Three images produced to illustrate the three principle players in the novel Who Among Us. . . Software is Photoshop and if there was time I’d post a tutorial, but I haven’t got time so unfortunately I won’t!
“. . . . I didn’t do this.”
“Well who did?”
“Someone above the law.”
Frieda’s confrontation with Kriminalkommissar Tollmann happens outside Bamberg Cathedral with the body of Theo Wenders still nailed to the north door. The conversation and Frieda’s deflective answers illustrate her natural indifference, her untouchability.
Her character captures some of the old traditions of witchcraft in literature. Although she is a contemporary character in a contemporary setting she is associated with apples – the Garden of Eden, bobbing for apples, the poisoned apple of Snow White – in the story, the apple is like businesswoman Frieda’s business card.
[Klaus] pulled off his coat and felt a weight in one of the pockets. Wittendorf noticed it. “You don’t like apples.”
Klaus stared at the apple, fresh and green, stuff of Newtonian legend.
“Who is the young woman?” said Wittendorf. “Maybe they remember the blue haired girl. She was hard to forget, admit it.”
“But that was months ago. . . .”
“Read the book. You live in a quantum world, Klaus. Strangeness shouldn’t have this effect on you. Nothing strange about apples.”
It’s too late for Klaus. He’s already been bewitched by Frieda who is anxious to gain information from him regarding a predecessor, another Bamberg witch, Lena Siebert. But unlike Lena, Frieda has a keener eye, a greater attention to detail. She has a casual relationship with her own coven and functions more like a hedge witch as she navigates the world alone as the Malandanti network collapses around her.
Anyone with a weakness is vulnerable to Frieda. She singles out Klaus’s tutor, Dr. Gert Hoenenbacker, for special attention.
“How do you know murder causes a build up of guilty pressure, Herr Hoenenbacker?”
“Sorry, Doctor Hoenenbacker. And I’m not a girl.”
“Her husband is a madman,” Doctor Hoenenbacker whispered.
“Was he mad before or after he met her?”
“One will never know. Out of the frying pan, I believe the English say. Given the choice between a bankrupt family and a rich lunatic I can’t say I envy the choices Virginia has had to make. The sacrifices.”
“She sacrifices people?”
“Oh, for goodness sake, grow up.”
Here, Virginia is Professor Virginia Bruck, Doctor Hoenenbacker’s colleague at Wurzburg University, and a member of the Wurzburg coven. Frieda has already identified Virginia’s weaknesses: the obsessions, the family secrets, the suspicions surrounding her marriage to the eccentric artist Earnst Bruck.
If Virginia represents the current Malandanti, overconfident, complacent, prone to mistakes, paranoid, Frieda is the old Malandanti: focussed, ambitious, efficient, ruthless. But Frieda still sees an ally in the older woman; everything and everyone is simply a tool in Frieda’s ambitions.
Frieda’s personality is not simply that of a two-dimensional villain. She’s the only child of a couple who grew up to recognise a rotten system when they saw one. Her father, Lothar, is a disillusioned lawyer with first hand experience of how the system always defeats the little man. He instilled Frieda’s ability to take care of herself using whatever method was necessary. And his evolution from lawyer to long con crook was her education alongside a university education in which she conned richer students, setting her on the path to her first million.
“Have you ever been tempted to sell fakes of any of this stuff,” said Frieda.
“Stuff! This isn’t stuff.” [Lothar] grabbed Frieda in an armlock round the neck. “This is heritage, young lady. Don’t you forget it. And besides, selling fakes would be illegal.”
“And why are you here anyway? You run out of food?”
“I came to see the foal.”
“She’s a beauty. Birth was grotesque. Glad I never had to give birth to something as big as that.”
“I didn’t know you’d given birth to something.”
“Only ideas, Frodo. Only ideas.”
Self made, self-confident, she creates challenges for herself and usually succeeds. Her ultimate ambition is to belong to the main coven before she’s thirty.
“Before I’m thirty I want to be there. First degree initiate. Main coven. Before I’m thirty.”
She had three years to go.
“I was a millionaire at twenty-four, I can do it. I can do anything.” She rammed the car into first gear. “Watch and learn, Klaus.”
“You might think you’re a duchess, but back in England you still come from ‘oop north.”
Professor Virginia Bruck, nee Farrington, comes from a land owning family with a suspicious history. Known for their corruption, their ability to switch to the winning side in a conflict and finally, the loss of everything in the 1960s, Virginia has endured a lifetime of rumour and accusation.
She shares Frieda Schoenhofer’s drive and ambition, but has neither the time nor forensic attention to detail the younger woman possesses. But cunning and opportunism run through the family DNA. When the rest of the Malandanti network is hiding in fear Virginia and the Wurzburg coven are still operating, just, which in itself draws suspicion both on the coven and Virginia herself.
“That’s unfair Eleanor.”
“Is it? She doesn’t fear the threat. She brought the forty-nine here. She fails to find them in spite of her resources. I might even suggest she started this damn rumour in the first place.”
“No, that’s not possible.”
He didn’t know. He couldn’t think quickly enough to convince himself.
In any story concerning conflict there is the risk of creating one-dimensional adversaries. Virginia’s character is amplified by the relationship with her husband Earnst Bruck, a hedge witch who introduced her to the craft when they first met. He’s a difficult man to like; unpredictable, confrontational, but he fuels Virginia’s ambition. Far from being his other half, she’s his equal, and at times there’s a hint she might one day consume him. They are yin and yang, complementing each other’s unorthodox qualities.
“They still see my wife as a gold digger. Even now, thirty years after we met, the aristo without a pot to piss in turning up outside my gold tapped bathroom. You’ve met Hoenenbacker?”
“I have. Real charmer. Has a thing about your wife.”
“To her face she’s his untouchable muse, behind her back she’s the opportunist. When you’ve sketched my naked wife as often as I have you see all the stab marks between the shoulder blades.”
Perhaps it is appropriate that Virginia is the only member of the Malandanti to question its continued existence and to express anger at its weakness when confronted by a threat as inconsequential as a rumour. She sees it in her own personality as she escapes the aftermath of another violent episode in Helsinki.
Virginia punched the dashboard. “A single comment, Piro. What kind of organisation collapses because of an overheard comment?”
Guilt? Responsibility? The ‘overheard comment’ was from the Wishlist ceremony hosted by the Wurzburg coven. Rumours of the forty-nine in Raiena (a secret coven facility in Hungary) followed Virginia’s invitation to several Satanists, hoping they could help her with her own secret ambition to find three reclusive high-tech company directors. A trail of cataclysmic events initiated either by design or fate follow Virginia throughout the story. But she’s a catalyst, not an instigator. An effect, not the force. To find the true source of the conflict the story has another character we have yet to meet.
“And what do you do?”
“What are you doing these days?”
Jenzo held up her plate. “Having breakfast.”
Lucella laughed revealing the gold incisor she had when Jenzo last saw her twenty-five years ago. “No, I mean your job, your career. What do you do?”
“Oh, that. I’m a Satanist. I get paid to murder people.”
Lucella’s gold incisor slipped out of view. “You had your papa’s sense of humour at an early age.”
We first meet Jennifer Enzo when she bursts out of the bushes, carrying a blood stained knife and a black cockerel. The Anglo-Italian maniac quoting lines from films and writing her own novel about an enchanted garden, canters through the story like a runaway horse. Oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of others she finds herself elevated to saviour figure when the Malandanti collapses and turns on her own group: the forty-nine. Forty-nine Satanists who act as the Malandanti’s assassination corps.
But in spite of her cruelty it is important to see Jenzo in context. Yes, she tried to drown her baby brother when she was four, but in a patriarchal industrialist family in which the same younger brother inherited everything, Jenzo was forced to turn to her English grandmother to be raised. And from Mother Enzo, a contemporary of Alastair Crowley, Jenzo’s formative years were filled with tales of witchcraft and demonology.
Alone in the grounds of Villa d’Enzo on the shore of Lake Maggiore Jenzo grew up in a self-made bubble of myth and stories until she emerged an adult with no comprehension of empathy and a persecution complex.
[Shalini] taught Ruby to speak Bengali; a few words to begin with, followed by a few useful phrases. Within three years Ruby was fluent and the two of them would glance at Jenzo and communicate in their secret language as if to say yes, we’re talking about you and you don’t know what we’re saying.
‘Maybe all those years you were talking about me to the others who came into the garden. . . .’ Jenzo rewrote the sentence. “Passive verbs again.” ‘Maybe all those years you spoke about me . . . talked about me to the others . . . maybe all those years you made fun of me . . . and I had no idea.’
Brought up in a confined world where film scripts were the language of real life Jenzo soon came to believe that she was destined to lead the forty-nine, and her initial aversion to responsibility becomes the unstoppable force the Malandanti must counter.
She is so blase about her own ability others are often surprised by the knowledge of demonology she does possess. She rarely displays it, until an extreme situation calls for an extreme solution. But the strength of Jenzo as a character is her unpredictable swing from compassion to cold heartedness. When a demon is discovered to be the lost soul of a 14th Century executed nun she is able to communicate with it on equal terms:
“Expectamus mors tenebrarum.”
“Deus omnia in circuitu nosto sunt.”
“Lumen, quod nostra sanctuarium.”
“Deus est in nobis.”
. . . . She placed her hand on the demon’s cheek. “What’s your real name?”
But within minutes she’s telling her colleague Shalini:
“She is what she is. Demonic. She comes and goes in a cloud of sulphur, remember. Nothing human about her anymore.”
Jenzo scrambled inside the tent. “No, I’m not.”
Forever on the brink of self-destruction Jennifer Enzo continues to survive, continues to fight any threat. More than tenacious, she’s superhuman and the embodiment of what a human being is capable off when driven by forces only she fully understands. Early in the story, she straddles a shaking man – her body transformed into the crimson cloven-hooved figure her adversary has been haunted by all his life – and whispers in his ear:
“I was an angel once.”