“The first of March today,” announced the chief of police, snapping off a withered leaf from a hibiscus. “Take a seat. As I said, I'd like to hear some kind of summary, at the very least. This case is gobbling up a lot of resources.”
Van Veeteren muttered and flopped down into the shiny leather armchair.
“What do you want to know? If I had anything significant to tell you, I'd have done so without your needing to ask me.”
“Is that something I can rely on?”
The chief inspector made no reply.
“We've been guarding and protecting twenty people for two weeks now. Would you like me to tell you how much that costs?”
“No thank you,” said Van Veeteren. “You can call them off if you like.”
“Call them off!” exclaimed Hiller, sitting down at his desk. “Can you imagine the headlines if we cancel the protection and she then clobbers another one? We're in a big enough mess as it is.”
“The headlines won't be any better if we leave things as they are and she picks one off even so.”
Hiller snorted and started rotating his gold watch around his wrist.
“What do you mean by that? Are you suggesting that the guards are of no significance? They could be the very thing that's holding her back.”
“I don't think so,” said Van Veeteren.
“What do you think, then? For Christ's sake tell me what you do think!”
The chief inspector took out a toothpick and examined it critically before inserting it into his lower row of teeth. Turned his head and tried to peer out the window through the dense expanse of greenery.
“I think it's raining. For instance.”
Hiller opened his mouth. Then closed it again.
“It's not possible to say,” Van Veeteren continued, after a pause for effect. “Either she's finished, or she's intending to kill more. Whatever, just at the moment she's lying low. Perhaps she's waiting for us to lower our guard… and for the next victim to do the same. Clever. That's what I'd do.”
Hiller made a noise that the chief inspector was inclined to associate with a horny but unhappy seal.
“But what are you doing?” he managed to say eventually. “For God's sake tell me what you are doing about it!”
Van Veeteren shrugged.
“We're working through tips from the general public,” he said. “Quite a few are still coming in, despite the fact that the newspapers have lost interest.”
Hiller breathed deeply and tried to look optimistic.
“Not much there; I'm wondering whether we ought to go out on a limb, although that would involve a bit of a risk, of course. We could concentrate on a few possible candidates and leave the rest to their fate. That might give results.”
Hiller thought about that.
“Are there any? Ones who are more likely than the others, that is?”
“Could be,” said Van Veeteren. “I'm looking into that now.”
The chief of police stood up and went over to his plants again. Swayed back and forth with his back to the chief inspector, using his thumbs and index fingers to remove specks of dust from some leaves.
“Do that, then,” he said, turning around. “Use that blasted intuition of yours and make something happen!”
Van Veeteren heaved himself up from the armchair.
“Is that all?” he asked.
“For now,” said the chief of police, gritting his teeth.
“What did he have to say?” asked Reinhart.
“He's nervous,” said the chief inspector, pouring some coffee into a plastic mug. Raised it to his mouth, then paused.
“When was this brewed?” he asked.
“February, I should think. This year, in any case.”
There was a knock on the door and M"unster came in.
“What did he have to say?”
“He wondered why we hadn't arrested her yet.”
“You don't say,” said M"unster.
Van Veeteren leaned back, tasted the coffee, and pulled a face.
“January,” he said. “Typical January coffee. M"unster, how many have we failed to get in touch with yet? Of the as-yet-unmurdered, that is.”
“Just a moment,” said M"unster, and left the room. Returned a minute later with a piece of paper in his hand.
“Three,” he said.
“Why?” asked the chief inspector.
“They're away,” said M"unster. “Two of them on business, one on holiday, visiting his daughter in Argentina.”
“But surely we can get in touch with her?”
“We've sent her a message, but they haven't replied yet. We haven't been pressing all that hard, to be fair…”
Van Veeteren produced the well-thumbed photograph.
“Which of them is it?”
“His name's Delherbes. He lives here in Maardam. It was deBries who talked to him last time.”
Van Veeteren nodded.
“And the other two?”
“Biedersen and Moussner,” said M"unster. “Moussner is in Southeast Asia somewhere. Thailand and Singapore and so on. He'll be back home before long. Sunday, I think. Biedersen is probably a bit closer to home.”
“Probably?” said Reinhart.
“His wife wasn't very sure. He often goes off on business trips, maintaining contacts now and then, it seems. He runs an import company. England or Scandinavia, she thought.”
“ Scandinavia?” said Reinhart. “What the hell does anybody import from Scandinavia? Amber and wolf skins?”
“Of course,” said Van Veeteren. “Has anybody seen Heinemann today?”
“I spent three minutes with him in the canteen this morning,” said M"unster. “He seemed pretty worn out.”
Van Veeteren nodded.
“Could be the grandchildren,” he said. “How many tips have we left to go through?”
“A few hundred, I'd say,” said Reinhart.
The chief inspector forced the remainder of the coffee down, with obvious reluctance.
“All right,” he said. “We'd better make sure we've finished plowing through that shit by Friday. Something had better happen soon.”
“That would be helpful,” said Reinhart. “As long as it's not another one.”
Dagmar Biedersen switched off the vacuum cleaner and listened.
Yes, it was the telephone again. She sighed, went to the hall, and answered.
“Yes, that's me.”
“My name is Pauline Hansen. I'm a business acquaintance of your husband's, but I don't think we've met?”
“No… no, I don't think so. My husband's not at home at the moment.”
“No, I know that. I'm calling from Copenhagen. I've tried to get him at the office, but they say he's away on business.”
“That's right,” said Dagmar Biedersen, rubbing a mark off the mirror. “I'm not sure when he's coming home.”
“You don't know where he is?”
“That's a pity. I have a piece of business I'd like to discuss with him. I'm sure he'd be interested. It's a very advantageous deal, with rather a lot of money involved; but if I can't get hold of him, well…”
“Well what?” wondered Dagmar Biedersen.
“Well, I suppose I'll have to turn to somebody else. You've no idea where I might be able to contact him?”
“No, I'm afraid not.”
“If you should hear from him in the next few days, please tell him I've called. I'm certain he'd be interested, as I said…”
“Just a moment,” said Dagmar Biedersen.
“He phoned the other day and said he'd probably be spending a few days at the cottage as well.”
“Yes. We have a little holiday place up in Wahrhejm. It's his childhood home, in fact, although we've done it up a bit, of course. You might be able to catch him there, if you are lucky.”
“Is there a telephone?”
“No, but you can phone the village inn and leave a message for him. But I can't swear that he'll be there at the moment. It was just a thought.”
“Wahrhejm, did you say?”
“Yes, between Ulming and Oostwerdingen. Just a little village. The number is 161621.”
“Thank you very much. I'll give it a try-but even so, if you hear from him, I'd be grateful if you mentioned that I've called.”
“Of course,” said Dagmar Biedersen.
Verbal diarrhea, she thought as she replaced the receiver; when she started the vacuum cleaner again, she'd already forgotten the woman's name.
But the call was from Copenhagen, she did remember that.