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27

She dithered for a day and a half.

She had read about it for the first time on Thursday evening-in one of the newspapers on the bus on the way home-but it wasn't until much later the same night that her suspicions were aroused. In the middle of a dream that vanished immediately into the shadows of the subconscious, she woke up and could see it in her mind's eye.

The occupied telephone booth in the hall. The back pressed up against the tinted gray glass. The tape recorder pressed against the receiver.

It had happened only once, and that was at least three weeks ago now. But the image persisted. That Tuesday evening. She had intended to phone a fellow student to ask about something, but had seen immediately that it was occupied. It can't have lasted more than three or four seconds-she had simply opened her door, noted that the phone booth was occupied, and gone back into her room.

Five minutes later, it was free and she'd been able to make her call.

It was remarkable that this brief, totally meaningless sequence should have stayed with her. Now, when she had been woken up by it, she couldn't recall having thought about it before at all.

And, of course, it was precisely that-these vague, unlikely circumstances-that made her hesitate.

On Friday afternoon she had bumped into her on the stairs. There was nothing unusual about that, either-it was a banal, everyday occurrence-but when she woke up with a start early that Saturday morning, the two trivial images had somehow combined.

Melted into each other and roused a horrible suspicion.

She ought really to have consulted Natalie first, but Natalie had gone home to her parents for the weekend, and her room was empty However, after an early jog in the park (which was cut short because of the rain), a shower, and breakfast, she had made up her mind.

Something prevented her from using the telephone in the hall (was it fear? she asked herself later), and instead she used a public phone booth by the post office to call the police.

It was 9:34, and the call and her information were registered by Constable Willock, who promised to pass it on to the senior officers on the case and report back to her eventually.

She returned to her room to study and wait.

Her conscience was clearer, but she had a nagging feeling of unreality.

Reinhart sighed. He had spent the last ten minutes trying to perform the trick of half lying down on a standard office chair, but the only notable result was that he now had a backache. At the base of his spine and between his shoulder blades. Van Veeteren was sitting opposite him, slumped over his desk, which was littered with paper, files, empty coffee mugs, and broken toothpicks.

Say something, said Reinhart.

Van Veeteren muttered and started reading a new sheet of paper.

Hot air, nothing else, he said after another minute and crumpled it up. There's no substance in this, either. Loewingen is a suburb for the middle classes, in case you didn't know. All the wives work, and all the kids attend nursery school. The nearest neighbor at home when the murder took place was six houses away, and she was asleep. This case is not exactly gliding smoothly along the rails.

Asleep? said Reinhart, with a trace of longing in his voice. But it was one in the afternoon, for Christ's sake!

Night nurse at the Gemejnte Hospital, Van Veeteren explained.

So there are no witnesses, is that what you're saying?

Exactly, said the chief inspector, continuing to leaf through the papers. Not even a cat.

He certainly seems to have been worried, Reinhart pointed out after a moment of silence. Everybody has commented on that. He must have known that he was in trouble.

Certainly, said Van Veeteren. We can assume we're looking at a small group.

Reinhart sighed again and abandoned the chair. Stood gazing out the window instead.

Bloody rain, he said. I ought to be reborn as a swamp. Haven't you found anything at all to work on?

There was a knock on the door and M"unster came in. He nodded and sat down on the chair Reinhart had just vacated.

He was out last Friday night, said Van Veeteren.

Innings? asked M"unster.

Yes. Maybe we should check up on what he was doing. He was probably having a beer with a few colleagues, but you never know.

How can we check up on that? asked Reinhart.

Van Veeteren shrugged.

Hmm, he said. We'll put Moreno and Jung on it. They can ask a few questions at his workplace again. See if they can find somebody who was with him. And then, I wonder

What do you wonder? asked Reinhart.

In town, I think she said He was at a restaurant in town, his wife thought. Did she mean Loewingen or Maardam?

Loewingen's not a town, it's a dump, said Reinhart.

Could be, said M"unster. But there are a few restaurants there even so.

Yes, yes, muttered Van Veeteren. That'll be Jung and Moreno 's headache. Where are they, by the way?

At home, I expect, said Reinhart. I've heard it said that it's Saturday today.

Go back to your office and ring them and wake them up, said Van Veeteren. Tell them I want to know where he was and with whom by Monday afternoon at the latest. How the hell they do that is up to them.

With pleasure, said Reinhart, walking to the door. Just then Miss Katz appeared with two bundles of paper.

Tips from the detective known as the general public, she explained. A hundred and twenty since yesterday afternoon. Constable Krause has sorted them out.

How? asked M"unster.

The usual categories, snorted Van Veeteren. Daft and slightly less daft. Can you run through them, M"unster, and come back to me an hour from now?

Of course, sighed M"unster, picking up the papers.

Ah well, the chief inspector thought when he was alone again. The wheels are turning. What the hell was it I'd thought of doing myself?

Ah yes, an hour down in the sauna, that was it.


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