I. The Strasbourg Incident
Darkness had already long fallen over the city of Strasbourg, when former Falcon player Thore Kolbenschmidt got out of a taxi at the Place Dunant. On the spur of the moment he had decided to walk the last hundreds of meters to his hotel on the Place Kléber, despite the cold drizzle that he knew would rather sooner than later find a way through his jacket and into his bones. A fine fog was slowly rising from the river Ill as he crossed the Ponts Couverts towards the picturesque Petite-France area of town. Once it had been the district of fishermen, tanners and millers, but now the area was mainly frequented by tourists from all corners of the world, happily snapping shots of the renaissance houses – if not their reflections in the water of the canals – or watching life go by seated in one of the many bars and restaurants that in modern times made up most of the quarter.
Ponts Couverts – Strasbourg
At this time of night only a few establishments appeared to be still open, with sleepy-eyed, grumpy waiters and annoyed and exasperated barmen waiting for the last drunk to stumble from his chair and disappear into the dark of night. Having only barely sidestepped a group of rather loud and drunk British nationals, undoubtedly celebrating someone’s ‘last hours of freedom’, Thore took a moment to gaze over the river to the Barrage Vauban across the water. ‘What am I doing here?’, he mumbled to no one in particular…
In his mind, the events of the last few days were slowly recreated. Less than a fortnight ago, he had still been playing for the Horus Falcons in Prague – be it only as a shadow of the player he had been in his early years with the team. At least João Portugal, the Brazilian coach, had been honest – the upcoming change in training plans meant there would be no longer a place for him in the team. If he wanted, he could stay on and warm the bench, getting a few minutes in a friendly game on the off chance. He could also try his luck on the transfer market – but with his age, skills and recent injuries, it was obvious even to him that the best he could look forward to would be a new team in a low level league in one of the large HT-nations like Spain, Italy or Poland – or perhaps back to his native Germany… ‘Is this what it comes down to in the end?’, he had wearily thought. But the exploits from his younger years had not been entirely forgotten and on the instigation of manager H70 he had been inducted, as the second player in Falcon history, into the Falcon Hall of Fame on the first day of the New Year. A day later he had signed once again with the Falcons – now as their international scout for Western and Northern Europe.
Was this what he wanted? He did not know – but at least the next few months would give him the advantage of being on the road on his own, with only his thoughts as a faithful companion. He needed the time to think, consider his future and being on the move was definitely better than sitting at home and staring at the kitchen wall, a bottle of whiskey within reach, all day long. He did not even want to consider night time…
Besides, as he had found out on his first assignment, being a former player of a Golden League team did have its advantages. With the GL passport in hand, he had been welcomed as royalty at Sutter’s Mill, the home of the Gold Rushers of FC Rünenberg, only a few days ago. The sympathetic Swiss team manager Schluurggi, recently ennobled to Sir, had taken time out from his otherwise hectic schedule to show him around the grounds, introducing him to some of the scouts working for the team and providing him with a few pointers on scouting in the Swiss-French-German borderlands.
It was Sir-Schluurggi who had given him a tip for a young talented player from the Strasbourg suburbs. The manager had even been so kind as to lend him one of his limousines with a driver to take him up north and into France. The short journey had taken him along the magnificent Rhine Valley. Looking to the west from the limousine, Thore had gazed at the lowlands of the Alsace and the beginning of the Vosges hill range. He knew he was driving through a region that had been a major stone of contention between Germany and France for many centuries, changing hands (and nationality) from one war to another. This was nothing new to him, being a native of Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost of the German states, he could commiserate. His own region, bordering Southern Jutland, had been an integral part of Denmark for centuries and a chief reason for wars between Denmark and a nascent German state. He himself was a son of both nations – born to German Horst Kolbenschmidt and Dane Sarah Lund, carrying his father’s last name but the Scandinavian name of the hammer wielding god of thunder, lightning and storms – Thor. He had spent his youth in this border country, before moving to the region’s capital, Kiel, for life as a professional football player that would eventually take him to Prague, now already nine years ago. He thought he would do just fine in Strasbourg.
His thoughts now turned to tonight’s game. Interestingly, the player in question proved to be even better than Sir-Schluurggi had led him to believe, but from conversations with the team’s management later that evening in the club’s restaurant, it had soon become obvious that the price was at present far beyond what the Falcons would be willing to pay. After sitting in the cold for a few hours, he had enjoyed the heat the restaurant’s hearth had offered, not mentioning the spirits that had thoroughly warmed him throughout. Little of that inner warmth now remained, as he slowly made his way across the Ill River, trying to keep the drizzle from penetrating his jacket and quietly cursing himself for not having taken the taxi all the way to the hotel.
In thought and contemplating the events of the last few days once more, Thore crossed the three bridges of the Ponts Couverts and turned left into the Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes. He had already passed the small side street and walked a few more paces on the main road, when he suddenly stopped and retraced his steps. Did he really see what he thought he had seen in that small street?
(to be continued)