Chapter 53

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Although it didn't surprise her, the sight of the police barricade around the Presidential Estate plunged Zoe's stomach into a knot. She was too late. Perhaps she shouldn't have taken her time eating dinner. If Erwin thought the same, he didn't say so. His expression was as solemn as it was inscrutable. When a pair of police officers approached them, Zoe deferred to him for all the talking. The last thing the late night crime scene needed was more violence.

"Identify yourselves," the officers hollered in unison. Zoe and Erwin pulled out their military IDs. The officers stepped back and saluted them.

"What happened here?" Erwin asked.

"The President likely shot himself in the head just over five hours ago," the officer on the left replied.

"Likely?" Zoe said.

"We never presume to be certain before our detectives arrive to examine the scene," the one on the right said. The two women looked so similar they could have passed for sisters. It was almost unsettling.

"Right. Well take us as close to the scene as you're authorized," Zoe ordered.

The two police officers looked at each other with uncomfortable glances. After a second of silent communication, they nodded and beckoned Zoe and Erwin to follow them.

It looked just like the opening of all of Zoe's favorite crime shows. President Karl Fritz was seated at his desk, perfectly centered in his chair behind a perfectly ordered surface of freshly varnished wood. It would have been the perfect state portrait, were it not for the fact that his torso lay lifeless on top of the desk with a bullet hole oozing blood out of his skull onto the shiny varnish. The bright lights illuminating the entire home office only exacerbated Zoe's nausea.

"Well, I doubt you'll be able to talk to him about whatever was on your mind earlier," Erwin said.

"No..." Zoe looked down at the President's bloodied desk. "But he can still tell me a few things." She opened the top drawer to the right of Fritz's body with a gloved hand. His right hand had been placed directly above the handle, as if to ensure it remained closed. A few of the police officers on the scene grumbled but a sharp look from Erwin kept them in line.

The drawer was empty, save for a single tattered but unmistakable red copy of Adelaide Schneizel's Mein Krieg. Evidently, the detectives on the scene were just as dumbfounded by the discovery as Zoe and Erwin. She picked the book up and flipped through the pages. Nearly every single one was filled with scribbles, notes, and underlines of the fading text. Zoe took her phone out and snapped as many pictures as she could of the pages.

"The handwriting matches the President's perfectly," Zoe said. She held it out to the detectives. "You might want to add that to evidence." One of the detectives gingerly took it and sealed it in a plastic evidence bag. "We're done here. Let's go."

***

The drive to the Capitol Building was silent and, thankfully, mostly devoid of traffic. Zoe's foot never left the gas pedal, and the gas pedal in turn never came off the floor. Erwin was too busy clutching the handles of his seat and looking terrified to complain about her driving. His expression, though, made his opinion clear enough.

"Vice President Muller is set to be sworn in as the new President in less than two hours. We need to get to her before that," Zoe said.

"Why?"

"I can execute a Vice President. A President or civilian on the other hand, none of us can touch without Senate authorization."

Erwin bolted up in his seat, resisting the forces of the speeding car. "What?!"

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