But then everything came to a dead stop.
The distinct feeling that the investigation, which was now entering its second month, had been on the right track over the weekend-caused by such developments as the discovery of Maria Adler in the house in Deijkstraa and the visit to the restaurant by Innings-turned out to have been a little hasty Instead of gathering pace and culminating in the capture of the man-or rather, woman-behind the three murders, the sum of all the efforts being made gave the impression of something slowly but inevitably trickling out into the sand.
“We're drifting out to sea,” asserted Reinhart on Thursday morning. “Land behind!”
And the chief inspector was forced to agree. The so-called train line-suggesting that Maria Adler had traveled on the 1803 northbound train from Maardam Central Station-could be neither confirmed nor disproved. Pffeffenholtz's evidence, strong as it was, was uncorroborated. No candy-eating skinhead had been in contact. Nor any other passenger. Perhaps Miss Adler had indeed traveled to somewhere north of Rheinau, or perhaps not.
But even if she had, as Reinhart pointed out, what the devil was there to say that she was still there? And that her move was because of the intentions imputed to her?
Nothing at all, he announced, answering his own rhetorical question.
On Tuesday afternoon, in accordance with Van Veeteren's instructions, Jung and Moreno interviewed Ibrahim Jebardahad-dan again in Leuwingen. The young Iranian was at first very doubtful about his ability to pick out anybody, but when Moreno explained that it was especially important and serious, he picked out five people from the Staff College group that he thought might possibly have been sitting opposite Innings on the Friday in question.
When the chief inspector saw the list of names, he did not appear pleased with the result, and so Jebardahaddan was summoned to the police station on Thursday for another session with the photographs.
This time the five photographs he had picked out were mixed with not only some of the others from the group, but also pictures of about thirty other people who had nothing to do with the case, and the witness managed to pick out only two of the five faces he had chosen previously. Both of them lived south of Maardam, one of them as far distant as South Africa.
After Ibrahim Jebardahaddan had left the police station on unsteady legs, Moreno remarked that this was the first time she had seen him wearing glasses. The general consensus was that the restaurant line was a dead end, at least for the present.
As for contact with the as-yet-not-murdered (to use Rein-hart's term), the group had now been reduced to twenty-five (excluding those living abroad), and on Wednesday the investigation team was due to hear the results of the latest interviews with them. The judgment that Karel Innings had been a person roughly halfway between Malik and Maasleitner was more or less universal. A generally liked, sociable, and positive young man, most of them recalled. With no strong links to either Malik or Maasleitner.
As far as anybody could remember.
Some of the group had declined to make any comment at all for some unknown reason, according to the local police authorities. Some had also declined the offer of some form of protection or guarding, and three had been impossible to contact because they were not at home.
The link between the three victims was thus restricted to the banking transactions in June 1976, unearthed by Heinemann, but as yet he had been unable to find any similar transactions entered into at that time by any other members of the group.
“Much more awkward than you would think,” he explained when he reported to the Friday meeting reviewing the case. “Generally speaking we have to get specific permission for every single account we want to investigate.”
“Ah well,” sighed the chief inspector. “We know whose interests they're looking after. Where are we now, then? What does Reinhart have to say?”
“We haven't moved from the same spot,” said Reinhart. “It's nine days since Innings was murdered. And a week since Miss Adler flew the coop from Deijkstraa. She's had plenty of time to hide herself away, that's for sure.”
“I think she's finished,” said Rooth.
“I don't,” said Reinhart.
“We could keep a special eye on those on M"unster's list,” suggested deBries. “The ones who live up north, that is.”
“Do you think it's worth the effort?” asked the chief inspector.
“Of course it isn't,” said Reinhart. “The only thing we ought to be concentrating on at the moment is a long, free weekend.”
“Is there anybody who objects to Inspector Reinhart's proposal?” asked Van Veeteren wearily, whereupon a gravelike silence descended on the senior investigative team.
“Okay,” said Van Veeteren. “Unless anything special turns up, we'll assemble again here on Monday morning at nine o'clock. Don't forget that we have over two thousand more tips to work through.”
A few hours later, when the chief inspector was about to enter the club in Styckargr"and, he was met in the lobby by the manager, Urwitz, carrying in his arms a hopelessly drunk consultant from one of the local hospitals, a specialist in infectious diseases.
“We have to send him packing,” he explained. “We can't stop him from singing and weeping and upsetting the ladies.”
Van Veeteren nodded and helped the manager to lug the doctor up the stairs to a waiting taxi. These things happen, he thought. They dumped their burden in the backseat.
“Where to?” asked the driver, looking skeptical.
Urwitz turned to Van Veeteren.
“Do you know him?”
“Only in passing,” said Van Veeteren with a shrug.
“He maintains that his wife is entertaining her lover, so he can't go home. Can that be true?”
“No idea,” said the chief inspector. “But if he has a wife, it's probably as well not to send him home in this state no matter what.”
The manager nodded, and the driver looked even more thoughtful.
“Make up your minds, or take him out again,” he said.
“Take him to the police station at Zwille,” said Van Veeteren. “Pass on greetings from VV and tell them to be nice to him and let him sleep it off.”
“VV?” asked the driver.
“Yes, that's right,” said Van Veeteren, and the taxi moved off.
“O tempora! o mores!” sighed Urwitz, and escorted Van Veeteren down into the basement.
“You look a bit miserable,” remarked Mahler as the chief inspector sat down at the table. “Are you fasting for Lent already?”
“I lead an ascetic life all year round,” said Van Veeteren. “A match?”
“Of course,” said Mahler, starting to set up the pieces. “So the elusive lady continues to be elusive, according to what I've heard.”
Van Veeteren made no reply, but drank half a glass of beer instead.
“And that incident we spoke about,” said Mahler. “Have you found it?”
The chief inspector nodded and adjusted his pieces.
“I think so,” he said. “But until I can fix the date, all I can do is be miserable and mark time.”
“I understand,” said Mahler. “Or rather, I don't,” he added after a while.
“It doesn't matter,” said Van Veeteren. “I've decided to lie low and wait for a few days in any case. Let her make a move…”
“Shoot another one?”
“I hope not,” sighed Van Veeteren. “Speaking of moves…” “All right,” said Mahler, leaning forward over the board and starting his concentration routine.
When Van Veeteren left the club, shortly after half past midnight, he had two draws and a win under his belt, and since it wasn't raining, he was inclined to think-despite all the setbacks in the current investigation-that life was just about managing to keep its head above water.
When he came to Kongers Plejn, however, he had it brought home to him that this was a somewhat hasty judgment. He had just turned the corner and found himself in the midst of a gang of bellowing young men who had evidently been lying in wait for a suitable victim.
“Gotcha, you fucking ancient old bastard!” growled a broad-shouldered youth with close-cropped red hair as he forced Van Veeteren up against the wall. “Your money or your prick?”
My prick, Van Veeteren had time to think before another youth slapped his face with the back of his hand. The chief inspector could taste the blood on his tongue.
“I'm a police officer,” he said.
This information was greeted with roars of laughter.
“Police officers are our favorites,” said the youth pressing him up against the wall, and the others sniggered in delight.
The one who had hit him tried again, but this time Van Veeteren parried, at the same time thrusting his knee up between the close-cropped redhead's legs. The youth doubled up and groaned.
Van Veeteren delivered a right hook and succeeded in hitting somebody in the nasal region. He heard clearly how something gristly was rendered even more gristly, and as far as he could judge, the damaged area was not in his own hand.
The injured youth retired, but that was naturally the end of Van Veeteren's successes. The three remaining-and uninjured-youths forced the chief inspector down on all fours and began beating him up.
Van Veeteren curled up like a hedgehog, and as the punches and kicks were landing on him, all he could think of was: Silly little brats! Where are your daddies now, damn them?
After a while-it probably was no more than ten or fifteen seconds-they went away and left him. Ran off shouting and yelling.
“Hell and damnation…,” muttered Van Veeteren as he slowly got to his feet. He could feel he was bleeding from his lips and from a wound over his eyebrow; but when he started moving his arms and legs, he was able to establish that he was relatively unharmed.
He scanned the empty square.
Where the hell are all the witnesses? he thought, then resumed his walk home.
A little later, when he examined himself in the bathroom mirror, it occurred to him that it had been absolutely right to put the investigation on ice over the weekend.
An officer in charge looking like this could hardly be a source of inspiration for his team.
Then, in his capacity as a private citizen, he phoned the police and reported the assault. He also insisted, in his capacity as a detective chief inspector, that he should be the one to interrogate any of the young delinquents the police managed to find.
“Were they immigrants?” asked the duty constable.
“No,” said Van Veeteren. “Bodybuilders, I'd say. Why should they be immigrants?”
He received no answer.
When he had washed and gone to bed, he was surprised to note, on reflection, that he hadn't felt in the least bit scared during the whole of the incident.
Indignant and annoyed, but not scared.
I suppose I'm too old for that, he thought.
Or perhaps it needs something worse than that to put the wind up me.
Or then again-it occurred to him just as he was about to fall asleep-perhaps I'm no longer scared of anything on my own account.
Only for others.
For society For future developments.
Then he recalled a silly riddle Rooth had come up with the other day:
QUESTION: How do you make a random-number generator nowadays?
ANSWER: You pour two beers into a bodybuilder.
Then he fell asleep.