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3

Finding a room was one of the things that had not taken much effort. She had simply answered an ad in Neuwe Blatt-but when she saw the result, she realized she could hardly have done better.

Mrs. Klausner had been widowed early-at the dawn of the 1980s, in her middle-aged prime-when her husband the major had a sudden and unexpected heart attack. Instead of selling her charming old two-story house in the Deijkstraa district, she had adapted and refurbished it to suit her new circumstances. She retained possession of the ground floor together with the garden, two cats, and four thousand books. The upper floor, comprising the old children's rooms and guest bedrooms, had been transformed into studio apartments: four rooms in all, each with running water and limited cooking facilities. Plus a shared bathroom and shower room in the hall. The staircase was supplied with its own entrance in a gable wall, at a safe distance from Mrs. Klausner's bedroom; and even if she had the occasional butterfly in her stomach when she launched her new enterprise, she soon found she could congratulate herself on an excellent setup. She let rooms only to single women, and never for more than six months at a time. Most of them were students in the latter stages of their courses in the Faculties of Law and Medicine who needed peace and quiet for their studies. Or nurses on short supplementary courses at the nearby Gemejnte Hospital. Two or more of the rooms were often vacant during the summer, but she earned enough during the rest of the year to satisfy her needs. Major Klausner would have had nothing against the reorganization, she knew that, and sometimes when she was waiting in line at the bank to pay in the rents she had received, she thought she could see him nodding approvingly up there, on the final battlefield.

As agreed, the new tenant moved in on Sunday, January 14, the evening before she was due to begin a three-month course for finance managers at the Elizabeth Institute. She paid for six weeks in advance, and after receiving the necessary instructions (explained in a most friendly manner and lasting less than a minute), she took possession of the red room. Mrs. Klausner knew the importance of respecting her tenants' privacy: as long as she was not disturbed in her reading or during the night, and they didn't fly at each other's throats, she found no reason to interfere in whatever they got up to. Everything was based on unspoken mutual respect, and so far-after thirteen years in the business-she had not experienced any serious disappointments or setbacks.

People are good, she used to tell herself. They treat us as we treat them.

There was a mirror hanging over the little sink in the kitchen alcove, and when she had finished unpacking her bags she stood in front of it for a couple of minutes and contemplated her new face.

She had not changed much, but the effect was astounding. With her hair cut short and dyed brown, with no makeup and wearing round, metal-framed spectacles, she suddenly looked like a librarian or a bored handicrafts teacher. Nobody would have recognized her, and just for a moment-as she stood there making faces and trying out angles-she had the distinct feeling that she was somebody else.

New features and a new name. A new town and a mission that only six months ago would have seemed to her like the ravings of a lunatic, or a bad joke.

But here she was. She tried one more time-the last one?-to see if she could find any trace of doubt or uncertainty, but no matter how deep the soundings she made into her soul, all she came up against was solid rock. Solid and unyielding ground, and it was clear to her that it was time to begin.

Begin in earnest. Her list was complete in every respect, and even if three months can be quite a long period, there was no reason to mark time in the early stages. On the contrary: every name required its own meticulous planning, its own specific treatment, and it was better to make full use of the early days and avoid being under stress toward the end. Once she had started on her mission, and people had caught on to what was happening, she would naturally need to be on the alert for problems. Everybody would be on the lookout-the general public, the police, her opponents.

That was the way it had to be. It was all dictated by the circumstances.

But she was already convinced that she would not have any worries. No insurmountable ones, at least, and as she lay on her bed that first night and examined her gun, she could feel that the scale of the challenge would doubtless make the allure that little bit stronger.

That little bit more exciting and more enjoyable.

I'm crazy, she thought. Completely and utterly mad.

But it was a daring and irresistible madness. And who could blame her, after all?

She looked at the list of names again. Studied them one by one. She had already decided who would be first, but even so, she pretended to reconsider it one more time.

Then she breathed a sigh of satisfaction and drew two thick red lines around his name. Lit a cigarette and started to think through how she would go about it.


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