The Carnival Sniper—as famous as Jack The Ripper. And like Jack The Ripper, never caught, his identity lost to history.
In 1913, the Carnival Sniper terrorized Vienna, murdering the famous and not-so-famous alike. Police Detective Johann Runge never caught the Sniper and his failure defined the rest of his life.
In 2005, bestselling crime writer Sofie Branstadter receives permission to use modern forensic investigative techniques on the Sniper's victims. She believes she can figure out the identity of the Sniper, but she needs the help of Runge's great-grandson, classical pianist Anton Runge.
Together the two of them plunge into a world of scientific evidence and fantastic clues, all leading to one unbelievable conclusion.
Kris Rusch has written everything, so I knew she would have a good time travel novel to include (in fact, I knew she would have several, so I asked her to pick her best). With the recent death of my father-in-law, I spent a lot of time digging through boxes of old photographs, and I found several shots of Kris from when we were just kids (we've known each other for 35 years). That was its own kind of time travel. – Kevin J. Anderson
Chilling murders, mind-blowing suspense, a touch of time travel and a bit of romance combine to a thought-provoking, entertaining vacation from reality.– RT BookReviews
"Told in roughly alternating chapters set in 1913 and 2005, [Snipers] is a deft mixture of SF and mystery with some very sharp plotting, some nice twists, and a trio of compelling characters."– Booklist, starred review
"Rusch is best known for her Retrieval Artist series, but occasionally she gives us a standalone gem like Snipers…. Snipers is a riveting suspense tale and a fine SF story—what more could we want?"– Analog
"Rusch's latest sf thriller involves a time-traveling premise with an interesting twist."– Library Journal
"Snipers is an excellent amalgamation of history, thriller, mystery & science fiction. Rusch lays out the period in meticulous detail, as only she can."– Astro Guyz
"This is a fast-moving thriller, and the ending implies that a sequel is in the works. I'll be reading it."– Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine
THE ASSASSIN GOT LOST in the corridors of Ferstel Palace. He stood near a dark, dank stairwell, and allowed himself a moment of panic.
Maybe the prototype had malfunctioned again. Maybe he wasn't in 1913 at all. Maybe he was in some other year, some other century.
Then he took a deep breath and made himself take stock. The walls were covered with soot from the gaslights, and the air smelled faintly of oil. The heat was low, and he was cold. His hands, wrapped in woolen gloves with the fingers cut out so that he could handle his Glock, were clenched into fists.
He relaxed the fists one finger at a time. Gaslights were correct. Not all of Vienna had gotten electricity by 1913. And he had no real map of Ferstel's corridors. The building had been long gone—nearly a century gone—when he estimated where it had been and activated the prototype.
Then he ended up here, several stories up, uncertain and terrified that his memory had betrayed him.
The Ferstel Palace of the old photographs had bright rounded windows, decorated on the sides with multicolored electric lights. It had never been a palace, nor had it belonged to the Ferstel family, although it had been designed by Heinrich Ferstel.
Once it had been a bank and stock exchange, but by now, it had been converted into something else. The assassin had thought he would find a conference center, filled with shops.
But there were no shops. Only stairwells and more stairwells, doors after doors, and narrow little corridors that were so dark they seemed like the night outside.
He knew that the Café Central had to be inside Ferstel Palace. He had read more about Vienna in 1913 than he had about the history of the twentieth century. And he was an expert in that history.
He knew Vienna, even though he hadn't been able to check his details before this trip.
The Café Central had to be here. The question was where.
The assassin wrapped his woolen scarf tighter around his neck. The wool scratched his soft skin. Despite his chill, he was sweating beneath the four layers of clothing—the woolen overcoat covering a vested woolen suit, the heavily woven shirt as scratchy as the rest of it, not to mention the long underwear, also made of wool.
No wonder no one bathed in this era. Getting out of the clothing was a nightmare. He should have practiced shooting the Glock with his arms bundled in thick material. His aim might be off. Even a millimeter would make a horrible difference.
He stopped at the end of a corridor, near a wooden door with a brass knob, and forced himself to pause, to calm down.
It was different in the past. Of course it was.
And like always, he had been a fool not to expect it.
SOFIE BRANSTADTER STOOD as close to the open grave as she could. Three men, none of them young, had been working for more than an hour now, using shovels to uncover the coffin.
The dirt here was hard-packed and old—it clearly hadn't been disturbed in more than a century. The diggers struggled to make clean holes in the soil, as the forensic anthropologist, Karl Morganthau, had instructed.
They had been near the grave since dawn. The sexton had put up the privacy screens—if that was what the white, six-foot-high barriers could be called—the night before. Two reporters had camped out all night, hoping to get some sort of story, but the local police had chased them away at dawn.
Even though Zentralfriedhof, Vienna's Central Cemetery, was open to the public, the gates closed at posted hours. No visitors were allowed between ten p.m. and eight a.m. There were too many valuable statues here, too many famous graves, and too many legends about ghosts haunting this, Europe's largest cemetery.
Sofie didn't believe in ghosts. But, as a historian, she understood that the past had a significant influence on the present. That knowledge provided the basis for every book she had written, and it would for this one as well.
Morganthau crouched near the foot of the grave, filtering the dirt through his fingers. He was supervising this part of the process only because he'd done it before. Sofie had never before seen a coffin disinterred.
The process was making her very uncomfortable. The last time she had seen an open grave, she had been five. She had stood in a Munich cemetery, clinging to her grandmother while undertakers poured dirt on her parents' coffins.
Her parents. Murdered thirty years ago by a sniper who had never been caught.
Sofie pulled her sweater tightly around her shoulders. Maybe the press had been right: Maybe this project did tie to her parents somehow. How appropriate, the London Times had written when her book deal was announced, that one of the few surviving victims of an anonymous sniper should write a history of the Carnival Sniper, the world's very first sniper/serial killer.
Sofie had been offended when she saw that. She felt her interest was purely intellectual. But the deeper she got into this project, the more she wondered if the papers didn't see her more clearly than she saw herself.
The photographer, Greta Thaler, circled the grave, taking candid shots of the diggers, of Morganthau, of Sofie. Greta was in her mid-thirties, the same age as Sofie, but dressed like a teenager. Greta wore blue jeans and a T-shirt. She pulled her blond hair back with a leather thong and she wore no makeup.
Sofie's only concession to the location were her flat shoes. Her tan slacks were too light for work in such dirt, and her summer sweater too ornate. She felt out of place here, as if she had been invited to watch other people work instead of paying them to do her bidding.
Greta had two other cameras around her neck: Whenever the diggers reached a new soil level, they called her over, and she took in-depth shots of the grave itself. She continued to circle, looking as interested as Sofie felt.
Sofie wasn't sure what she'd find, or whether this disinterment was even worthwhile, but she was playing her hunches, and so far, her hunches had served her well.
Still, it had taken her most of a year to get the permission of the heirs and the City of Vienna to disinter Viktor Adler. Finally, she had to cite anomalies in the autopsy report, anomalies that had been a subject of controversy for over ninety years.
Of course, the press had latched onto her request. Interest in the Carnival Sniper had grown with each successive year—which, generally speaking, was good for her. She wouldn't have gotten that excessively large advance if St. Petersburg Press Worldwide—the largest publisher in the world—hadn't believed they could make a fortune off her book. And SPPW wouldn't have offered to split the bill for Sofie's expenses with Dragon Entertainment Ltd., who held the motion picture rights, either, if it weren't for the possibilities of great profit.
Sofie couldn't have afforded to investigate the Carnival Sniper on her own. Her popular history books did well, but not well enough to pay for the top-of-the-line forensic analysts, the world's best crime labs, and crime scene reconstruction experts.
She was fortunate that the world was as interested in the Carnival Sniper as she was, and even more fortunate that the Sniper had become a mini-industry.
But that good fortune also created problems for her. The press kept an eye on her, trying to scoop her on her own story, and so she had to make plans in secret. She also had a hard and firm deadline eighteen months away. Ironically, the deadline was in the middle of Vienna's Fasching, or Carnival, the very season in which the Sniper had committed his crimes.
At first, Sofie had seen the deadline as a positive omen. Now she wasn't so sure. She still hadn't finished her research, nor had she found anything the other Sniper historians hadn't found. So far, even with all the modern investigative tools available to her, she still hadn't found what her publisher liked to call "the smoking gun."
Viktor Adler was one of the Carnival Sniper's first victims, and only one of two whose grave Sofie could locate. Most of the Sniper's victims were impoverished expatriates with few friends in Vienna. So the victims, for the most part, had been buried in paupers' graves, often with other poor.
Sofie suspected that the body of at least one of the victims had been sold to a local medical college for study. She had meant to trace that, hoping to find the skeleton, but then the city had, to her surprise, granted her request to disinter Adler.
She had never thought anyone would approve. Adler had a place of honor in the cemetery, although he was not buried in the main avenue between the gate and the church. That area was reserved for the truly famous Viennese—the Strausses, Beethoven, Brahms, as well as the presidents of the Austrian Republic and other luminaries. The city often considered those buried in places of honor untouchable.
But Adler had a checkered history, and wasn't as revered as the Sniper's only other Viennese victim. Adler had been the leader of the Social Democratic Party around the turn of the last century. He had founded the workers' May Day Parade, and had been very active in socialist circles. He had received his burial with honors shortly after his untimely death, although there had been some controversy about those honors three years later, when his son murdered Minister-President Count Karl Stürgkh in a misguided ploy to stop the Great War.
After the assassination, people wanted Adler's grave moved because his family was in disgrace. But the effort to punish him posthumously ended quickly, as the press and the public lost interest in the assassination. The decade-long war preoccupied everyone, and the city moved on, leaving Adler here, easy to find, and with a slightly tarnished reputation.
The reputation that let Sofie disturb his grave.
She didn't know exactly what she was looking for but, as she told Morganthau, she would know it when she saw it. If Adler's body yielded up its secrets, it could tell her a number of things: how many times he was shot; whether or not he'd been about to die anyway (some conspiracy theorists believed that Adler had hired the Sniper to take out his enemies while helping him commit suicide); and the chance to settle the biggest controversy of all—whether or not the body was Adler's in the first place.
A thousand theories abounded about the Carnival Sniper. Sofie's least favorite was that Adler had faked his own death so that he could assist in the war effort as a spy for socialist elements in the Russian army. That theory forced historians to make huge leaps—first of all, that there were socialist elements in an army still commanded by the Tzar; second, that Adler cared more about Russia than his native Vienna; and third, that Adler, who was in his sixties at the time, had the energy for a prolonged undercover operation.
The clang of metal against rock caught Sofie's attention. She looked at the grave. So did Morganthau. He let the last of the dirt filter through his gloved fingers, and turned his thin, aesthetic face toward the diggers.
Two of them leaned against their shovels. The third, a thickly built, middle-aged man, tossed his shovel to the ground, then followed it down, resting his ribcage against the edge of the grave. At first he peered into the square hole the diggers had made, then he plunged his arms inside.
Greta grabbed a different camera—not the one she had been using for candid shots, but the black-and-white she had taken for the artistic shots that Sofie hoped would grace the book—and stood near the digger's hips, apparently trying to catch his head, torso, and point-of-view all in one photograph.
Morganthau beckoned Sofie to join him. She walked behind the two standing grave diggers. The third digger was pushing dirt aside, his hands so filthy that they seemed almost part of the earth itself. Sweat dripped off his face into the hole. Sofie couldn't believe he was that warm; she was still freezing in the early morning air.
"If we're lucky," Morganthau whispered when Sofie reached his side, "there'll be a metal identification tag on the outside of the coffin."
She frowned. "I thought that was a late-century innovation."
Morganthau shook his head. "Not if Adler's family paid extra for this plot. Stamping the coffin was a good way to prevent the undertaker from using an economy coffin."
Sofie winced. She had seen an economy coffin in the Undertaker's Museum. The coffin had a flap on its bottom that opened easily. After the funeral itself, the coffin would be placed on top of the grave, the undertaker would open the flap, and the body would fall—unprotected—into the soil below. Then the coffin could be reused, saving the next family some of the death costs.
"The economy coffin was banned in the eighteenth century," Sofie whispered back.
The gravedigger was scraping frantically at the coffin's top. His companions were leaning on their shovels, watching.
Greta was moving around the wide hole, using all three cameras to take different shots.
"Just because it was banned doesn't mean it went out of use," Morganthau whispered. "Adler would be a prime case for the coffin. He didn't have a lot of money, and he was famous enough."
"But there's a coffin there," Sofie said, no longer whispering.
One of the gravediggers smiled at her. He had apparently overheard her.
"Doesn't mean much, Fräulein," he said, his tone friendly. "We find lots of these folks with a warped board over them, simulating a coffin, I'm afraid."
"Good ideas are never wasted," Morganthau said, his blue eyes twinkling.
Usually Sofie liked his mordant sense of humor, but not at the moment. Adler was too important to her. If the body had been lying unprotected in soil for nearly a century, she doubted there'd be much left—certainly not enough for her purposes.
The gravedigger felt around the edges of the wood. Sofie held her breath. After a moment, he looked up.
"It's a coffin," the gravedigger said.
Sofie let out a small sigh of relief. Just because they had located a coffin didn't mean the body was in good shape. But it was a start.
The gravedigger pushed himself farther over the grave and shoved the last crumbs of dirt aside. Sofie watched avidly.
There were a lot of tricks economizing undertakers made, especially in those unregulated days at the turn of the last century. The worst for her now would be discovering more than one body buried in that casket. She'd have to spring for countless DNA tests on each useful piece of fabric, each bit of bone.
She was planning to pay for at least one DNA test anyway, provided that there was something useful about the body. The test would compare the Adler heirs' DNA to the body. She was trying to cover all contingencies. The last thing she wanted was someone to accuse her of masquerading another body for Adler's just to prove her theories.
Not that she had any theories yet. She had purposely avoided forming any, so that her research would be as pure as possible.
Sofie's hands were threaded together. She had been twisting them nervously, not realizing what she was doing. She untangled her fingers and dropped her hands to her sides. She made herself concentrate on the scene before her.
Greta was kneeling beside the digger. She looked petite next to him, her lanky frame half the width of his. But Greta seemed as focused as he did, only she was doing her concentrating through the lens of her camera.
She kept zooming in for closer and closer shots. Sofie assumed Greta was focusing on his hands, but she wouldn't know for certain until she saw the contact sheet.
Sofie took a step closer to the grave. Morganthau caught her arm and held her in place, nodding toward the small pile of dirt he had already sifted through.
"Let's not have you mixing up the evidence," he said.
He was looking for things that had fallen near the grave at the time of burial. He also was looking for things that had left the coffin, particularly if the coffin had disintegrated over time. So far, it was clear he had found nothing.
Sofie nodded. She crouched, and watched the gravedigger.
The digger had pushed himself farther over the grave, balancing one hand on the coffin top and using the other to brush dirt off the center section of the lid.
"We have a plate here." The digger's voice sounded strangled, probably from his position. He no longer rested his chest on the side of the grave, but his stomach. His diaphragm was probably restricted.
"An identification plate?" Morganthau asked.
"I think so." The digger kept brushing.
Morganthau moved around Sofie, and lay on the other side of the grave. As he did, he pulled a small brush from his breast pocket.
His posture imitated the digger's. Morganthau used his small brush to clear dirt out of the engraving.
Sofie's mouth went dry. If anything on that plate indicated the body belonged to someone other than Viktor Adler, she would have to quit digging now. The Viennese government had given her permission to disinter based on the written records that the body in this gravesite belonged to Viktor Adler.
It was in her agreement that if someone or something indicated that the body was not that of Viktor Adler, the disinterment had to stop until the identity of the body could be proven.
She had tried to get that clause changed, but she hadn't been able to. The government was already bending the rules for her. Normally, inspectors would be graveside to verify identity themselves.
But Sofie wanted as few people here as possible. Confidentiality agreements only went so far. If the witness pool were large, someone would break the agreement and leak information, assuming—quite rightly—that it would take too much work to figure out who the source of the leak had been.
Sofie had provided double- and triple-documentation to the authorities. She had also backed up her research with a newspaper drawing of the coffin being lowered into the grave. Although the trees were different, the nearby sculptures were not.
If the body in that grave did not belong to Viktor Adler, then someone had made the switch before the body got buried.
"I have a 'd,'" Morganthau said. "And an 'e.' I think."
"First letter's gone, though," the digger said.
"Not gone, necessarily, but hard to read." Morganthau pulled himself farther forward. He continued brushing the engraving. "That third letter could be an 'l' or a one. Can't tell."
"That's enough for me," Sofie said. "Let's continue."
The digger looked up at her. His eyes were dark, and the laugh lines were brown with dirt. "That's not regulation, miss."
"We're not following standard procedure," Sofie said. "The government has already vouched for the veracity of the records, and the family has signed off. We could proceed even if there wasn't an identification tag."
The digger's mouth thinned. He turned back to the coffin lid, brushed some more dirt off, then pushed himself up. After a moment, so did Morganthau.
He grinned at Sofie as he shook the dirt off his brush. "Impatient, are we?"
"Protecting my interests," she said. "We don't need any more delays, especially following a procedure that's already been waived."
He stuck the brush back in his breast pocket. His grin had faded. "I thought you wanted a good document trail."
"I do," Sofie said. "But we'll get better pictures of that plate in the lab. And if there's a problem, we'll deal with it then. Let's finish removing the coffin."
And getting out of the cold. The June morning wasn't warming up. She shivered again, and stepped away from the small dirt mound. Greta took a picture of her with the black-and-white, probably catching Sofie's nervousness.
Sofie wasn't sure what she'd do if there was nothing of use in the Adler coffin. She didn't want to think about that. Not yet, anyway.
She stepped closer to the privacy screens, and watched as the other two diggers carried their shovels graveside. One of them climbed in the hole, standing on the coffin lid as he made chopping motions in the earth.
Greta started to take a picture, but Sofie waved her away. The entire disinterment was controversial enough. She didn't need a photograph of a gravedigger being inadvertently disrespectful hitting the press at the same time as the book did.
Or, God forbid, before.
Sofie felt her breath catch. An elation she hadn't expected filled her. Finally, this long, involved project was moving forward.