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20

Rooth had set off early and was in Schaabe by noon. As his first meeting was not until two hours later, he treated himself to a long and nourishing lunch at the railroad restaurant before heading to the Staff College.

Captain Falzenbucht turned out to be a short, thin little man with a strange low, husky voice. (He'd no doubt been standing too long on the barrack square, shouting his head off, Rooth thought.) He had passed the age of sixty several years before, and so ought to be leading a life of leisure in retirement-but as he pointed out several times, as long as the college needed his ser vices, it was naturally his duty to stay on. As a good soldier. As a man. As a citizen.

As a human being? Rooth wondered.

Oh yes, of course he could recall the cohort of 1965. They had been his second brood as a sublieutenant, and when Rooth produced the photograph, he proceeded to identify several individuals by name.

So he's had enough sense to do his homework, thought Rooth, whose own military career was not suitable to be brought into the light of day on an occasion like this. Nor on any other, come to that.

Anyway, the ones we are most interested in at this stage are Malik and Maasleitner, he said. Can you point them out?

Falzenbucht duly did so.

I take it you know what's happened?

Of course, croaked Falzenbucht. Murdered. A shocking story.

We've spoken to all the rest, said Rooth.

Are they all still alive? Falzenbucht wondered.

No, but we concentrated on those who are. Nobody can think of a link between Malik and Maasleitner, and nobody has any idea what might lie behind it all.

I understand, said Falzenbucht.

Have you any ideas?

Falzenbucht assumed an expression that suggested deep thought.

Hmm. I'm not surprised to hear that nobody could come up with anything. There is nothing. It has nothing-absolutely nothing at all-to do with the college and the education we provide here. I ought to make that clear.

How can you know that? said Rooth.

We'd have known about it if it had.

Rooth considered this military logic for a few seconds.

So what you don't see doesn't exist? he said.

Falzenbucht made no reply.

What do you think it's about, then?

I've no idea. But find out, you police officers.

That's why I've come here.

I see. Hmm.

For a few brief moments Rooth toyed with the idea of putting his foot down-picking up this growling, poker-backed little man, putting him in the car, and subjecting him to a thorough interrogation in some poky, smelly little cell at the Schaabe police station-but his good nature won out in the end, and he let it pass.

Is there anything, he said instead, anything at all, that you can tell me that you think might be of use to us in this investigation?

Falzenbucht stroked his thumb and index finger over his well-trimmed mustache.

None of the others in this group can have done it, he said. They're lovely lads, every one of them. The murderer is somebody from the outside.

The devil himself, perhaps? Rooth thought. He sighed discreetly and checked his watch. There was over half an hour to go before his next appointment. He decided to waste another five minutes on Falzenbucht, and then find the canteen for a cup of coffee.

Major Straade proved to be roughly twice the size of Falzenbucht, with rather less of a military bearing, but he had just as little to contribute to the investigation. Nothing, zilch. Like the captain, he was inclined to think that the background to the affair was to be found outside the barrack gates-the now closed-down barracks at L"ohr, on the outskirts of Maardam, that is.

Something that happened outside working hours. In the men's free time. Somewhere in town. Always assuming that the link really did have to do with the Staff College. Was that certain? Had it been confirmed? Why imagine that the Staff College had anything to do with it at all?

They were questions that Straade kept coming back to, over and over again.

When Rooth had returned to his car and sat in the parking lot, he tried to assess all these guesses and judgments, but, needless to say, it was not easy to decide what they were really based on.

Sound and experience-based intuition? Or merely an anxious and boneheaded determination to protect the good name and reputation of the college?

Whatever it was, he found it hard to comprehend the military code of honor, and the obvious conclusion to draw was that the visit to Schaabe had resulted in absolutely nothing of value at all.

As far as the investigation was concerned, that is.

He checked the time and spread out a map of the town on the empty seat beside him.

Van Kuijperslaan, is that what she'd said?

She opened the door, and he noted immediately that her warm smile had not cooled down over the years.

He removed the paper and handed over the bouquet. She smiled even more broadly as she accepted it. Showed him into the hall and gave him a hug. He responded gladly and with as much enthusiasm as he considered advisable at this early stage, but then he noticed from the corner of his eye a dark-haired man-about the same age as himself-coming out of the kitchen with a bottle of wine in his hand.

Who the hell's this? he hissed into her ear.

She let go of him and turned toward the man.

This is Jean-Paul, she said cheerfully. My boyfriend. I'm so glad he managed to get home in time for you to get to know him.

Great, said Inspector Rooth, trying to smile as well.


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