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39

Melgarves? Something about this Melgarves rang a bell

Jung fished around among the papers cluttering up his desk.

Did you serve Maureen breakfast in bed today, then?

Jung looked up.

Eh? Why on earth should I do that?

You mean you don't know what day it is today? said Moreno, glaring at him.

No.

International Women's Day. March eighth.

Good God, said Jung. I'd better buy her something. Thank you for letting me know. Did you get breakfast in bed?

Of course, said Moreno with a smile. And a bit more besides.

Jung wondered for a moment what that might imply, then returned to his lists of incoming tips.

This Melgarves character, he said. I don't understand why he's ended up on this list.

Andr'e Melgarves?

Yes indeed. He's one of the group. He's phoned in and passed on some information or other, but he's been bracketed with all the others Krause must have missed his significance.

That's not like him, said Moreno.

She crossed the room and read the brief notes over Jung's shoulder, frowned, and started chewing the pencil she had in her hand A certain Mr. Andr'e Melgarves had phoned from Kin-sale in Ireland and announced that he had information that could be of interest to the ongoing investigation. They were welcome to give him a call. His address and telephone number were duly recorded.

When did this come in? Moreno asked.

Jung looked at the back of the card.

The day before yesterday, he said. I think it's probably as well for the chief inspector to take this himself-what do you reckon?

I think so, said Moreno. Go and show him now-but don't mention that it came in two days ago. He seemed a bit grumpy this morning, I thought.

You don't say? said Jung, getting to his feet.

The young man was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with Big Is Beautiful printed on it. He was very suntanned, and his short-cropped hair looked like a field of ripe wheat. He was chewing away at something, and staring at the floor.

Name? said Van Veeteren.

Pieter Fuss.

Age?

Twenty-one.

Occupation?

Messenger.

Messenger?

For a security company.

I see, thought Van Veeteren. Almost a colleague. He swallowed a feeling of impotence.

Anyway, I'm not the officer in charge of your case, he explained, but I have a few things to say about it and I'd like to have an answer to a question. Just one.

Pieter Fuss looked up, but as soon as he caught the chief inspector's eye he reverted immediately to examining his sneakers.

On Friday, February twenty-third, said Van Veeteren, at half past midnight, I was walking toward Rejmer Plejn. I was on my way home after an evening with some good friends of mine. I suddenly found my way blocked by you and four other young men. One of your friends pushed me up against a wall. You punched me in the face. You eventually forced me down onto the sidewalk. You hit me and kicked me. You had never seen me before. My question is: Why?

Pieter Fuss's expression did not change.

Have you understood my question?

No reply.

Why did you attack an unknown person? Punch him and kick him? There must be a reason, surely?

I don't know.

Can you speak a little louder? I'm recording this.

I don't know.

I don't understand. Are you saying you don't know why you do things?

No answer.

You were five against one. Do you think that was the right thing to do?

No.

So you do things that you think are wrong?

I don't know.

If you don't know, who does?

No answer.

What do you think your punishment ought to be?

Pieter Fuss mumbled something.

Louder!

I don't know.

All right, said Van Veeteren. Listen to me. If you can't give me a sensible answer to the question why, I shall see to it that you get at least six months for this.

Six months?

At least, said Van Veeteren. We can't have people running around who don't know why they do what they do to their fellow human beings. You can have two days to think about this in peace and quiet

He paused. For a moment it looked as if Fuss was about to say something, but then there was a knock on the door and Jung poked his head inside.

Are you busy, Chief Inspector?

No, not at all.

I think we've had a tip that could be of interest.

What, exactly?

One of the group has rung from Ireland. We thought you might like to follow it up yourself?

He handed over the card.

Okay, said the chief inspector. Can you escort this promising young man down to the duty officer? Be a bit careful-he's not all that sure what he's doing.

Fuss stood up and slunk away with Jung. Van Veeteren read what it said on the card.

Andr'e Melgarves? he thought with a frown.

Then he contacted the switchboard and asked them to phone him. Ten minutes later he had Melgarves on the line.

My name is Van Veeteren. I'm in charge of this case. You've said that you have information to give us.

I don't really know if it's significant, Melgarves said, and his doubt seemed more obvious on the crackly line than the words themselves.

Let's hear it, said Van Veeteren. It would help if you could speak a bit louder, I think we have a bad line.

Ireland, explained Melgarves. The tax is advantageous, but everything else is rubbish.

I see, said Van Veeteren, pulling a face.

Anyway something occurred to me. I've received your letters and instructions. And I spoke on the phone to somebody. I've got some idea of what's been going on, despite being miles away. My sister has sent me some newspapers and cuttings. And, well, if I can be of any help, then obviously, I'm at your disposal. It's an awful business.

It certainly is, said Van Veeteren.

What struck me, said Melgarves, is only a minor detail, but it's something that Malik, Maasleitner, and Innings were mixed up in. It might be irrelevant, but if I understand the situation aright, you've had trouble in finding a link between them.

We have had certain problems, admitted Van Veeteren.

Well, it was in connection with our demob party, said Melgarves.

Demob party?

Yes, we had a big farewell do in Maardam. Arno 's Cellar-I don't think it exists any longer

No, it's closed down, said Van Veeteren.

Just two days before we were released. Yes, it was a party that everybody attended-and some of the officers and lecturers as well. No women, men only. We'd rented the whole place and well, there was quite a lot of drinking going on, obviously.

The link? wondered the chief inspector.

Melgarves cleared his throat.

I'm coming to that. We kept going until rather late-two, half past two, I'd say; quite a few were pretty drunk. Some passed out. To be honest, I wasn't completely sober myself, but it was one of those evenings, you might say. And it was allowed-we didn't have any duties until the following afternoon, and well, only two more days before demob, and all that

I understand, said Van Veeteren with a trace of irritation in his voice. Perhaps you'd like to come to the point, Mr. Melgarves?

Well, afterward, said Melgarves, that's when I saw them. Those of us who'd stayed on to the very end staggered out of Arno 's. We were in groups, and kicking up a bit of a row, I'm sorry to say. Making our way back to L"ohr-and that's when I happened to see them. I'd gone into an alley to, er, relieve myself, and when I'd finished I ran into them. They were in a doorway, and they had this girl with them-no more than seventeen or eighteen, I'd say. And they were giving her a rough time.

Giving her a rough time? What do you mean by that?

Well, trying to talk her into it, I suppose.

Talk her into what?

Oh come on, you know.

I suppose so. And?

Anyway, they were standing around her. They were pretty soused, and I don't suppose she was all that interested, or however you might put it. In any case, they were going on at her, and laughing, and wouldn't let her go.

Did she want to go?

Melgarves hesitated.

I don't know. I think so, but I don't really remember. I've thought about it, of course, but I stayed there only a few seconds, and then I ran to catch up with the others. Not that they would have been what you might call desirable company.

Van Veeteren thought it over.

And she wasn't a prostitute? he asked.

Could be, but maybe not, said Melgarves.

How come you remember all this after thirty years?

I can understand why you ask me that. I suppose it's because of what happened the next day.

The next day? What happened then?

Well, it was as if something had happened. Innings was really the only one I was acquainted with, just a bit, and he didn't seem to be himself for a couple of days afterward. He just wasn't himself, somehow He seemed to be evasive. I recall asking him what had happened to the girl, but he didn't answer.

What do you think happened?

I don't know, said Melgarves. I mean, we were demobbed the following day, and we had other things to think about.

Of course you had, said Van Veeteren. When exactly was this party can you remember that?

It must have been May twenty-ninth, said Melgarves. We were demobbed at the end of the month.

May 29, 1965, said the chief inspector, and suddenly felt his temples pounding as he prepared to ask his next question.

And anticipated the answer. He cleared his throat.

So, Malik, Maasleitner, and Innings, he said. Was there anybody else?

Yes, said Melgarves. There were four of them. That Biedersen was with them as well.

Biedersen?

Yes. He and Maasleitner were probably the ones behind it all. Biedersen rented a room in town as well.

A room in town?

Yes. For the last few months we were allowed permanent night leave, as they called it. In other words, we didn't need to be in our billets at night. Biedersen had a student room. He threw a few parties there, I gather, but I didn't go to any of them.

The line started crackling something terrible, and the chief inspector was forced to bellow out his final questions in order to overcome the noise.

These three, plus Werner Biedersen. Is that right?

Yes.

With a young woman?

Yes.

Did anybody else see this?

Could be. I don't know.

Have you spoken to anybody else about it? Then or now?

No, said Melgarves. Not as far as I recall, at least.

Van Veeteren thought for a few more seconds.

Many thanks, he said eventually. Thank you for some extremely useful information, Mr. Melgarves. I'll get back to you.

He hung up.

Now, he thought. We're almost there.



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