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13

So there's no doubt, then? said Heinemann.

Not really, said M"unster. Same ammunition-7.65 millimeter. The technical guys were more or less certain that it was the same weapon, but we won't know that for sure until tomorrow.

Two bullets in the chest, two below the belt, said Rooth, looking at the photograph lying on the table in front of him. I'll be damned if it isn't the same thing all over again, more or less. A copy of Ryszard Malik.

Of course it's the same culprit, said Moreno. There hasn't been a word in the papers about the bullets below the belt.

Correct, muttered Van Veeteren. Sometimes the muzzle we put on journalists actually works.

He looked up from the document he was holding and had just read. It was a very provisional medical statement Miss Katz had popped in to hand over, and it suggested that Rickard Maasleitner had probably died between eleven and twelve o'clock the previous night, and that the cause of death was a bullet that had penetrated the heart muscle. The other shots would not have brought about instant death; not taken one at a time, that is-possibly in combination, as a result of blood loss.

A bullet in the heart, said Van Veeteren, passing the sheet of paper on to M"unster, who was sitting next to him.

He didn't leave Freddy's until shortly after half past eleven, said Moreno. It takes at least a quarter of an hour to walk to Weijskerstraat. The murderer can hardly have struck before midnight.

Between twelve and two, then, said Rooth. Ah well, we'll have to find out if anybody saw anything.

Or heard, said Heinemann.

Rooth stuck his index finger into his mouth, then withdrew it with a plopping sound.

Did you hear that? he asked. That's about as much noise as is made when you use a silencer. He must have used one, or he'd have woken up the whole building.

Okay, said Heinemann. We'll assume that, then.

Van Veeteren broke a toothpick in half and looked at the clock.

Nearly midnight, he said with a deep sigh. We might as well go home now and get some sleep, but so help me God, we'd better make some progress tomorrow. We have quite a few threads to pull at, this time around; and there's no reason why we should be left floundering. The sooner we solve this business, the better.

He paused briefly, but nobody took advantage of the opportunity to speak. He could see in his colleagues' faces the same mixture of intense concentration and weariness that he could feel inside his own head. Best to rest for a few hours, no doubt about that. Besides, there wouldn't be much point in waking people up in the middle of the night to answer a few questions. The police had a bad enough reputation as it was; there was no need to make it any worse.

This is what we'll do tomorrow, said the chief inspector. Reinhart and deBries will continue interviewing the neighbors. The whole block, if there's time. I assume they're still at it now, and I suppose they might as well carry on. It could be that somebody has seen something-the murderer must have called round twice, for God's sake. Once to tamper with the lock, and once to kill. It might be that nobody noticed anything, but we'll have to see Heinemann.

Yes.

I want you to dig into the background. We have details of the whole of Malik's life. Find out when his and Maasleitner's paths crossed. There must be a link.

Let's hope so, said Heinemann.

M"unster and Rooth will take his family. Or rather, the family that used to be his. I have a list of them here. Moreno and Jung will go to the Elementar school

Oh my God, said Jung. That's the school I used to go to

Van Veeteren raised his eyebrows.

When was that? he asked.

Jung tried to work it out.

Eighteen years ago, he said. Just one term in the seventh grade, then we moved in the spring. I hardly recall a single teacher. I didn't have Maasleitner in any case.

A pity said Van Veeteren. Talk to the headmaster and some of the staff even so, but tread carefully. They're usually very wary of anybody who intrudes on a seat of learning like that. Remember what happened at Bunge?

I certainly do, said M"unster. Lie low, that's my advice.

I'll bear it in mind, said Jung.

But leave that Faringer character alone, said Van Veeteren. I intend to have a little chat with him myself.

A bit of an oddball, said M"unster.

Of course, muttered Van Veeteren. All teachers are. If they're not odd to start with, they become so as the years go by.

He rummaged in his empty breast pocket and looked around the room.

Any questions?

Rooth yawned, but nobody spoke.

Okay, said the chief inspector, and started collecting his papers together. We'll meet for a run-through at three o'clock tomorrow afternoon. Make sure you make the most of the time until then. This time we're going to get him.

Or her, said M"unster.

Yes, yes, said Van Veeteren. Cherchez la femme, if you really must.

When he got home and had gone to bed, he realized that his tiredness had not yet overcome the tension in his brain once and for all. The image of Rickard Maasleitner's bullet-ridden body kept cropping up in his mind's eye at regular intervals, and after ten minutes of vainly trying to fall asleep, he got up and went to the kitchen instead. Fetched a beer from the refrigerator and sat down in the armchair with a blanket around his knees and Dvor'ak in the speakers. He allowed the darkness to envelop him, but instead of the unease and disgust he ought to have felt, in view of the two unsolved murders they were struggling with, another sensation altogether took possession of him.

It was a feeling of movement. Of hunting, in fact. The feeling that the drive had begun now, and that the prey was somewhere out there in the hustle and bustle of town, and it was only a matter of time before he would be able to get his teeth into it. Bring down the murderer.

Oh, shit! he thought as he took a swig of his beer. I'm beginning to lose the plot. If I weren't a police officer, I'd probably have become a murderer instead.

It was only a random thought, of course, but nevertheless, somewhere in some obscure corner of his brain, he realized that there was more meaning in it than would be sensible to acknowledge. It had something to do with the concept of the hunt

In the beginning, at least.

Only in the beginning, if truth be told. Somewhere along the line came the peripeteia, the volte-face, and when he eventually-usually much, much later-stood there with his prey, with the perpetrator, what generally possessed him were exclusively feelings of loathing and disgust. The excitement-the stimulation-was only theoretical.

And in the beginning.

For when you had dug down sufficiently deep into dire reality, his stream of thought told him, when you had dug down as deep as the soil layer of the crime itself, all there was to see was the black and hopeless dregs. The causes. The maggot-ridden roots of warped society.

The back side.

Not that he believed the society in which he lived had higher or lower moral principles than any other. It was simply the way things were-two to three thousand years of culture, and law-making bodies were unable to do anything about it. The veneer of civilization, or whatever you preferred to call it, could begin to crack at any moment, crumble away and expose the darkness underneath. Some people might have imagined that Europe would be a protected haven after 1945, but Van Veeteren had never been one of them. And then things had turned out as they did. Sarajevo, Srebrenica, and all the rest of it.

And of course it was in the same underlying darkness that his own hunting instincts originated. In any case, he had always found it difficult to associate his police activities with any kind of noble deeds. Nemesis, rather. The inexorable goddess of revenge with blood on her teeth Yes, that was more like it, there was no denying it.

And at some point, the game always turned deadly serious.

In this particular case it had taken two murders for him to begin to feel involved. Were his senses becoming duller? he wondered. What would he be like a few years from now? What would be needed by then to start the notorious Chief Inspector Van Veeteren firing on all cylinders?

Butchered women? Children?

Mass graves?

When would cynicism and world-weariness have overcome his determination to fight once and for all? For how much longer would the moral imperative have the strength to continue screeching in the darkness of his soul?

Good questions. He felt his self-disgust rising and cut off the train of thought. No doubt it had been the contrary nature of January that had made him a little sluggish at the start. Now it was February. February the second, to be precise. What was this Maasleitner business all about?

He started thinking about what had happened that afternoon.

The alarm had sounded just as he was preparing to pack up for the day. Half past four. He and M"unster had been at the apartment in Weijskerstraat a quarter of an hour later, more or less at the same time as the forensic guys and the medical team. Rickard Maasleitner was lying in exactly the same posture as Ryszard Malik had been some how long ago was it now? Two weeks, more or less? Yes, that was correct.

He had been convinced from the very first glance that it was the same killer. And that the method had been the same.

A ring on the doorbell, and then shots the moment the door opened.

A sound method, Rooth had said.

Most certainly. Once it was done, all that remained was to close the door and walk away. What sort of time was involved? Ten seconds? That would probably be long enough. You could fire four shots from a Berenger in half that time, if need be.

He emptied his glass.

And then?

Well, then everything got under way, of course. Police tape around the crime scene, a thorough search, taking care of the poor daughter who had found him. And so on.

Questions.

Questions and answers. No end to it already. And yet it was just the beginning. As already stated.

But if one were to look a little more closely at the whole business, one thing stood out, of course. Only one so far, that is. There was an enormous difference between the risk involved in the two murders.

In the case of Malik, the chances of being seen were as minimal as it is possible to be; but yesterday, all it needed was for somebody to happen to go out with a garbage bag, or to glance out through a half-open door.

It had been nighttime, of course; but even so.

Ergo: either there were witnesses or there weren't.

Perhaps, and this was much to be desired, somebody (or several people) had seen the killer on one of the two occasions when he must have visited the apartment block-while he was fiddling with the lock (because it must surely be the murderer who was responsible for that?), or when the shooting took place. Either on the way there or while leaving.

Or while he was standing waiting?

A case of either-or, then. If Reinhart and deBries did their job properly, we should know tomorrow. And even if the neighbors, or Reinhart and deBries, had missed something, there was still a good chance of striking lucky. A press release had been issued at ten o'clock, and it would be in all the main newspapers and in the radio and television news bulletins later this morning. Everybody who thought they might have some relevant information, or had merely been in the Weijskerstraat area around midnight on Wednesday evening, was urged to get in touch with the police immediately.

So there were grounds for hope.

Having come thus far in his deliberations, Van Veeteren gave in to temptation and lit a cigarette. It was time to address the big question, and that would no doubt need a bit of extra effort.

Why?

Why in hell's name should anybody march up to somebody's door, ring the bell, and shoot whoever opened it?

What was the motive?

What was the link between Ryszard Malik and Rickard Maasleitner?

And furthermore: What would have happened if somebody else had opened the door? Could the murderer be one hundred percent certain who it would be? Was it all the result of meticulous planning, or was coincidence involved?

There's no such thing as coincidence, Reinhart had once said, and that was no doubt basically true. Nevertheless, there was a hell of a difference between some causes and others. Between some motives and others.

Why had Malik and Maasleitner been singled out by the murderer?

Dvor'ak fell silent, and Van Veeteren could feel the weariness behind his eyes now. He stubbed out his cigarette and heaved himself up out of the armchair. Switched off the CD player and went to bed. The blood-red digital numbers on the clock radio showed 2:21, and he realized that he had less than five hours' sleep to look forward to.

Ah well, he'd been through worse situations in the past, and no doubt would be faced with worse in the future as well.

When Detective Inspector Reinhart snuggled down under the covers on his big iron-frame bed, the night had ticked its way through twenty more red minutes; but even so, he considered phoning Miss Lynch and asking her if she felt like popping over. In order to exchange a few words, if nothing else; and to remind her that he loved her.

However, something-he was confident it had to do with his good character and upbringing-restrained him from submitting to his desires, and instead he lay for a while thinking about their efforts during the course of the evening, and the way in which people seemed to notice nothing of what was happening round about them.

Or their stupidity, as some would doubtless have expressed it.

In any case, a lack of awareness. In the old, well-maintained 1930s apartment block where Rickard Maasleitner lived, there were no fewer than seventy-three inhabitants. In apartments off the relevant staircase-26B-there were seventeen tenants at home at the time of the murder, in addition to the victim himself. At least eight of those had been awake when the murderer fired the fatal shots (assuming that the incident took place before two in the morning). Five of those had been on the same floor. One had come home at ten minutes to twelve.

Nobody had noticed anything at all.

As for the front-door lock, which the murderer had sabotaged by jamming a piece of metal between the bolt and the drum, at least three persons had noticed that there was something amiss, but none of them had done anything about it, or drawn any conclusions.

Stupid idiots! Reinhart thought.

There again, of course, he knew that this was not an entirely fair judgment. He himself hadn't the slightest idea of what his neighbors got up to of an evening-he hardly knew what they were called, never mind anything else-but after seven hours of interrogation, and with so many possible witnesses among them, one would surely have been justified in expecting a rather more positive outcome.

Or any outcome at all, to be honest.

But there had not been any.

What was pretty clear, however, was the time sequence. The front door of Weijskerstraat 26 was locked automatically at 2200 hours every evening. In order to tamper with the lock in the way the murderer had done, he (or she, as Winnifred Lynch maintained) must have waited until after that time, presumably somewhere inside the building. And then, when the automatic locking took place, he or she must have calmly opened the door from the inside and inserted the piece of metal. The alternative was that the murderer stood hidden somewhere in the shrubbery outside the front door, and slipped in when one of the residents went in or came out. A pretty risky operation, and hence not very likely, as deBries and Reinhart had agreed.

What the murderer did after that was impossible to say, of course; but when Maasleitner came home at about midnight after his night out with Faringer, he (or she) had presumably wasted no time hanging around. Everything suggested that Maasleitner hadn't been at home for more than a few minutes before the doorbell rang.

And then four bullets. Two in the chest, and two below the belt. Exactly the same as on the previous occasion. Close the door and melt away. And no witnesses.

Good God, thought Reinhart with a shudder. It was so simple, enough to make you afraid of the dark.

Nevertheless he stretched out his arm and switched off the light. And as he did so he remembered that there were a couple of straws to grasp. Two of the apartment owners had been at home during the night in question, but had not been available for an interview. What is more, one of them-a certain Mr. Malgre-lived next door to Maasleitner; for want of anything better, Reinhart made up his mind to attach his best hopes for the next day's interviews to the one with him. This was scheduled for midday, when Malgre would be back from a conference in Aarlach. DeBries was due to interrogate him.

Now, if Malgre was the type used to attending conferences, Reinhart thought, he was bound to be a person with a high level of awareness. Not your usual thickie.

As he registered that thought, the usual flag of protest was raised in the back of his mind, condemning such prejudiced thoughts. But his exhaustion had the upper hand. Reinhart sighed, turned onto his side, and fell asleep.

By that time the minutes had ticked their way forward to 3:12. All evening and night he hadn't devoted a single second to thinking about the motive.

That would have to wait until tomorrow.

He'd been working today. Tomorrow he would start using his brains.


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