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24

When Innings got home after the restaurant meal with Biedersen, the first thing he did was to hide the bag containing the gun in a chest of drawers full of odds and ends in the garage. He knew that the risk of Ulrike or the children finding it there was more or less negligible, and he hoped sincerely that it would remain hidden forever. Or at least until he had an opportunity to get rid of it.

His mind felt like a playground for a mass of the most divergent thoughts and ideas. As he sat on the sofa with Ulrike, watching a Fassbinder film, he tried to assess the most likely outcome of-or escape from-this nightmare. It seemed even harder now than it had been before. His thoughts were being tossed around like a straw in the wind, and he soon began to wish that he could simply switch off his brain. For a little while at least, in order to gain some breathing space.

When it came to wishes and hopes, the situation was more straightforward. The most welcome development from his point of view would be for Biedersen to simply sort the whole business out by himself. Track down this madwoman and render her harmless, once and for all. Without any involvement on Innings's part.

In view of what he discovered at the restaurant-regarding the telephone music and so on-surely this was not an altogether unlikely outcome?

Innings came back to this conclusion over and over again, but his assessment of it, like the rest of his thoughts, kept swinging back and forth between hope and something that was most reminiscent of deepest despair.

In fact-and, gradually, this became the only consolation he could find-there was only one thing he could be absolutely sure of.

Something would happen soon.

This period of suspense would come to an end.

In a few days-a week, perhaps-it would all be over.

Any other outcome was unthinkable.

Given these hopes-which Innings began to cherish even before he went to bed on Friday evening-there is no denying that it was very stressful to have to accept that nothing in fact happened.

On Saturday and for half of Sunday they had visitors-Ulrike's brother with his wife and two children-and the practical things that needed to be done and the conversation helped to keep the worry at a distance. For part of the time, at least. But things became much worse after they had left, and peace and quiet returned to the house on Sunday afternoon.

It was worse still on Monday, which floated by in a cloud of listlessness and worry. That night he had barely a wink of sleep, and when he left the editorial office at about four on Tuesday afternoon, he had the distinct impression that several of his colleagues were wondering about the state of his health.

He had told Ulrike that he was a bit upset because of the murder of two of his former colleagues when he was a National Serviceman, and she seemed to accept this as a reasonable explanation for his occasional preoccupation.

And then, on Tuesday evening, the telephone call came at last from Biedersen. Something might be about to happen, he said, but there was no reason for Innings to do anything. Not yet, at least.

That was all he said. Promised to ring again later. And even if this call more or less corresponded to what Innings had been hoping for deep down, it increased his nervous tension even more-with another sleepless night as the outcome.

Needless to say, his sensitive stomach reacted accordingly; when he phoned in sick on Wednesday morning at least he had a legitimate physical excuse.

Perhaps he also felt emotionally calm when he settled down with his newspaper after Ulrike and the kids had left, but it didn't last long. He realized that subconsciously he'd been hoping to find something in the paper-the discovery of a woman killed in mysterious circumstances up in Saaren, or something like that-but, of course, there wasn't a single word about any such incident. Besides, it was obvious that the morning papers wouldn't have had time to carry such news. Biedersen had phoned at about half past eight. No matter what had happened next, the papers wouldn't have had time to print it. Innings had been working in the trade for nearly thirty years, so he should know.

The broadcast journalists would have had a better chance. He switched on the radio and didn't miss a single bulletin all morning. But there was nothing. Not a single word.

Something might be about to happen, that's what Biedersen had said.

What?

I'll be in touch.

When?

Minutes passed. As did hours. It wasn't until five minutes past twelve that the telephone rang.

It was the police. For one confused second this fact almost caused him to lose control of himself. He was on the point of coming out with the whole story, but then he realized that, of course, this was how he would be informed of what had happened.

If this woman really had been found shot up in Saaren, and there was even the slightest of links to the other murders, this was naturally how the police would react.

They would be in touch with all thirty-one and try to winkle out if anybody knew anything.

He came to this conclusion while talking to the police officer, who asked to come see him, and then when he sat waiting, he was pretty confident that he hadn't given himself away.

He had expressed surprise, obviously. Why would the police want to question him again? Routine questions? Okay, fair enough.

But while he waited, the other possible scenario dawned on him.

Biedersen might not have succeeded in killing the woman.

If the opposite had been the case-if it was Biedersen who had been killed-well, there was every reason for the police to come visiting.

Every reason. He could feel his guts tying themselves in knots as this possibility became a probability.

Even more reason, in fact, than if Biedersen had succeeded in what he had set out to do, and when he opened the door and let in the woman who identified herself as a detective constable, he was convinced he knew why Biedersen hadn't been in touch later, as he had promised.

I must keep a straight face, he thought. No matter what has happened, I must keep a straight face.

It felt like clutching at straws. Thin and worn-out straws. But he knew that there wasn't anything else to clutch at.

She sat down on the sofa. Held her notebook at the ready while he served up tea and cookies. She didn't seem to be about to come out with something devastating, and he succeeded in calming down a bit.

Help yourself!

He flopped down into the armchair opposite her.

Thank you. Well, there are a few questions we'd like you to answer.

Has something happened?

Why do you ask that?

He shrugged. She took a tape recorder out of her bag.

Are you going to record this? That's not what happened last time.

We all have our own ways of working, she said with a little smile. Are you ready?

He nodded.

Okay, she said, switching on the tape recorder. Do you recognize this music?


| Woman with Birthmark | c



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