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43

They parked at what seemed to be a safe distance, and got out of the car. It wasn't completely dark yet, and it was easy to pick out the outlines of the houses at the edge of the lake. The wind was now no more than a distant whisper in the forests to the northeast, and the air felt almost warm, Van Veeteren noticed.

Spring? he thought, somewhat surprised. Reinhart cleared his throat.

It must be that cottage farthest away, he said. There doesn't seem to be anybody at home in any of them.

Some people occasionally manage to sleep at night, said Van Veeteren.

They continued walking along the narrow dirt road.

Do you think she's in there?

I don't dare to think anything about this case anymore, said Van Veeteren, sounding somewhat subdued. But no matter what, we need to get in there and take a look. Or do you think we should summon Ryman's heavy tank brigade?

Good God, no, said Reinhart. It takes four days to mobilize them. Let's go in. I'll lead the way if you like.

The hell you will, said Van Veeteren. I'm oldest. You can keep in the background.

Your word is my command, said Reinhart. For what it's worth, I don't think she's at home.

Crouching down, and with quite a long distance between them, they approached the ramshackle gray house with the sagging roof. Slunk slowly but deliberately over the damp grass, and when there was only another ten meters or so still to go, Van Veeteren launched the attack by rushing forward and pressing himself up against the wall, right next to the door. Reinhart followed him and doubled up under one of the windows.

This is ridiculous, Van Veeteren thought as he tried to get his breath back, keeping tight hold of his standard-issue pistol. What the hell are we doing?

Or is it serious business?

He forced the door open with a bang and charged in. Ran around for a few seconds, kicking in doors, but he soon established that the cottage was just as empty as Reinhart had anticipated.

If she was going to shoot us, she'd have done so long ago, he thought, putting his pistol away in his pocket.

He went into the biggest of the three rooms, found a switch, and turned on the light. Reinhart came in and looked around.

There's a letter here, addressed to you, he said, pointing to the table.

The chief inspector came forward to pick it up. Weighed it in his hand.

The same sort of envelope.

The same handwriting.

Addressed to the same person.

Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, Maardam.

And the feeling that he was dreaming simply refused to go away.



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