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42

It can't be true, I'm dreaming! was the thought that Van Veeteren had sat wrestling with for the last twenty-five minutes. Ever since he heard the report on the radio.

This kind of thing simply doesn't happen. It must be a hoax, or a misunderstanding.

I swear to God I thought I was dreaming! said Reinhart as he pulled up. But we're there now. It looks as if what they said was right.

Two police cars were already in place. Nose to nose diagonally across the road, with their blue lights flashing. Presumably to inform everybody in the village who had the good fortune to miss the news broadcast, Van Veeteren thought as they hurried into the inn. A uniformed officer was guarding the door, and several others were inside the premises, where the mood of fear and anxiety seemed to be tangible. The customers-almost exclusively women, he was surprised to see-had been herded together behind two tables, and their whispers and low-voiced discussions reached Van Veeteren's ears in the form of an unar-ticulated but long-suffering lament. A fleeting image of cattle about to be slaughtered flashed before his eyes. Or prisoners in concentration camps on their way to the showers. He shuddered, and tried to shake off any such thoughts.

Stop it! he commanded his own thoughts. It's bad enough without you making it any worse.

A man with thinning hair about the same age as Van Veeteren came up to him.

Chief Inspector Van Veeteren?

He nodded and introduced Reinhart.

Munckel. Well, this is a cartload of shit if ever I saw one. He's in there. We haven't touched anything.

Van Veeteren and Reinhart went to the men's room, where one of the constables was stationed.

Ackermann, said Munckel, let these gentlemen in.

Van Veeteren peered inside. Studied the lifeless corpse for a few seconds before turning to Reinhart.

Ah well, he said. Exactly the same as usual. We might as well leave him lying there until the forensic team gets here. We can't do anything for him.

The silly bugger, muttered Reinhart.

When did it happen? asked the chief inspector.

Munckel looked at the clock.

Shortly after nine, he said. We were alerted at a quarter past-it was Mr. Korhonen who phoned. He's the bartender.

A dark-haired man in his fifties stepped forward and introduced himself.

It happened less than an hour ago, said Van Veeteren. How many people have left the premises since then?

I don't really know, said Korhonen hesitantly.

Who found him?

I did, said an elderly man with a loud voice and a checked shirt. I just went to the john for a pee, and there he was. Shot in the balls as well. A cartload of shit

A shudder seemed to pass through the group of women.

Oh yes, dammit! It had eventually dawned on Van Veeteren. International Women's Day, March 8. That was why they were all here. Macabre-she couldn't have hit upon a better day.

So when did Biedersen go in there? Reinhart asked.

Korhonen cleared his throat nervously.

Excuse me, he said. I think I know who did it. It must have been that other guy.

Who are you referring to? said Munckel. Why haven't you said anything before now?

That other guy, he said again. The one sitting over there

He pointed.

He went to the bathroom immediately after Biedersen-I remember now.

A man? said Van Veeteren.

Yes, of course.

Where is he? said Reinhart.

Korhonen looked around. The man in the checked shirt looked around. All the women looked around.

He's left, of course, said Munckel.

He's gone! shouted one of the women. I saw him leave.

You can bet your life he didn't hang around, muttered Reinhart.

Is one of you called Van Veeteren? asked a dark-haired woman in her mid-thirties.

Yes, why?

This was lying on his table. I noticed it just now.

She came up and handed over a white envelope. Van Veeteren took it and stared at it in bewilderment.

I'm dreaming, he thought again, and closed his eyes for a moment.

Open it! said Reinhart.

Van Veeteren opened it.

Read it! said Reinhart.

Van Veeteren read it.

Where is there a telephone? he asked, and was directed to the lobby by Korhonen. Reinhart went with him, signaling to Munckel that he should keep everybody where they were in the restaurant.

What the hell's going on? he whispered as the chief inspector dialed the number. Give me the letter!

Van Veeteren handed it over, and Reinhart read it.

I'm. waiting for you. Jelena Walgens

can tell you where I am.

Two lines. No signature.

What the hell? thought Reinhart. And then he said it out loud.


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