have drowned, but was wearing normal street clothes, not a bathing suit.”

Annegret closed her eyes. Daliah had managed to ruin the library conference after all. Why had that stupid woman gotten anywhere near the lake? Daliah was deathly afraid of water deeper than knee-high. She refused to learn to swim. On the other hand, that was typical of Daliah. She probably did something stupid and no one was around to save her from herself.

The police officers talked to the librarians who had been with the Baden-Württemberg group the evening before and to everyone who had eaten together with Frau Nimburger. They kept returning to Annegret and asking about how she and Daliah had gotten along.

“Yes, Frau Nimburger and I have worked in the same library for over twenty years,” Annegret said. “And yes, we haven’t gotten along ever since she was demoted and I was promoted to her position as head of the library. But our disagreements were purely professional, not personal. I really don’t even know that much about the woman.”

“Yet you were involved in a loud conflict with her last night,” the young policewoman said.

“Yes,” Annegret admitted. “When the conversation got too childish for me, I left and returned to my room.”

“But then you continued your argument with Frau Nimburger in the hall,” the policewoman insisted.

“No,” Annegret said patiently. “I didn’t see Frau Nimburger again after I left the meeting of the Baden-Württemberg librarians.”

“All the librarians who saw your conflict agree that Frau Nimburger left shortly after you did, saying that she wanted to clear things up with you,” the policewoman said.

“I have no idea what Frau Nimburger said or did after I left,” Annegret said patiently. “I left, went to my room, and didn’t talk to anyone again until breakfast.”

The blonde policewoman nodded and tapped at her cell phone while her ponytail bounced back and forth. Annegret assumed everything she had said was recorded. She felt irritated. Daliah couldn’t even stop being a nuisance after she was dead.

After the police said they were finished for the moment, the group trudged off to the refectory for lunch. The atmosphere at Annegret’s table was strained. No one wanted to risk saying something tactless, but eventually Brother Pirmin said, “I wonder what the police officers aren’t telling us. It sounds like a simple case of someone falling into the lake and drowning.”

“Frau Nimburger couldn’t swim,” Annegret said.

“Maybe she went for a walk last night and didn’t notice how close she got to the water,” Heidi said. “The whole island is dark at night.”

The others shook their heads. Then the policeman came into the refectory and over to Annegret’s table. “Frau Gumpert,” he said. “We understand that your library conference ends on Friday. We have to ask you to remain on the island until we have completed all investigations. You are a person of interest with respect to the death of Frau Nimburger.” With that he turned around and left.

Suddenly everyone in the refectory stopped talking. Annegret wondered if anyone truly believed she might have drowned Daliah, but of course she couldn’t ask.

“Person of interest,” Heidi exploded. “That is so ridiculous.”

“Yes,” Brother Pirmin agreed. “The police officers are making everything too easy on themselves.”

“And deciding that I am a murderer,” Annegret sighed.

“Well, our job is obvious,” Sister Hildegardis said. “We have to solve the case so that the police realize you have nothing to do with Frau Nimburger’s death.”

“Can we manage that?” Heidi asked.

“Of course,” Brother Pirmin said. “We’re librarians. We know how to research and evaluate facts. Let’s get started.”

He stood up and said, “Our colleague Frau Gumpert needs our help. Let’s brainstorm and find the explanation for Frau Nimburger’s death.”

To Annegret’s genuine surprise, everyone started moving tables and chairs around until they all sat in a large circle. Suggestions flew right and left. Brother Pirmin volunteered to play moderator. Dr. Bundschuh from the Protestant district library in Karlsruhe took notes on all the comments. After about two hours, the conclusion was unanimous. The librarians dispersed to their rooms and excellent Internet connections.

Annegret, Heidi, Sister Hildegardis, and Brother Pirmin waited outside Sister Walfriede’s office. Annegret knocked on the massive wooden door, and Sister Walfriede said to come in. “How can I help you?” she asked when they all stood in front of her desk.

“It shouldn’t be too difficult,” Annegret said. “You just need to convince the police that Frau Nimburger had an unfortunate accident, that she, perhaps taking a walk in the dark, slipped into the lake and drowned. All I really am asking for is to get the police off my back, to have them conclude that I am no longer a person of interest because the death is obviously accidental.”

“I hear you,” Sister Walfriede said evenly. She looked down at some device on her desk. “I’m not sure what I can do or why I should do anything at all, though.”

“I am not responsible for Frau Nimburger’s death,” Annegret said just as evenly. “And you are. We’ve gone through all the facts, and the conclusion is unavoidable.”

“I doubt that,” Sister Walfriede said. “The facts are that you had a bad working relationship with the woman and a bitter argument with her in front of witnesses last night. No one saw her after she left to talk to you. And now she’s dead, drowned.”

“Your convent does admirable work supporting many worthy causes,” Brother Pirmin said. “It’s a mystery, however, where the money for all that comes from. I’m fairly sure an audit of the convent’s books would not show sufficient revenues for what you donate.”

“Frau Nimburger was a fairly obnoxious person who never admitted that she did anything wrong,” Sister Hildegardis said. “She loved to be the center of attention while she was blaming others.”

“Your convent has impressive, state-of-the-art computer equipment,” Heidi said. “And you are famous as Germany’s most talented white-hat hacker.”

“And so it is obvious,” Annegret said. “You’re running quite a profitable bitcoin mining operation in the basement, and for various reasons want to keep this secret. Frau Nimburger had the misfortune to ignore the ‘no admission’ signs on the doors and behaved badly after she barged into your computer rooms. I’m guessing you made the decision that it would be better if Frau Nimburger were silenced. And now she’s dead.”

“I can’t claim to be heartbroken or to even have any moral qualms,” Annegret continued. “We also don’t want to interfere with your good work in any way and will never make any comments about our suspicions. However, I don’t intend to let my reputation be sullied.”

“Just so that we understand each other,” Annegret continued. “All hundred and twenty librarians have sent electronic notes of our conclusions to various recipients, asking them to publicize them if any of us should come to even the slightest harm. We have to be grateful for the excellent Internet connections you provide here.”

Sister Walfriede smiled noncommittally though certainly not angelically. “Of course,” she said. “I hear you. We sisters have an excellent working relationship with the local police. I can ensure that they conclude that you had nothing to do with this very unfortunate accident. Please enjoy the rest of the conference.”

Sister Walfriede kept her word, and the young policewoman told Annegret that she was free to leave. With a huge appreciation of the solidarity of her library colleagues at the conference, Annegret returned to vastly improved working conditions in her library in Freiburg. She had to admit this had been the best conference ever. She could hardly wait for next year’s meeting.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed The Devil and the Deep Blue Chiemsee, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

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