“Well, I will let you settle in. You will report to Station 5 and meet the team at 0800 tomorrow. Welcome to Stuttgart.”
“Thank you.” Marc shook hands with Werner Fuchs, the department head of his new unit. In a new city.
Marc walked out of the Polizeipräsidium building to the unseasonal sunny weather. Still 25 degrees in early September, that’s a nice surprise. He touched his shirt pocket in search of a pack of cigarettes, then changed his mind. Having made a promise to his parents that he would cut down on both smoking and drinking.
He had given them enough reasons for concern the last year. He thought of his mother’s painful plead, “you have to stop this destruction, Marc. If Bettina finds out...”
But she wouldn’t, Marc had made sure of that. Though he thought he had fooled his parents too, that he had hidden it well. No drinking before he started his work shifts, no drinking before he picked up his son from Bettina. He had made sure the time with his son and his work wouldn’t suffer. The rest of the time though, that belonged to Marc alone, if he wanted to numb himself with alcohol, he’s entitled to.
Until one Sunday morning his mother found him passed out drunk and covered in his own vomit at home. He could have died, choking on his own vomit if his face was 2cm closer. Instead he had gotten a cold which had turned into pneumonia. He was hospitalized for two days.
After that episode, Marc realised he couldn’t do this to his parents or to his son.
“If that... that man is so important to you...” his mother had said tearfully, “we... we won’t stop you.”
Marc had laughed at that, bitterly. His parents’ approval. What a joke. Couldn’t have come at a worse time, when it was the least worry on his mind. Completely worthless because Kay hadn’t stuck around to wait for this day or for Marc to get his head out of his arse.
Kay had left without a backward glance. Without a trace, too. Marc had later come to learn.
After barging into Kay’s apartment and found it completely empty, Marc had soon found out that Kay had not only moved out, he had also quitted his job. Marc had left messages on his mobile for days and a week later, a robotic voice had informed him that the number had been disconnected.
Having acknowledged the finality of Kay’s action, Marc had decided the best way to deal with it was through the bottle. That was so like Kay, Marc had drunkenly thought - showed up in his life out of nowhere, turned it upside down and then disappeared. Totally selfish and... unrepentant. Marc couldn’t shake the bitterness; old habits die hard.
Yet once sobered up, he would again remember he was the one who told Kay to leave. At times he felt frantic with longing, desperate to touch, to see him, and yet helpless to do anything, because it was over; he had finally pushed Kay away for good.
Transferring to Stuttgart state police had been Frank’s idea.
“Go to a big city, it’ll be easier. You can kick start your career again with a new team,” his best friend of 10 years had suggested. Easier for a gay cop was what he meant. Kay’s abrupt departure and the incident with Limpinski has led to whispers in the squad room. Marc didn’t come out, but he also didn’t care enough to deny.
It was honesty that didn’t require courage. After months of lies and self-denial, Marc has simply lost the energy. What was the point? He has already lost everything, hurt everyone. There’s something liberating about not giving a fuck. To lie, one would need to still care, and he didn’t.
To Marc, Stuttgart was as good as any other big city, and it’s so close to Ludwigsburg that Marc could still see his son. Right now, he just wanted to go somewhere where no one would demand answers from him. He had no answers to Bettina’s anguish, no answers to Frank’s bewilderment, and no answers to his parents’ disappointment.
A clean start. Wasn’t that what Kay had once asked him? Just take off, go somewhere and start over? Hey, Kay, looks like I’m finally taking your advice, Marc mused as he started his car.
“Our aim is to separate the visiting fans from the home fans... now Hamburg is not exactly VfB Stuttgart’s biggest rival, so I am not expecting too much trouble, but...”
Marc has already tuned out the briefing. Different city. Same shit. He thought.
Stuttgart was a much bigger football city than Ludwigsburg. First of all, the home team was in Bundesliga 1, so the stakes were higher, fans cared more, shouted more and unfortunately, also drank more. Years of guarding rival football fans in Riot-Police unit have made him become averse to the sport, even though he used to play in youth team in school.
This was Marc’s sixth week in Stuttgart and already the fourth home game. He swore the football team’s Mercedes-Benz arena has become his second home since he arrived.
“Hey, you are not a Stuttgart Kickers fan, are you?”
“Huh?” Marc’s thoughts broke, he turned to his new colleague... what’s his name? Leon?
“Are you a Kickers fan? Cos this unit is all ‘die Roten’!” Leon looked at him challengingly.
Marc knew VfB Stuttgart were called ‘die Roten’. He used to watch matches with Frank and other team members and get drunk together, all part of the policemen’s macho social calendar. But really, these days he couldn’t care less about football.
He shrugged, “my father supports Karlsruhe SC, that makes me a de facto Stuttgart supporter. Does that help?”
Leon (is that his name?) laughed, “Haha. Good enough, good enough.”
Marc shook his head. He went to a few obligatory drinks after work with colleagues since he arrived, careful not to get too carried away and slipped back into the drunken mess he had been in few months ago.
Stuttgart won 1:0 in the end, so home fans were happily leaving the stadium in an orderly fashion. Marc was directing the away fans to a separate exit when his squad lead called him.
“Borgmann, could you go over to the VIP boxes? There are a couple of drunken away fans went astray near there. Leon is there already.”
“Right away,” Marc answered. He quickened his pace and took the steps two at a time to the upper level, where the VIP box-seats located. He was searching for Leon’s blue uniform when he heard a familiar voice.
“That tackle hardly grazed his leg... pussy...” the voice was getting further away.
Kay? Marc’s heart stopped.
He halted abruptly and whipped his head around, trying to identify the direction of the voice, but he could only see a sea of better-dressed people coming out from the VIP boxes, slowly drifting towards the exit.
“Marc? Over here!” Leon signaled him to come over.
His heart still pounding, Marc took one last sweep of the crowd, then reluctantly hurried over to his colleague.
A year ago, Marc wouldn’t have thought he would be living in a one-bedroom apartment. Alone. In another city.
He had turned down the after-work drinks today and had ambitiously planned to do some unpacking this evening. Marc took a disgusting look at the unopened boxes still piled up in his living room and walked over to the fridge to get a bottle of beer instead. He should at least find the box that marked “kitchen”, so he could drink with a glass. Or maybe finally cook something to eat, the pizza and kebab alternate takeaway diet was getting tiresome. It’s just that he couldn’t muster any energy or interest to do any of that.
He wasn’t the kind of man who never did household chores or cooking, Bettina and he shared them quite equally. Marc liked domesticity, it’s in his DNA, something he’s always known. But then he also liked Kay. A lot. And everything that being with Kay entailed. That - that he didn’t know until the man turned up in his life.
Marc wiped the beer from the corner of his mouth with his shirt sleeves. Napkins. He mentally put it on his ever-growing shopping list. Staring at the beer bottle in his hand, he contemplated what it would be like to live with Kay. Does he like to cook? Is he a morning person? He thought of Kay’s barely furnished bachelor pad, the bed was the only furniture Marc had gotten acquainted with, during those precious hours he spent there.
The voice he heard at the football stadium the other day... Kay’s voice... how his heart nearly stopped, hearing that. But he just wanted it to be Kay, that’s all. Maybe he’s losing it.
“Go to Stuttgart and please go get laid. Man or woman, you know I don’t care, my friend, whatever floats your boat.” Frank’s parting advice. But Marc hasn’t yet taken that advice.
He took out his mobile and played the one and only video he had of Kay. A twelve seconds recording he had made one evening when he was late getting to Kay’s apartment. Kay had dozed off in bed, his blond head rested on the white bedsheet, long limbs tangled up in the gunmetal coloured duvet cover. Marc had lain down quietly next to him, holding the phone camera close to Kay’s face. He looked so beautiful, almost ethereal, that Marc couldn’t look away, it was only superseded by the blinding smile Kay gave him when he woke up.
Marc played it again, and again. Even with the sound off, he could still hear Kay’s groggy voice from the video, “hey... you’ve made it.”
He had intended to delete the video soon after, it was too dangerous to keep such thing on his phone. He’s glad he never did. With Kay gone, now it has become the only memento of their time together.