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21

As Innings was about to enter Le Bistro, he was stopped at the door by a porter who gave him an envelope and suggested that he might like to go back out into the street. Somewhat bewildered, Innings did as he was told, opened the envelope, and found inside the address of another restaurant.

It was located some three blocks up the street, not far from the church, and as Innings made his way there he thought over the fact that Biedersen was evidently approaching the situation in a serious frame of mind, and leaving nothing to chance. He tried to come to terms with his own attitude, to think about what to say, but when he got there and saw Biedersen sitting in a booth about as far away from the door as possible, his dominant emotion was relief-and a strong desire to leave everything in somebody else's hands.

There didn't seem to be any doubt that Biedersen was willing to provide those hands.

Long time no see, he said. You are Innings, I presume?

Innings nodded and sat down. Closer inspection suggested that Biedersen had changed rather less than he had expected. The last time they'd met had been by pure chance some ten years earlier-but they hadn't really spent time together since those days in June 1976.

The same powerful, sturdy figure. Rugged face, sparse reddish hair, and eyes that seemed to burn. They were never still. He recalled that some people had been afraid of them.

Perhaps he had been one of them.

So, here we are, he said. I tried to get hold of you several times. Before you rang, that is.

Have you gathered what's going on? said Biedersen.

Innings hesitated.

Yes, er, well, I don't know

The other two have been murdered.

Yes.

Somebody has killed them. Who do you think it is?

Innings recognized that somehow or other, he had succeeded in avoiding that question so far, goodness knows how.

Her, he said. It must be her

She's dead.

Biedersen spoke the words just as a waiter came to take their orders, and there was a pause before he was able to expand on what he had said.

She's dead, as I said. There must be somebody else acting on her behalf. I think it's her daughter.

To his surprise, Innings noticed a trace of fear in Biedersen's voice. The same broad, off-putting dialect, certainly, but with the addition of something forced, a touch of nervousness.

Her daughter? he said.

Yes, her daughter. I've tried to trace her.

And?

She doesn't exist.

Doesn't exist?

Impossible to pin down. She vacated her apartment in Stamberg in the middle of January, and nobody knows where she's gone to.

You've tried, you say

A bit. He leaned forward over the table. That bloody bitch isn't going to get us as well!

Innings swallowed.

Have you received any of these music calls?

Innings shook his head.

I have, said Biedersen. It's a right bastard. But you must have had a letter from the police?

This morning, said Innings. It looks like you're next.

It slipped out of him before he could stop it, and he was well aware that the relief he felt for a brief moment was a very transitory phenomenon.

First Biedersen. Then him. That's what was planned.

You could be right, said Biedersen. But don't feel too secure, that's all. We have to put a stop to her-I mean, that's why we're sitting here.

Innings nodded.

We've got to get her before she gets us. I take it you're on board?

Yes

Are you hesitating?

No, no, I'm just wondering what we ought to do.

I've already thought that through.

You don't say. What do you mean?

Like with like. There's a bag under the table, can you feel it?

Innings felt around with his feet and hit against something next to the wall.

Yes, he said.

Your weapon's in there. You owe me eight hundred for the trouble.

Innings felt a wave of dizziness envelop him.

But er, haven't you thought about er, another possible alternative?

Biedersen snorted.

Huh. What might that be?

I don't know

Biedersen lit a cigarette. A few seconds passed.

Shall we go and look for her? Innings said. Or just sit here and wait?

For Christ's sake! Biedersen snorted. We don't even know what she looks like! But if you're prepared to travel to Stamberg and try to get hold of a photo of her, by all means. But how the hell do we know that she's not wearing a wig? And other stuff? You must know how easy it is for a fucking woman to change her appearance!

Innings nodded.

It could happen tonight, do you realize that? Or tomorrow. The next person to ring your doorbell could be her. Have you thought of that?

Innings didn't reply. The waiter came with their food, and they started eating in silence.

That music? said Innings after a while, wiping his mouth.

Biedersen put down his knife and fork.

Twice, he said. Somebody's called a couple of times and hung up when my wife answered. But it's that bloody tune in any case I can't remember what it's called, but we were playing it all the time. But I suppose I don't need to tell you that-you were pretty sober.

I wasn't sober, said Innings. You know I wasn't, I'd never do anything like that-

All right, all right, we don't need to go through all that again. What was the band called?

The Shadows?

Yes, that's it. You remember it. I've looked, but I don't seem to have the record anymore.

Isn't it possible to trace the phone calls?

For God's sake, said Biedersen. You don't seem to understand this. Naturally we can bring in the police and get as much bloody protection as we like-I thought we'd agreed not to do that?

Okay, said Innings. I'm with you on that.

Biedersen stared hard at him.

I don't know what your circumstances are, he said, but I've got a family, have had for twenty-five years. A wife, three kids, and a grandchild as well. I have my own firm, good friends, business contacts For Christ's sake, I have a whole world that would collapse like a house of cards! But if you're doubtful, just say so. I can manage this on my own if need be. I just thought it would be beneficial if we collaborated a bit. Shared the responsibility.

Yes

If you don't want to play along, just say so.

Innings shook his head.

No, I'm with you. Sorry. What do you think we should do?

Biedersen flung out his hands.

Maybe just wait, he said. Be ready with the gun. You'd hardly need to explain why you acquired it, either-everybody will believe us. A man must have the right to protect his life, for God's sake.

Innings thought for a moment.

Yes, he said. It would be self-defense, of course.

Biedersen nodded.

Sure, he said. But we have to keep in touch as well. We have no other allies, and there could come about a situation in which it wouldn't do any harm if there were two of us. We might get wind of her, for instance. Malik and Maasleitner never had a chance, really.

Innings thought about that.

How? he said. Keeping in touch, I mean.

Biedersen shrugged.

Telephone, he said. We have to take a chance, anything else would take too long. If we get through, all we need do is to arrange to meet somewhere. If necessary, spell it out I mean, she must be hanging around us for some time first, and well, if you notice you're being followed by a woman, all you need to do is phone.

It takes two hours to drive up to where you live, is that right?

About that, said Biedersen. An hour and three quarters if you're lucky. Yes, it might well be my turn next, so you can stand by to set off.

Innings nodded. They continued eating in silence. Toasted each other without speaking, and when Innings swallowed the cold beer, he again felt a moment of dizziness. Carefully, he placed his foot on the bag with the ominous contents, and wondered how on earth he would be able to explain something like that to Ulrike.

A gun.

If he was forced to use it, he'd have to tell her the same story he told the police, of course-she would naturally be upset, but his precaution would have been proved to be justified, so why the hell should there be any reason to think otherwise?

But for the time being he decided to keep its existence a secret. That would be the easiest way.

And hope he would never have to use it.

Rely on Biedersen to do his duty.

I must pay you, he said. I don't think I've got as much as eight hundred on me, though

All in good time, said Biedersen. If we can take care of this lunatic, we'll settle what we owe as well.

Innings nodded, and they sat quietly for a while.

There's one thing I've been thinking about, and that bothers me a bit, said Biedersen, when they had been served with coffee and each lit a cigarette. She's behaved in exactly the same way twice now. Surely she can't be so bloody stupid as to do so again?

No, Innings thought as he left the restaurant five minutes after Biedersen. That's right. Surely she can't be as stupid as that.


| Woman with Birthmark | c



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