In the weeks that followed, Andy merged back into his old routine of schoolwork and research as if nothing had ever changed. The only difference was that coffee had been replaced by a special blend of herbal tea, and meditative yoga was fused into his daily agenda. Sarah was still on her European tour, but she was constantly in his thoughts.
Work on the book had taken precedence over everything else with the cloud of a forthcoming deadline hovering over him like a hawk. With no word from Karl, he started sorting through his old contacts, made several phone calls, and scheduled new appointments. On the one free weekend he had, he flew out to Berlin to meet with an old German archivist. Before heading back to the airport, he took the opportunity to visit the Topography of Terror outdoor museum where the Gestapo headquarters once stood. The condensed trip had granted him fresh insight, but none that was relevant to his research. On the flight home, Andy spent his time compiling a list of all potential sources. As soon as he finished writing down all the names, he scrolled back to the top and began crossing out the ones he deemed useless. When he got to the bottom of the list, the only name that remained was Victor Callo. He stared at it for a minute. Another trip to Costa Rica was inevitable, he thought, with or without Karl. He did not wish to jeopardize the long relationship he had put so much time and effort in to build, especially when the promise of an exclusive interview with the Master was still up in the air. But time was running out, and with no sign from the husky German, his intuition pressed him to follow the only lead he had left.
Back in the office the following Monday, Andy started his week by plugging in names in the database search-engine. It was time to shift the research into higher gear. With the exception of a few links to some irrelevant websites, the name Victor Callo produced very little result. Under Kurt Schmidt, all the information he could find did not add much to what Karl had already told him. It was old news, except for one small excerpt from a 1942 local party circulation, attributing Commandant Schmidt’s madness to an aerial bombing of Hamburg by the Royal air force that utterly destroyed the townhouse where he was born and raised. His mother, who was still living there at the time, had left the premises minutes before the bombing, and her life was miraculously spared. “May Eleventh, Nineteen Forty-One,” Andy mumbled, trying to think of any historical significance the date may entail. “That was a day after Hess stole a plane and crossed the channel to Scotland,” he said and tried to think of a possible connection between the two peculiar incidents before dismissing his findings as a mere coincidence. “Another useless piece of information,” he bitterly mocked himself for wasting fifteen minutes of his precious time.
There was one more card in his deck. It was a long shot, and he had very little faith that it would bring him anything of substance, but after he verified he still had a few more minutes to spare before his next lecture, he typed the name Zachary Callo. This time, the search engine was much more cooperative. “There’s still hope after all,” he said, looking at the long list of links.
He wished he had more time to spend on the ore he had just unearthed, but he clearly had to tend to his duties, so he bookmarked few of the links before he walked away, intending to return to his research right after the lecture. What he had not taken into account when he left his office was that a good number of dissertations were due, and by the time the lecture was over, there was a long line of students seeking his advice. The hour was well into the evening when he followed the last of his students out of the auditorium, and the pet project that awaited him on his desktop was long forgotten.
On the drive home, all Andy could think of was the Moonlight Sonata CD he was going to put in the Stereo for his yoga session. His mind was already relaxed, leaving all work-related matters of the day behind in a blur. As he waited for the elevator, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes setting himself in meditative mode. But his calm progression was abruptly interrupted when he heard the notoriously familiar guttural voice calling his name from behind.
“Karl,” he said softly, and in the split second before he turned around to face his unexpected visitor, he realized he left major evidence of the forbidden search up on his desktop back in his office.
“I didn’t mean to scare you, Professor.” Karl grinned at Andy’s agitated response.
“Oh no, I was just a…”
“I was standing right in front of you when you walked in,” Karl cut him short. “I was sure you had noticed me, but I guess your mind was somewhere else.”
“Yeah,” Andy confirmed rather than trying to explain. “I was trying to get ahold of you for so long.” He imposed an assertive tone to mask his concerns for being caught doing something he shouldn’t have.
“I know. I’ve been busy. I got all your messages late, and I apologize for not responding, but as soon as I could, I got on a plane…and here I am.” Karl’s wide smile scattered any notion of sincere regret. “Now, do you have what I need?”
“Oh that,” Andy said after taking a few seconds to think about what it was that Karl wanted from him. “I have the printouts on my desk,” he said as the elevator door opened.
“So where are you staying?” Andy inquired, still suspicious of the possibility that Karl may have paid a visit to his office on his way over only to have the incriminating web page flash before his eyes. Now, when he thought about it, he realized he never locked the door to his office on his way out.
“I’m not,” Karl said. “I’m leaving tonight. I had a few hours between flights, so I thought I would stop by and pay my old friend a visit.”
“Did you get a chance to stroll through town?” Andy pretended to follow along with the mundane topic.
“No. I took a taxi straight from the airport. It’s not like I’ve never been here before.” The wide grin that stretched across Karl’s face along with the shrewd cold sarcasm in his calm voice were ratifying indications to Andy that the he did not have the slightest clue about the little research he was conducting in his office earlier. He closed the door behind them and let out a long sigh of relief.
“Is everything okay?” Karl said.
“Everything’s fine. Can I offer you a drink? Coffee? I may have some beer in the fridge,” he pointed to the kitchen.
“I’m not going to let you intoxicate me with your American mud water you call coffee,” Karl replied to the offer with an arrogant smile as he glanced at the empty dry pot seated in the unplugged coffee maker. He walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door without asking for permission, then pulled out a can of Bud-Light. “And this poor excuse for beer. Where I come from, they call this piss,” he stated bluntly and exchanged the can with a plastic bottle of mineral water. “I’ll take that if you don’t mind.” he twisted the cap open without waiting for a response and gulped it down.
“Thirsty, aren’t we?” Andy said, “You can stay for dinner if you’d like.”
Karl scanned the refrigerator’s insides. “Doesn’t look like you have too much to offer.” He smiled.
“We can order in or eat out. That’s how we do it in America.”
Karl laughed at the exchange of slaps and closed the refrigerator door. “Thanks for the offer, friend, but I really have to head back to the airport. I just came by to pick up what you have for me.”
“Of course,” Andy said and strode towards his office. “Do you need a ride?” He hollered.
“No. I’ll call a taxi cab.” Karl said as he snooped around the CD collection on the living room shelves.
Andy was relieved that his guest has declined the offer, but as he walked into the dark office and started groping for the printout he had prepared for Karl weeks earlier, he was suddenly struck by the inevitability of his proposal. He suspected that Karl would disappear as soon as he would get what he came for and driving him to the airport was his only chance to get something out of him.
“Here, that may help you find it,” Karl flipped the light switch on. Andy turned around, startled, and noticed the envelope with the printouts on top of the shelf behind him.
“When you’re right, you’re right,” Andy chuckled and reached for the envelope. But just before he was about to hand it over, it occurred to him for the first time he was handing confidential information of members of his academic circle to a German nationalist. He froze as Karl approached. He needed time to rethink his actions, but it was too late. Karl had his hand on the envelope. Andy refused to let go.
“Thank you,” Karl said softly and gave him a reassuring nod. “Your help is greatly appreciated.” The untypical mellowness in his voice compelled Andy to let go of the dire thought, but when he saw the envelope clasped between the German’s thick fingers, he felt like he was lured into a trap. He grabbed his car keys from the desk and switched off the light.
“Come on, I’ll give you a lift.” He pushed Karl out of his office.
“You don’t have to do that…”
“It’s the least I could do.”
“I was fine taking a cab,” Karl raised his arms up as a sign of submission, “but if you insist…”
Quiet lingered in the car for several minutes. Andy planned his approach, driving slowly to buy himself time without making it look too obvious. He avoided the shortcuts and rush-hour detours he would usually take to Logan at this time and headed straight for a traffic-jam on the freeway.
“Oh crap! When is your flight leaving?” Andy masked himself with a pretense of concern.
“We have time.” Karl opened the brown envelope and took out the printouts. Andy glanced at him.
“There’s no chance that any of these individuals are going to be hurt in any way,” Andy let out the lump from his throat with a question that sounded more like a statement awaiting confirmation.
“What?” Karl looked up. “Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Look, Karl. I don’t want to be stepping out of line here.” Andy drew back to a more apologetic tone. “I know the deal is for me to be minding my own business, but if this information is used to hurt anyone, that changes the picture, and I…”
“Hey, no one is getting hurt. Okay?” Karl’s words rumbled in the confined space of the Corolla. Andy sensed a repressed anger in Karl’s heavy breathing. He looked at the brown envelope as Karl slipped the papers back into it. He wished he could take it back and destroy it.
“This is information requested by the headmaster. And if it will make him happy, he’ll be more than willing to give you the exclusive interview you’re after.”
“Great,” Andy couldn’t hide his sarcasm.
“What? You don’t trust me?”
“Look,” Andy momentarily took his eyes off the road and looked straight at Karl. “I was given a final deadline by the publisher. If I don’t turn in a final draft by October, they’re shutting me down. Seven years of hard work are going to go to waste. Not to mention my reputation and job will be on the line.”
“How far are you from completion?” Karl said.
“Not too far, but there’s a big hole in my research that prevents me from producing a valid conclusion. I need answers – specific answers, and I don’t know if there’s anyone alive today who could give them to me. Now, I keep hearing from you about this one guy who has the answers that will make my story complete, but so far, I haven’t gotten anything and I’m running out of time, Karl. I don’t even know who this person is.”
Karl took a deep breath in and slowly let it out. “All I can tell you is that he’s a sick old man who kept his memories to himself for six decades, and now he feels he needs to talk before taking all his secrets to the grave with him.”
“Did he ever tell you anything?”
“He never says much to me. But I recently overheard the elders talking, and he mentioned something about being the sole survivor of the trial.”
“I don’t know…some trial.”
“Was the word ‘dark’ mentioned at all?” Andy’s voice trembled.
“What?” Karl chuckled. “Now that you mention it, I think I did hear them say it. Yah. I’m pretty sure now.”
Andy shook his head. “The Dark Trial is a myth,” he whispered.
“Hey, I’m only telling you what I heard. I probably said too much. You’ll have to hear the rest from the man himself.” Karl wiggled the brown envelope he was holding. “The more he likes this, the better your chances are for an exclusive.”
Andy made it appear like he was concentrating on the road without saying much while trying to comprehend what he had just heard. Traffic unexpectedly began to clear. The airport was less than ten minutes away and he still didn’t get anything of substance. “How soon do you think I can get that interview?” He said.
“I don’t know. The Meister has a very unpredictable schedule.”
“So I won’t know until I hear from you?”
“I’m afraid that’s how it works,” Karl said. “I don’t want to promise anything, but I do believe that you’ll get your interview within the next two…three months.”
“Two or three months? And there’s no certainty that I’m even going to get it, is there?”
“You know the business, Professor. I did not make the rules.”
“Well, is there anything else we can get in the meantime?”
“If I had something, I would have given it to you – you know that.”
“What about Callo? Can I at least get another one with him?”
“Schmidt is no good for you,” Karl’s voice turned grim. “Do I have to remind you what happened the last time the two of you met? You’re not going to get more information from him.”
“But what if…”
“You can drop me off at the next terminal.” Karl cut him short.
“Going to Brazil?” Andy said when he saw the Varig sign.
Karl raised his brow without saying a word. “Keep your spirits up.” He flapped the envelope in the air before slipping it into his briefcase. “If he likes what he sees, he will give you the interview.”
“The Dark Trial,” Andy mumbled on the way back. Up until that moment, he thought the old fairy tale was a bad joke made up by an anonymous peer in the circle of historians he was a part of. But how in the world would Karl know anything about it?” The confusion loomed in his head. “It makes no sense,” he murmured, “Unless… Karl was telling the truth.” The speculation painted the dark myth with realistic colors of fresh optimism. If there was a shred of truth in it, it could open the gate to a gold mine of information. Andy let himself linger in the fantasy, but it didn’t take long before a reality check pulled him out of the daydream. After all, there was much talk and little action from Karl regarding the matter, and he knew he could not afford to place all his bets on something so far-fetched.