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26

The distance to Loewingen, the latest murder scene, was not much more than thirty kilometers, and as he settled down in the car, he regretted that it wasn't a bit farther. A few hours' driving wouldn't have done him any harm; even when he got up, he'd felt the unfulfilled need for a long and restful journey. Preferably through a gray, rain-sodden landscape, just like this one. Hours in which to think things over.

But in fact it was minutes instead-he managed to stretch it to half an hour by taking the alternative route via Borsens and Penderdixte, where he had spent a few summers as a seven- or eight-year-old.

There were two reasons why he had postponed his visit until Friday. In the first place, M"unster and Rooth had already spoken to Ulrike Fremdli and the three teenagers on Wednesday evening, and it might be a good idea not to give the impression that the police were hounding them every day. And in the second place, he'd had plenty to occupy himself with yesterday even so.

You could say that again. During the afternoon he and Rein-hart had addressed the delicate business of organizing protection for the as-yet-not-murdered (as Reinhart insisted on calling them).

The five living abroad were without doubt the easiest ones to sort out. After a brief discussion it was decided quite simply to leave them to their own devices. This was made clear in the letter circulated to everybody concerned, which urged them to turn to the nearest police authority in whatever country they were living in, if they felt threatened or insecure in any way.

There are limits, after all, Reinhart had said.

As for those still in the country but outside the Maardam police district, something similar applied. Reinhart spent more than three hours telephoning colleagues in various places and simply instructing them to protect Mr. So-and-So from all threats and dangers.

It was not a pleasant task, and afterward Reinhart had gone to Van Veeteren's office and requested a job with the traffic police instead. The chief inspector had rejected this request, but told Reinhart that he was welcome to throw up in the wastepaper basket if he felt the need.

It was one of those days.

In the Maardam police district there were now thirteen possible victims left, and to look after them Van Veeteren assembled-if one were to be honest-a ragbag of constables and probationers, and left it to the promising and enthusiastic Widmar Krause to instruct and organize them.

When he had done that and leaned back for a moment, Van Veeteren tried to make a snap judgment of how effective this expensive protection would really be, and concluded that if it had been a condom he'd been assessing, to put it brutally, they might just as well have gone ahead without it.

But fictitious-or simulated-protection was nevertheless preferable to nothing at all, he tried to convince himself, with covering his own back in the forefront of his mind.

Then Van Veeteren, Reinhart, and M"unster spent the rest of the afternoon and evening discussing the murderer's character and identity, and working out a system for how the interviews with the as-yet-not-murdered should be conducted (and in this context as well, they decided to leave those living abroad to their own devices, at least for the time being). Increasingly frequently they were interrupted by the duty officer or Miss Katz, rushing in with so-called hot tips from the general public, which had started flowing in despite the fact that the press conference was only a few hours old.

By about eight, Reinhart had had enough.

Fuck this for a lark! he exclaimed, and threw away the sheet of paper he'd just read. It's impossible to think if we have to keep beavering away like this all the time.

You could buy us a beer, said Van Veeteren.

All right. I expect you'll want cigarettes as well?

Just a few at most, said the chief inspector modestly.

This was in fact what occupied his thoughts for the first half of the drive to Loewingen.

I ought not to smoke, he thought.

I drink too much beer.

Neither habit is good for me, certainly not the cigarettes. In connection with an operation for bowel cancer almost a year ago, an innocent doctor had said that an occasional glass of beer wouldn't do him any harm-Van Veeteren had immediately committed this advice to memory, and he knew that he would never forget it, even if he lived to be a hundred and ten.

Incidentally, wasn't it the case that an occasional cigarette could stimulate the thought processes?

Whatever, I ought to play badminton with M"unster more often, he thought. Go out jogging now and then. If only I could get rid of this damned cold!

It was only after he'd passed the farm in Penderdixte where he'd spent some of his childhood that he changed tack and started thinking about the investigation. This accursed investigation.

Three murders.

Three men shot in cold blood.

In rather less than a month.

This last one was without doubt more than a bit rich. No matter how much he thought about it, changed the angle or reassessed it, he simply couldn't make it add up.

The questions were obvious.

Was there in fact a smaller group within the group? (I hope to God there is! Reinhart had let slip over a beer the previous evening; and, of course, that was significant. Reinhart was not in the habit of placing himself in the hands of the sacred.)

If not, and if the murderer was intending to kill all of them-well, they must be dealing with a lunatic. With an incomprehensible, irrational, and presumably totally mad motive. Nobody can have an acceptable (in any sense of the word) reason for killing thirty-three people, one after the other.

Not according to Chief Inspector Van Veeteren's yardstick, in any case.

A cold and calculating lunatic like that would be the opponent they feared more than any other; they had all been touchingly in agreement on that.

But if there really was a smaller group?

Van Veeteren fished up two toothpicks from his breast pocket, but after tasting them, he dropped them on the floor and lit a cigarette instead.

In that case, he thought after the first stimulating drag, Innings should (must?) have known that he belonged to that little group and was in danger. Without doubt.

But nevertheless he had invited the murderer into his house, and allowed himself to be shot without raising an eyebrow. Why?

And that wasn't all-he knew he could extend the argument further without exploding it: there was another crux.

If it was implausible to believe that Innings would invite in somebody he knew was intending to kill him, he can't have suspected anything. But if he knew he was in danger, it seemed beyond the bounds of possibility that he would invite a stranger into his house.

Ergo, the chief inspector thought as he slowed down behind a farmer on a tractor, the person Innings invited to tea and allowed himself to be murdered by must be somebody he trusted.

That must be right, okay? he said aloud to nobody in particular as he overtook the enthusiastically gesticulating farmer. Somebody he knew, for Christ's sake!

That was as far as he got.

He sighed. Inhaled deeply but was repulsed by the taste. He felt like a poor idiot who had been released from the asylum but was now drooling over a three-piece puzzle that had been thrust into his hand as a test to pass before being allowed back into society.

It was not an attractive image, but the images that flitted through his mind rarely were.

Hell and damnation, Van Veeteren thought. I hope Reinhart can solve this one.

Loewingen was a sprawling little town with a few industries, even fewer apartment blocks, and masses of individual houses and villas. Despite an ancient town center from the Middle Ages, this was one of those towns you simply lived in-one of many insufferable, monocultural wastelands of the late twentieth century, Van Veeteren thought as he finally found the housing development he was looking for. Uniform, boring, and safe.

Well, the extent to which it was safe might be arguable.

Ulrike Fremdli welcomed him, and ushered him to a seat on the same sofa the murderer must have sat on exactly two days earlier. She was a powerful-looking woman with neat brown hair and a face he reckoned must have been beautiful once upon a time. She seemed to be reticent and somewhat prim, and he wondered if she was taking sedatives-he thought he recognized the symptoms.

Would you like anything? she asked curtly.

He shook his head.

How are you? he asked.

She gave him a penetrating look.

Bloody awful, she said. I've sent the kids to my sister. I need to be alone.

You'll manage?

Yes, she said. But please ask your questions and get it over with.

How long had you known each other?

Since '86, she said. We moved in together eighteen months ago. We had a lot of trouble with his former wife before that.

Van Veeteren thought for a moment. Decided to skip as much as possible and not beat about the bush.

I'd like to make this as brief as possible, he said. I take it you think the same way. I aim to catch whoever murdered your husband, and I'd like some answers to a few very specific questions.

She nodded.

It's important that I get honest answers.

Fire away.

All right, said Van Veeteren. Do you think he knew he was in danger?

I don't know, she said after a tense pause. I honestly don't know.

Was he worried, these last few days?

Yes, but you might say there were reasons why he should be.

Her deep voice trembled slightly, but not much.

I'll tell you what I think, said Van Veeteren. I think Innings was one of a smaller group, and it's the members of that group the murderer is out to kill.

A group?

Yes, a few of the National Servicemen who got up to something thirty years ago Possibly later as well. In any case, there must be a link between some of the thirty-five. What do you think?

She shook her head.

I've no idea.

Did he ever talk about his military service?

Never. Well, we spoke about it recently, of course, but not much.

Van Veeteren nodded.

If you think of anything that might suggest a link of the kind I've mentioned, will you promise to get in touch with me?

Yes, of course.

He gave her his business card.

You can phone me direct, that's easier. Anyway, next question. Can you tell me if your husband was in touch with any new contacts during the week before it happened? Did he meet anybody you didn't know, or people he didn't normally mix with?

She thought it over.

Not as far as I know.

Take your time. Think it through day by day, that usually helps.

He met people at work as well We see each other only in the evenings, really.

Let's concentrate on the evenings. Did he have any visitors these last few days?

No no, I don't think so. Not that I noticed, at least.

Did he go out at all in the evening?

No. Hang on, yes: last Friday. He went out for a few hours last Friday.

Where?

Somewhere in town. Some restaurant or other, I think. I was asleep when he came back home.

Who was he out with?

She shrugged.

I don't know. Some friends from work, I expect. Burgner, perhaps.

He didn't say anything about it?

Not as far as I recall. We had visitors-my brother and his family-who arrived quite early on Saturday, so I don't think we ever got around to discussing it.

Did he often go out on his own?

She shook her head.

No. Once a month, at most. The same as me, in fact.

Hmm, said Van Veeteren. Nothing more?

Do you mean, was he out any other evening?

Yes.

No, he was at home let me think yes, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Van Veeteren nodded.

Okay, he said. Do you know anything about those telephone calls?

I've read about them, she said. The officers who were here on Wednesday asked me about that as well.

And?

No, nothing.

Do you think he received any?

I don't know.

Okay, said Van Veeteren, leaning back on the sofa. Then I have only one more question. Do you suspect anybody?

What? she exclaimed. What the hell do you mean?

Van Veeteren cleared his throat.

One of the things that confuses us, he explained, is that he invited the murderer in without any more ado. That suggests he knew the person concerned. If he did, then you might as well. You've been together for ten years, after all.

She said nothing. He could tell by looking at her that this hadn't occurred to her until now; but he could also see that she didn't have an answer.

Will you promise me to think about it?

She nodded.

Please think as well about whether he might have felt under threat. That's an extremely important question-and it could be that the tiniest detail gives us a clue that'll put us on the right track.

I understand.

He stood up.

I know you're going through hell, he said. I've been stomping around in tragedies like this for more than thirty years. You're welcome to contact me even if you only want to talk. Otherwise I'll be in touch again in a few days.

Our life together was so good, she said. I suppose we ought to have realized that something that worked so well couldn't last forever.

Yes, said Van Veeteren. That's more or less the way I look at life as well.

When he paused in the street outside and tried to imagine the route the murderer would have taken, it struck him that he rather liked her.

Quite a lot, if truth be told.

Knowing what I know now, said the editor in chief, Cannelli, quite a lot of things fall into place.

What, for example? Jung wondered.

That there was something bothering him.

How was that noticeable?

Cannelli sighed and gazed out the window.

Well, he said, I had a few longish chats with him about headlines, pictures, and suchlike. That was routine, several times a week. But there was something about his concentration that struck me. He seemed to be thinking about something else all the time

How long had you known him?

Five years, said Cannelli. Since I took charge of the newspaper after Windemeer. He was good-Innings, that is.

Jung nodded.

Do you know if he met anybody outside his usual circle of contacts lately? If somebody-or something-cropped up here at work that could possibly be connected with his unease?

He realized that this was a pretty silly question, and Cannelli responded to his apologetic smile with a shrug of the shoulders.

We produce a newspaper, Inspector. People are running in and out all day long I'm sorry, but I don't think I can help you.

Jung thought for a moment.

Okay, he said eventually, closing his notebook. If you think of anything and all that

Of course, said Cannelli.

Moreno was sitting in the car, waiting for him.

How did it go? she asked.

Pretty pointless.

Same here. How many did you talk to?

Three, said Jung.

Four for me, said Moreno. But I think one thing is crystal clear.

What's that?

He knew he was in danger. He was behaving oddly, that's what everybody says.

Jung nodded and started the car.

At least, that's what they all say with hindsight, he said. What a shame that people never react in time.

Yes indeed, said Moreno. Mind you, if we were to take care of everybody who seems a bit worried, we probably wouldn't have much time to devote to anything else.

Absolutely right, said Jung. How about a coffee? It's good for the nerves.

Okay, said Moreno.


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