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22

The persistent cold-in combination with the occasional beer and too many hot toddies during recent days-meant that it didn't turn out to be much of a match. Perhaps also an accumulated and unsatisfied need for more sleep played a role as well.

In any case, during the third set M"unster toyed with the idea of changing hands and playing with his left for a few games; things were not normally as bad as that. However, he knew that if he did so it could be interpreted as an insult, and so he refrained.

Be that as it may, the final scores were 15-5, 15-5, 15-3, and afterward the chief inspector looked as if he needed to be placed on a respirator as quickly as possible.

I must buy a new racket, he croaked. There's no spring left in this old mallet.

M"unster had nothing to say about that, and they made their way slowly to the changing rooms.

After a shower, a change of clothes, and a walk up the stairs to the reception area of the badminton hall, Van Veeteren suddenly felt that he was incapable of staggering as far as his car unless they paused for a beer in the caf'e.

M"unster had no choice, of course. He looked at his watch and sighed. Then he rang the babysitter, announced his delayed arrival time, and slumped down opposite the chief inspector.

Hell and damnation, announced Van Veeteren when his face had resumed its normal color with the aid of a copious swig of beer. This case annoys me. It's like a pimple on the bum, if you'll pardon the expression. It just stays where it is, and nothing happens

Or it grows bigger and bigger, said M"unster.

Until it bursts, yes. And when do you think that will be?

M"unster shrugged. I don't know, he said. Haven't Rooth and deBries discovered anything new?

Not a dickie bird, said Van Veeteren. The military types seem to be a bit worried about the college's reputation, but they don't appear to be holding back any information.

And nobody has reported any phone calls with musical accompaniment?

Van Veeteren shook his head.

A few have asked for police protection, that's all.

Really?

I said we'd keep an eye on them.

You did? said M"unster. Shall we, in fact?

Van Veeteren grunted.

Needless to say, we keep an eye on all citizens. It's part of a police officer's duty, if you recall.

M"unster took a swig of beer.

The only thing that's actually happening in this confounded case, Van Veeteren continued, lighting a cigarette, is that Heinemann is sitting in some closet searching for a link.

What sort of link?

Between Malik and Maasleitner, of course. It seems that he's feeling a bit guilty because the Staff College connection was so unproductive. Ah well, we'll see.

I expect we shall, said M"unster. He's good at stumbling over things and finding gold. What do you think?

Van Veeteren inhaled deeply and blew out the smoke through his nostrils. Like a dragon, M"unster thought.

I don't know what I think. But I think it's damned inconsiderate of a murderer to take such a long time. Something has to happen soon, that's obvious.

Is it? M"unster wondered.

Can't you feel it? asked Van Veeteren, raising an eyebrow in surprise. Surely you don't imagine it's all over after these two? Malik and Maasleitner? The vaguer the link between the two of them, the more likely it is that they must be a part of a broader context-you don't need to complete the whole jigsaw puzzle in order to discover if it comprises a hundred or a thousand pieces.

M"unster thought that one over.

What is it, then? The broader context, that is.

A good question, Inspector. There's two guilders for you if you can answer it.

M"unster finished his beer and started buttoning up his jacket.

I really must be going now, he said. I promised the babysitter I'd be home in half an hour.

All right, sighed the chief inspector. All right, I'm coming.

What shall we do? M"unster asked as he turned into Klagenburg. Apart from waiting, I mean.

Hmm, said Van Veeteren. I suppose we'll have to have another chat with the group comparatively close to Maasleitner. Given the absence of anything else so far.

More questions, then?

More questions, said the chief inspector. A hell of a lot more questions, and no sign of a good answer.

Well, we mustn't lose heart, said M"unster, bringing the car to a halt.

Ouch, said Van Veeteren as he started to get out of the car. I'll be damned if I haven't pulled a muscle.

Where? asked M"unster.

In my body, said Van Veeteren.


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